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Communications apps are exploding. Who's driving this? Check out Nylas API

Jerry Bowles Profile picture for user jbowles November 17, 2020
Nylas says it saves developers over 1,524,240 hours per year by integrating just once with its RESTful API.

phone for email
(Image by Alexas_Fotos from Pixabay)

Application programming interfaces (APIs) are the connective tissue of enterprise communications. APIs allow different pieces of software to "talk" to each other, which, in turn, lets developers add extra functionality to their apps without having to build the entire infrastructure from scratch. APIs are handy for hundreds of uses. For example, let's say you wanted to Integrate all your email services, calendars, address books, schedules from multiple providers into a single universal data access point. You might be able to do it in house but the effort would be very expensive and time-consuming.

Which is where San Francisco-based Nylas comes in, said CEO and cofounder Gleb Polyakov, in an interview:

There is a vast amount of data residing in user's inboxes, calendars, and address books which can be leveraged to build features to increase their engagement. However, accessing that data is extremely difficult due to the vast disparities in how data can be accessed at the provider-level. Up until now, each connection has required a discrete integration to be built and maintained; there has been no unified solution that allows developers to access this data across providers in a secure, reliable, and scalable way.  

Nylas was founded in 2013 by Polyakov and fellow MIT grad and CTO Christine Spang, with the goal of allowing customers to seamlessly connect their applications to any email, calendar and contacts provider.  Nylas integrates with the email, calendar, and contact APIs from all the major providers, including Google (Gmail), Microsoft (Exchange, Outlook, and Office 365), Yahoo, and AOL. 

In its seven-year history, Nylas has amassed high-profile customers like Comcast, Hyundai, Cision, News Corp., and Freshworks among others. Its communication APIs are used globally across more than 22 countries. The company has raised a total of $55 million in venture capital.  Its investors are 8VC and Round13 Capital, Spark Capital, ScaleUP Slack Fund, and Citi Ventures.  Said Polyakov:

Developers come to us for out-of-the-box solutions that allow them to bring to market applications and features with a fraction of the time and cost of developing in-house. We think of the API space as the supply chain for modern software development. What typically may take 24+ months and seven senior engineers to build an integration in-house and from the ground up, we can achieve in a matter of days.

In September, Nylas announced a strategic partnership with Leviathan Security Group, an Information Security and Risk Management consulting firm, to provide developers around the world with a simplified certification process for any application that accesses Gmail data. The company says its Nylas' Express Security Review offers Leviathan Security Group's expert services at the lowest available rates and with priority, white-glove service for applications subject to Google's OAuth mandatory verification process and security assessment. 

These services include end-to-end security evaluations and high-end penetration tests that mimic the work of sophisticated attackers to ensure applications that integrate with Gmail data are fully-compliant with Google's security policies.

I asked Polyakov how the role of software developers is evolving, especially in terms of DevOps which is, in part, an effort to simplify software development and bring operations people into the mix. His view is optimistic: 

The role of the developer will evolve starting with the way we build software and how it's changed. It is now a mature industry with a supply chain of prefab "building blocks" that extend from back-end infrastructure to front end user-experience components that allow developers of all skill levels to quickly compose solutions without having to build everything from scratch. The rapid rate of adoption of these platforms will increase the velocity of software development and in turn shift the role of the software engineer into an increasingly creative and user-centric space. The daily job will be much less about wrangling the raw code and more about optimizing for better customer outcomes. As a result, we'll see more alignment with IT and DevOps as collaboration tools become more available allowing them to make more data-driven decisions.

Nylas is considered among the most diverse and socially-aware companies in Silicon Valley so it was no surprise to learn that Polyakov views the "democratization" of software as a good thing:  

The craft of software engineering used to be reserved for the likes of your MIT grads that had years of highly-structured, formal training. Given the inequities within our educational systems and institutions, an extreme lack of diversity and inclusion within development teams was the norm. This has changed as companies have revised their hiring criteria to embrace a new generation of developers with diverse backgrounds and a mixture of both formal and informal education. 

Now that the door has been open, more young adults entering the job market will decide to pursue low-cost training that is independent of the formal 4-year Computer Science programs. There will also be a trend towards reskilling those that have lost employment due to the global pandemic, so they can get to restart their careers and achieve well-paying jobs without having to spend decades climbing the corporate ladder.

Nylas is a founding member of Out in Tech's Qorporate council, the world's largest community of LGBTQ+ tech professionals that seeks greater diversity, inclusion, and belonging in the technology sector. It supports companies like Lesbians Who Tech, Dev Color, and Women Who Code, hosts regular workplace bias workshops, and has an active voice in the tech community about the importance of diversity in the workplace. Said Polyakov:  

We're proud to say that we're the #1 email API, and that we've built a deeply human company along the way.

My take

The communications API market is exploding with API demand being driven by  developments like the rapid adoption of cloud computing and a shift to microservices from more monolithic architectures. Nylas finds itself competing with newer entrants like Postman and RapidAPI. But, Nylas is a pioneer, has solid management and the early mover advantage. 

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