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The Quick Guide to APIs for Entrepreneurs

Jul 19, 2022
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If there’s a demographic that can benefit from using APIs, that is entrepreneurs and business leaders. 

APIs can turn a business into a high-octane growth machine, but oftentimes the topic comes out as hard to follow, dotted with technical jargon more suitable for dev teams than for those calling the shots.

This is the exact reason why we’re releasing this guide to APIs. 

Instead of boring you to death with technicalities, we’ll provide you with painless definitions that you can act upon right after reading. 

That said, let’s jump right into the topic and address all the important questions at once.

What is an API?

An application programming interface (API) is digital infrastructure that allows different apps to exchange data. 

From Salesforce to Steam, most software companies develop and offer APIs to their users.

By working with the APIs, users can get access to certain types of data, create integrations between apps, and automate tasks and workflows.

What is an API endpoint?

An easy way to understand API endpoints is to see them as doors for specific API requests. 

APIs usually offer a number of endpoints - ranging from a handful to a few dozen - that allow you to use the API for different purposes. 

For example, you can use a specific Twitter API endpoint to search for tweets published in the last seven days that meet certain criteria (such as mentioning a particular brand or person).

What is an API call?

API calls are requests made to an API endpoint to retrieve data or information from the server that hosts it. 

A comparison with a regular phone call would be appropriate to understand API calls.

Instead of having a person dialling a number to reach a specific person, you’d have a computer messaging an API endpoint to get a specific data point or collection. 

What is an API key?

As the name suggests, an API key is a unique identifier that validates and authorizes an app (and the user of the app) to access an API or specific API endpoints within it. 

Several well-known APIs - such as Airtable’s - require you to get an API key (also known as “API token”) to use them. 

airtable-api-token

Source: Airtable

API keys are usually deployed as an extra security measure, as all-things data are sensitive in one way or another.

Also, it’s important to note that methods to get API keys can change from app to app. You’ll usually find this information in the API documentation of each app.

What is API documentation?

API documentation is the description and explanation of the API, its endpoints, functionalities, access requirements, usage rules, and limits. 

Apps and companies offering APIs usually host the corresponding docs in their website domain to make it available to anyone that needs to reference it. 

stripe-api-docs

Source: Stripe

Which software products offer APIs?

Almost every cloud-based software features an official API. 

This includes products in every imaginable category - from productivity apps like Monday, ClickUp, and Trello to accounting software like Quickbooks, social media platforms like Facebook, and communication apps like Slack and Microsoft Teams.

make-available-apis

On top of this, there are platforms that allow you to access thousands of APIs in one place, and under a single standard - such as Make.

What are APIs used for? 

As mentioned above APIs allow different software products to communicate with each other.

This allows API users to create app integrations and automate all kinds of tasks, processes, workflows, and functions.

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The resulting use cases can be counted in the thousands. By using and connecting software products, you can automate almost any process you want - from posting to social media to onboarding a new employee to your digital workspace and beyond.

How do you use an API?

Generally speaking, there are two ways to use an API: You can either code your way through it or else use a third-party platform like Make to access and manage APIs.

The first one requires you to have coding skills, time, and resources to access APIs. 

Make, on the other hand, doesn’t require you to use code while granting you access to virtually any API out there. 

What are the benefits of using Make to work with APIs? 

There are three main benefits you’ll get from using Make.

First, you’ll save time and resources by automating recurring tasks and processes that involve one or more apps.

Second, you’ll stop over-relying on tech talent, as products like Make allow anyone to manipulate APIs - no hard tech skills required. 

Third, you’ll have a single standard for all your integrations and automated processes. This is fundamental, as you won’t have to deal with what each API developer thinks is the best way to access their API and data. 

Doing all of the above would’ve cost you a few thousand dollars just a decade ago; nowadays, it can cost you less than the average fast-food meal out there.

Final words: Where to start?

The first step toward using APIs is to map the processes that your business relies on to function and produce results.

After that, the rule of thumb is to:

  • Identify which apps are involved in the processes

  • Check if those apps are available on Make

  • See if tasks within the processes can be automated by connecting apps together

Then, it’s all about sitting down and creating the workflows you need to automate as much as you can.

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Martin Etchegaray

Senior Content Writer and Editor at Make. I enjoy writing and reading about history, science, and tech.

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