San Francisco-headquartered Postman builds technology platforms for the development and management of APIs or Application Programming Interfaces — the language through which softwares talk to one another. The seven-year-old start-up, founded in Bengaluru by Abhinav Asthana, Ankit Sobti and Abhijit Kane, has more than 17-million users and a global client base of 500,000, making it the largest API community in the world.
Abhinav Asthana: In 2012, I was a coding intern at Yahoo! Bangalore along with Ankit (Sobti). Our job was to build an application using APIs. But we kept running into the same problems. It was excessively challenging to learn how APIs worked (i.e., to make a simple API call and verify the response). It was also painful for the development team to test and debug APIs. Later, I encountered these very same problems at my first start-up, where I met Abhijit (Kane).
After seeing this pattern of consistent problems, I had the idea to write an early version of Postman as a basic HTTP client for (Google) Chrome. It solved my own problems, and then my co-workers wanted to use it too. I put it up on the Chrome web store where it started to take-off. Ankit and Abhijit then joined me to work on the project, and the three of us launched Postman as a company.
I didn’t have too much money as I was coming out of my previous company. I did design consulting projects to help pay the bills. Ankit and Abhijit, too, had quit high-paying jobs at Directi and Walmart Labs, respectively. It took some time for things to settle down.
Make Or Break Moment
We were deliberate and measured with our approach in building the company, and kept looking ahead while maintaining focus on what would impact our users the most. One of our biggest moments was releasing our self-serve subscription product, when, during an internal demo meeting by Abhijit, our first customer bought the product that we hadn’t even launched yet.
The Business Model
Initially, we tried different models — sponsorships, donations, in-app purchases — but none of them worked at scale. We had to get to “ramen profitability” (making just enough to cover basic expenses) in some way. Through customer feedback, we found that collaboration was a key problem we could solve, and started working towards it. Soon after, we raised our first round of funding from Nexus Venture Partners.
As we got underway with taking Postman to the next level, Ankit, Abhijit and I agreed on a central principle — above everything else, we would fully listen to our users and focus on gathering feedback. We began tracking every piece of feedback from users all over the world. We were obsessive about product reviews and user requests, and were having in-depth conversations with developers as often as possible. And that’s basically how we have run the business ever since.
But, though getting qualitative feedback is great, it doesn’t help you scale. So, we also relied on quantitative methods to build our business model. We made sure we invested in our infrastructure early to leverage data in all our decisions — product development, hiring, fundraising etc.
While building Postman v1 (version 1), we chose not to use fancy frameworks or complex architecture. We continue to follow that same rule today and encourage our teams to only implement things in which they have full confidence. After the Postman desktop app gained traction, we had to scale to learn how to build products on the Cloud. We invested in it early and started building Postman on the Cloud. A huge challenge was performance and efficiency of a complicated architecture. To tackle that, we focused on a few key features and learned to run our infrastructure efficiently before we branched into other products.
Hiring was a huge challenge early on; our criteria around capabilities and mission alignment set a very high bar, and there were weeks or even months where no interviewees could clear that bar. Over time, some of the pains have eased, but building a mission-oriented team is our top goal and it is not an easy task.
However, just like in the rest of our business, we have become more data-driven with respect to our hiring pipelines. We also want to achieve high retention rates. So, we look at flexibilities that we can offer.
We did not create a pitch deck for VC funding. The reason was that we had a product whose metrics were available for people to see — the Chrome web store shows the number of users, and the feedback on the product was always visible there. We have always felt that every moment spent working on pitch decks was time not spent building the product.
Marketing & Sales Lessons
We believe we have the strongest product in the market, and when investors hear customers praising the product, that’s the most powerful form of validation. We have always focused on building a strong business model rather than stressing on the next funding round. This allows us to think long-term and align investor and customer interests.
When Did You Think You Had Arrived?
We initially launched Postman v1 on the Chrome web store, and soon, it had nearly half a million users. We knew we had a special product then.
Riding Through Toughest Times
In the early days, Ankit, Abhijit, and I were ready to bootstrap the company ourselves, with a goal of simply being “ramen profitable.” We weren’t really making much money, but were fine with that; we believed in the mission we had set forth.
The world is increasingly becoming API-first, where APIs are developed strategically at the beginning of the development of a system. API-first is the new superpower for companies who embrace.