Mulesoft: Using APIs to unlock the enterprise

Mulesoft's founder Ross Mason on making connections quicker using APIs.

Mulesoft started as a specialist software company for investment banks but since then has morphed into one of the leading exponents of those keystones of versatility, APIs.

The company is known for its Anypoint platform which can be used to connect apps, data and devices anywhere, on-premises or in the cloud. It has customers including Boeing, Marks & Spencer, Target, Unilever, MasterCard, Audi, ESPN, Coca-Cola, Unicef and News Corp.

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Mason: "The thing that we have capitalised on is that we have stayed laser-focused on connectivity."

Photo: Colin Barker

The company was founded by Ross Mason, who is also VP of corporate strategy. ZDNet caught up with him to talk about the journey so far.

ZDNet: Where did it begin?

Before doing this I was in investment banking in London. I did a number of large scale projects in the City, the last of which was an investment banking trading platform.

It was the genesis for starting the company and the first time that I had worked in an investment banking environment. I couldn't believe how painful it was. Basically we had to connect up seven systems and it took €30m and took a year and a half and every day I came to work well aware of how difficult it was to get things done.

I used to go home in the evenings, very late at night and complain to my girlfriend (now wife) and I think two months into it she got frustrated and said, 'Well, if it's that bad, do something about it'.

So then I thought about quitting my job but, I thought, that's not the solution. So that got me thinking and I thought, well the technology is one area where I could have an impact. So I thought, what would my teams need to build the types of software that we are building in the bank.

They were connecting to back-end systems and every time they went to connect something they had to re-invent the wheel. Every time. On top of that they needed to know way too much about the underlying environment in order to be successful.

I thought I would build a platform for connecting data within a banking environment. So a lot of what I optimised for was latency and throughput, which used to be a banking problem but is now kind of everybody's problem, so it was kind of lucky that I started there.

So it just grew from there, and those early days were about creating a better piece of software for connecting applications.

So since then it has been a story of steady growth?

Well, not quite. There was an up and a down. At that time, there was a lot of open source software emerging, and commoditising going on in the software market.

We realised that the real value here wasn't to commoditise. The connectivity and integration market isn't actually a market - it's an activity that goes on and it hadn't been productised. So there was a ton of value in actually going in and productising the way in which you actually connected these applications.

So we went down a different path, so rather than being an open source company, we became a commercial company that used open source, really, as a distribution mechanism.

And that worked out really well because everybody else, who went the other way, hasn't really done much to monetise on an open source piece of software.

Then the financial crisis hit and we had a lot of financial companies, so that hit us pretty hard. We thought, why should we be in this punch-up with the other integration providers when we can look at where things are going next and build on that.

Within a year SaaS applications where emerging and so what we moved to building was an application which allowed anyone to connect in the cloud.

The idea really was, we are capturing the enterprise market with our enterprise products so why not capture a larger piece of the line of business IT market with the cloud platform.

So, what actually happened was that it took about 18 months to build the cloud platform and in that time, loads of large companies were saying, "Hey, we're getting out of this, we are not going to spend our time building datacentres, we're moving to the cloud". That would be around 2012, 2013.

So what we ended up having was this platform that we thought we were building for SMB and we hardened that for enterprise use-cases and so we ended up with this kind of hybrid platform approach where you can have things on premise or in the cloud.

That, of course, is what everybody else is now doing, so there is a bit of luck in there, but the thing that we have capitalised on is that we have stayed laser-focused on connectivity.

We know that the one thing that the enterprise has got to get good at is change.

It means being able to compose, re-compose, plug-in, plug-out based on the business needs and the changing needs of the consumer and our platform has evolved to just crush that niche, which now is not a niche but a very big market.

How much of your business is now in the cloud?

If you look at the last three years, in year one, 2013, we probably did 15 to 20 percent of our business on the cloud. And that was a real mixed bag of stuff.

Then in 2014 we drove about 35 percent through the cloud and it was all enterprise. Last year, 2015, I can't remember the exact figure but it was around 70 percent doing cloud and APIs and we will probably track the same this year.

That doesn't mean that there is an exodus away from on-premise - we are doing on-premise as well - but every one of those deals is using cloud as well.

To give you some idea of what is really happening, there has been an adoption of cloud options so we are an indicator that that is all in flux at the moment.

So you look at a company like Unilever, they are running what they call their "second speed IT platform" on the cloud. So if you think of someone like Unilever and how much they do in digital marketing and digital branding, that all runs on our platform.

That gives you some idea of the scale. They have really pushed us to make what is available in the enterprise available on the cloud which is unusual when you look at most cloud platforms.

So your experience is that organisations really understand this shift?

No. They understand that they have got to change. A year or two ago we were still evangelising that. Now they are trying to understand what that change looks like.

What is actually fuelling the growth of our business is that we have got a pretty directed point of view and some pretty good proof-points in the market with different sorts of organisations.

Taking this API-led approach actually works, it starts to unlock the organisation; it starts to drive modularity and the way that you can build apps and the way that you can engage different types of consumer in the organisation.

Q: And the key is the API?

It's the key because it allows you to have a different conversation with the business. Instead of having to deliver every project yourself, you can take tranches of those projects and you can say to the different departments, we are going to give you the assets and you can build those projects yourself.

And actually, the business tends to be OK with that. Like with digital initiatives, they still want to get involved with that but if you are in business analytics and all you want is a data feed, it can take you 13 weeks to get a data feed. Give it to them through a set of re-usable resources or APIs, and then you have a simplified way of unlocking that data every time they want to try something new, is a much simpler way of doing things. Turnaround times will be two weeks versus three months.

Further Reading:

MuleSoft crosses $100 million revenue mark

Google I/O: New APIs help streamline workflows

Singapore bank releases APIs for app development