When Innovation Beats Invention - The Story of Kong HQ
Kong Inc. is an IT company that provides an open-core API management platform. It was founded by three friends with dreams of revolutionizing API creation. Their first project was Mashape back in 2009, which was a mashup platform for selling and aggregating APIs. The team used it to create Kong, releasing it in 2015, serving as Mashape’s main engine until 2017 and completely replacing it later when Mashape was sold. What a story!
Back in the 2000s, the software development process was all about monolithic structures, consisting of thousands and even millions of lines of code. Innovation and improvement were needed, and they came in the form of microservices and interfaces - and this is where Kong’s predecessor, Mashape, came into the picture.
By providing a marketplace platform for developers to find microservices and interfaces for their software, Mashape helped simplify and speed up the process, pioneering the way to a new era in the world of app development! Back in 2010, APIs were just making an entrance, and the industry needed time to catch up - it wasn’t ready for Kong just yet!
The Brains Behind It
It all started in a garage crowded by three bright Italians - Marco Palladino, Augusto Marietti, and Michele Zonca. Squeezed together, they started laying down code to what they believed was the next big thing - the breakthrough of APIs!
Turns out, they were right, but they wouldn’t have that confirmed for a while.
The developers had a dream of becoming the first start-up in Italy to make it big in the world of IT. Back in 2009, Augusto was an economist, fresh out from college, Marco was a junior developer, and Michele was a senior Java wizard. The three of them had one common opinion - APIs were the future, so they decided to join forces and ideas. After 10 months together in a garage working day and night, they came up with the MashApps prototype. It was an online API platform where developers could effortlessly discover and experiment with them through a streamlined process. From Impending Doom - To The Stars!
A Bright Idea In Dark Times
Augusto and Marco had already tasted failure before, when they developed a Dropbox-like website in 2007 - before Dropbox was even a thing! It was called MemboxX, and it was the first Italian cloud sharing and storage for documents and passwords. The moment they went live with the page, two young developers from the US were also busy preparing to launch their own file hosting service - the one you now know as Dropbox.
The difference between them?
Dropbox’s founders were funded, whereas Augusto and Marco failed to find investors.
Fast-forward to two years later: in 2009, the global economy was still in shambles and beginning to recover from the 2008 crash, so finding investors to fund a start-up was going to be hard. However, this didn’t deter the idealistic trio from following their dreams. They knew that getting the needed money would be close to impossible, but they believed in their idea!
After around 10 months of hard work, they set out to find someone in Italy who was willing to fund their idea. However, the more they met potential investors from all over the country, the more they realized nobody in Italy would fund their idea.
A Change Of Scenery
Both Marco and Augusto haven’t held back when asked about their rags-to-riches journey. They often talk about the importance of ideas and hard work for success, but that business environment also plays a big role in turning ideas into reality. Their lackluster ventures in Italy were a clear sign that business culture in the US was different than that in Europe, where investors were unwilling to invest in young talent.
But they weren’t going to throw in the towel just yet: it was time to try their luck in the global hub of tech companies - Silicon Valley. They packed their bags and hit the road!
They headed for San Francisco with nothing but their laptops and $2,000 in their pockets. As soon as they landed, they called every well-off person they could think of to set up meetings and pitch their idea. Modern entrepreneurial practices say ideas sprinkled with desperation are not acceptable or business-like, but the guys had no choice - and nothing to lose!
Suffice to say, it didn’t go as planned - at first!
About 19 days into their San Francisco adventure, they received their first $101,000 from four angel investors - Massimo Sgrelli, Kevin Donahue, Dwipal Desai, and David Estrada. Jeff Bezos, Russell Siegelman and other giants chipped in throughout the year, delivering another $1.5 million, which inspired MashApps to rebrand to Mashape in 2011.
The team used that funding to further develop their business, pivoting from a platform to a marketplace with the rebrand.
As the first true API marketplace in the world, Mashape became a point of interest for Rick Webb, Google, Andreesen Horowitz, WiL, and other tech companies and investors who saw the opportunity in their idea.
Two years later, they became the largest API site in the world, thanks to another $6.5 million in Series A funding.
The Kong Idea
The young geniuses had learned a lot about how microservices and APIs work, and while the API marketplace was profitable, they wanted to make a difference in the world. They now had sizable manpower and funding, so they got down to laying code and developing with a single purpose in mind: create the ultimate API gateway developer platform - the one where the next big thing in the world of apps would be created.
A couple of years later, they were ready, and the launch plan was simple: just upload their entire work as open-source software on their existing site, Mashape.
The platform was published in April 2015, and Mashape’s developer community took to compiling and combining microservices and plugins into reliable APIs.
They loved it!
Kong quickly established itself as the go-to platform, as its features allowed developers to easily manage authentication, data encryption, rate limiting, and other standard features in API gateways.
What made Kong better than similar platforms on the market? It could integrate with virtually anything, and it supported various data center setups. The cherry on top? It was all done on a cloud-based server - Kong HQ!
Unlike other gateways, Kong HQ was lightweight and had a straightforward interface that allowed quick integration and great response times, pioneering the three pillars of software development - speed, reliability, and simplicity. This ‘central hub’ approach allowed developers to integrate various public and private API pieces.
Soon, word spread, and the world of software development shook.
Developers started flocking to Kong, and along them - investors! By 2017, this growth had convinced Augusto and Marco to reconsider their options, so they decided to make Kong their main project. Mashape’s structure and marketplace were sold to RapidAPI, and the company was renamed and rebranded as Kong HQ.
Kong HQ has been diversely funded, but since its founders didn’t begin it from scratch, so it didn’t go through the classic funding rounds. In March of 2017, Kong was up for Series B funding, raising $18 million in venture capital.
Two years later, in March 2019, Kong received $43 million in Series C funding, and invested it in developing and delivering their first enterprise-level product - the Service Control Platform. This paved the way for international expansion, further establishing Kong HQ as one of the big players in the world of API development.
Kong HQ Today
As of June 2020, Kong has been downloaded more than 150 million times.
There are more than a million instances running at any given time, and Kong HQ is used by thousands of popular startups and tech companies specializing in software development.
This year, Kong HQ was named #41 on the prestigious Inc. 5000 Series: California, a list of fastest-growing companies based in California. They’ve grown to become one of the leaders in the world of IT, with Kong’s portfolio now serving customers like Yahoo! Japan, Ferrari, and other Fortune 500 companies!
Their status as industry pioneers was further confirmed when they held an API-specific event in 2018, called Kong Summit, which has been recurring every October since. The tech conference brings in more than 500 developers and API fanatics each year!
How Kong HQ Makes Money
There are two ways that Kong HQ makes money.
The first one includes selling microservices and plug-ins, and the second one is through premium subscriptions to other services including Kong Enterprise, Kong Brain, and Kong Immunity.
A good idea doesn’t have to be something groundbreaking and new, and it doesn’t have to promise to change our lives forever. Today’s globalized economy is packed with ideas carrying a lot of promise, but ultimately failing to deliver. If we can learn anything from Augusto and Marco, it’s that simplifying and improving existing methods and techniques can sometimes be more important, not to mention profitable!
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves, it’s not like they just had an idea, pitched it and someone showered them with cash. From their failed Dropbox-like project we can learn that innovative ideas aren’t enough, and perseverance is paramount. You’ll have to try every trick in the book to get someone to notice your idea, but if you quit, you’ll never win!
If you’re a young developer with a cool idea, don’t get disheartened if your first project doesn’t take off immediately. The business world is a volatile environment that doesn’t always recognize quality. Keep working, keep grinding, and don’t let the standards of today kill your idea for a better tomorrow!