How To

May 2, 2024

How to use APIs to build your startup

Tomislav Bišćan, founder and CEO of Orangepill, walks us through his tips

Tomislav Bišćan, cofounder and former CTO at Latin American fintech Minka, exited the company in 2022 to launch a new venture, Orangepill. Based in Croatia, Orangepill is a platform designed to help large enterprises integrate new financial products, such as cryptocurrencies, into their offerings.

The company not only builds APIs, it also purchases them. “Building our own solutions from scratch would have been resource intensive and slowed us down,” says Tomislav. “APIs allow us to focus on delivering innovative financial solutions while relying on established, secure, and scalable technologies.”

Here he shares his top tips for building a company with APIs.

Don’t just rely on databases

There’s often confusion between databases and APIs. It’s important to note: APIs provide functionality as well as data. While databases are essential for storing and managing data, APIs allow us to interact with that data in real-time and integrate third-party functionality like payment processing and identity verification. That means you don’t have to reinvent the wheel, compete with an established and well-funded company or invest tonnes of resources into tech that already exists.


Think through the risks

At the end of the day, it’s still your responsibility to serve your customers, even if you are using third-party providers for certain functionality. Relying on external APIs can create risks like potential downtime and data security concerns. You also don’t have control over quality. You can mitigate these risks by carefully selecting API providers. Ask yourself:

  • Are they known? Do they have a good reputation?
  • Have they been around for a while?
  • Are they compliant with industry standards?

Of course, things can go wrong even with the right provider. Ensure you have robust contingency plans, like backing up core data. Figure out how, if everything else fails, the critical capabilities of your product can still be run off of your own capabilities in-house.

Prepare to scale

You need to consider API rate limits before you even begin building. Rate limits dictate how much you can use a service — how many emails can be sent, bits of data can be stored, etc. — before the cost increases or you can’t use the service. Figure out how much you think you’ll use. Is there a way of ensuring you don’t hit the API’s limits? Will you need another product that scales better as you grow?

Calculate costs

Using APIs can be cost-effective, as it requires less development time or investment in infrastructure or maintenance. API pricing is startup-friendly — they tend to have scalable pricing models which means you only pay for what you use. Ask the provider to put hard limits on your accounts to manage costs effectively as you grow, and negotiate custom plans early. You can create all sorts of deals with providers like equity for service or revenue share.

On the subject of… APIs

1. APIs 101. IBM has put together a pretty comprehensive introduction to APIs. 

2. How to sell your API to developers.

3. Security risks. How to protect your product when using third-party providers.

Anisah Osman Britton

Anisah Osman Britton is coauthor of Startup Life , a weekly newsletter on what it takes to build a startup. Follow her on X and LinkedIn