We sat down with talented developer-entrepreneur Adam Bird to pick his brains on pitching in the startup world, developing an API, explaining technical services to non-technical clients, and much more…
Hi Adam! Tell us a bit about yourself and your background in the industry.
I’m a self taught developer and entrepreneur and sometime cyclist. Nottingham has been my home since coming to university here in 1994 and essentially forgetting to leave.
My most notable business success is Esendex, the Nottingham headquartered communications provider I co-founded. After selling Esendex in 2013 I turned my attention to calendaring and founded what is now Cronofy.
What’s Cronofy and what problems does it set out to solve?
Cronofy provides a calendar API that abstracts away all of the complexity of dealing with multiple calendar service providers. As developers we have no control over the calendars our customers use. In many cases neither do they.
Two-way calendar integration can unlock all sorts of use cases and enables deep integration with users lives. It’s not just about posting appointments into peoples calendars or surfacing availability to enable automated booking, it’s also about being able to react to changes.
As an example, with our calendar API restaurant bookings can appear automatically in people’s calendars and be kept up to date with any changes. The magic really happens if the user deletes the calendar event. Our API can notify the service so they in turn can automatically cancel the reservation.
With Cronofy, developers can start thinking about their users’ calendars as an interface point into their applications.
Who can make use of Cronofy and what have people done with it?
Being an API provider gives you an enviable window on the breadth of problems people are solving with software. Time and scheduling is relevant to so many businesses that so many apps can benefit.
We support all sorts of appointments: beauty therapy, restaurant bookings, flights, hotels, hairdressing, consultancy. Real time availability for online booking platforms. Cross organisation free-busy queries for field sales and engineering teams. Interactive productivity and task management. The possibilities are endless.
What’s the first step for someone thinking of creating their own API?
You must, from the outset, consider the use cases that you’re looking to enable and validate these with real users. You should also consider your motivation for having an API and how that fits into your broader strategy. Is it about
- giving users access to data to raise awareness of your service;
- an additional mode of interaction that drives engagement and cements customer relationships;
- a revenue line in its own right;
- or your entire offering?
Understanding this will allow you to plan the resources and investment required to make the most suitable service.
What advice would you give to someone trying to explain or promote a very technical service, like an API, to non-technical clients?
Start with an example of how it could be used in a way to make their lives better. Our service allows X to do Y which means Z. The restaurant booking example we use, above, works pretty well in that regard. Once you have that initial understanding you can then start exploring specific use cases and how they or their organisation could take advantage of your service.
Many people associate startups with the US tech scene. How difficult has it been promoting Cronofy in the UK, and how has the UK’s startup scene changed over the past few years?
The days are gone when US was the only place to do a startup. On-demand infrastructure means anyone with the right skills can build pretty much anything at any scale no matter where they are based. Add to that the maturity of distributed tooling like Slack, Trello and GitHub and you have a situation where anyone can be productive anywhere.
That said, you can’t escape the benefit of meeting people face to face and developing relationships with potential customers, investors and employees. London has become global tech startup hub so ensuring you’re present and known in that scene is an important aspect of building a global company.
What advice would you give to someone thinking about going down the pitching route for their business?
A pitch is something that has to evolve so you need to practice and test, even if it’s just small elements, any time you get the chance. Every time you speak to someone reflect on how they reacted, the questions they asked and what this may or may not be telling you about your pitch.
The messaging to investors and to customers is very different. I would go as far as to say that every pitch is different.
Imagine anyone that you’re pitching to needs to be taken on a journey from ignorance to enlightenment. You have an arsenal of use cases, background, proof points and vision elements. The trick is to bring them together in the correct order for that person to get to enlightenment as quickly as possible so you can get on with the proper (valuable) discussion.
What do the next couple of years hold for Cronofy?
We’re dead focused on being the go to service for calendar integration. There will be enough nuances and challenges with that to keep us busy. What’s great about delivering API services is that you get to be part of all sorts of use cases that you never imagined. Your API becomes a key component of larger solutions addressing all sorts of important domain challenges. Our job is to make sure our API continues to serve those use cases in the most efficient and compelling fashion.