BAn expert strategist and business leader in the communications, media and internet sector globally, today Zoran Vasijev serves as Chief Executive Officer of Apigate, which is a subsidiary of Axiata Digital and itself part of regional powerhouse, the Axiata Group. Apigate has an established track record in the API platform business.

Quah Mei Lee (QML), an industry principal analyst with Frost & Sullivan, had the opportunity to conduct a Movers & Shakers interview with Zoran Vasiljev (ZV), Chief Executive Officer of Apigate.

QML: Can you please start by giving our readers a brief overview of Apigate including the vision behind its formation and its current role in the market?

ZV: Sure. Apigate originally started as an internal business unit specifically built to support and deliver value to the six (6) mobile network operators within the Axiata group. Apigate’s business today comprises of the original three (3) different API businesses built along the way but integrated in 2016 to maximize synergy within the company to enable an end-to-end global scale offering. One part meant to address long tail called IdeaMart, another meant to address short tail called MIFE (Mobile Internet Fulfillment Exchange) and a third called WSO2.telco was aimed at open source digital enablement. WSO2.telco was formed as part of a joint venture with WSO2, which is a leading open source API management platform company. Combining the innovative insights of a telco group and the technology of an award-wining open source middleware, Apigate today delivers ground-breaking digital enablement platform for enterprises while offering the long-tail developer community a marketplace of APIs and application templates to build, manage, market, scale and monetize.

Apigate’s vision is to become the next unicorn out of Asia. We seek to go beyond the confines of the telecoms industry and offer a next generation global API platform with global reach that delivers value to the wireless industry. We seek to enable the disruptors of the world. We connect companies to a global base and help them differentiate within 15 minutes. Apigate’s mission is to mold our business and grow in a way that makes it very hard to be replicated. We work to not only lead the market but also to transform it and to grow it, thereby creating a constant stream of new market opportunities along the way. Our current goal is to solve the critical issues faced by companies such as digitalization, improving customer’s experience and monetization, uniquely and smartly.

QML: What is the unique value proposition of Apigate and what are your key competitive differentiators?

ZV: Apigate and Apigate’s platform is all about offering a differentiating factor. As we sought to differentiate from our competitor/s, we built capabilities that in combination are able to offer our customers connectivity, reach and the unique opportunity to differentiate. It is this one single unified proposition that is what makes our value proposition different and that is what we are excited about. To date, there is no competitor in the market that has a comparable end-to-end solution offering. If you only look at each individual section e.g. the API management platform, there are several competitors in the market, but if you look at it from overall, we are the only one.

We have invested the last 4 years in doing all the heavy lifting including acquiring over 260 merchants that are connected and selected by Apigate as the single connection in order to gain reach. We have built our presence as a global player with a global platform. From the original reach of six mobile network operators under the Axiata Group, we now have over 110 mobile network operators which touched 3.1 billion mobile devices. It is a very unique proposition. Companies can connect, rapidly scale and deliver content in Middle East, Africa, Americas, Europe, and Asia, wherever we are connected. This is game changing because it truly brings the world closer together.

For us, a key differentiation factor is our ability to purpose build and deliver as soon as possible. We think it is about identifying very quickly what are the next behaviors and next needs, especially within the consumer base and working with our developers and solution partners (if necessary) to address them. The incentive is the very small first mover advantage window to acquire these customers before others start to replicate our success. This allows companies to acquire faster and smarter, monetize faster, experiment for cheaper and build more affordably. This is the value proposition that we want to be known for and chosen for.

We offer results with low investment through revenue share.

QML: Can you elaborate further on how Apigate is enabling the disruptors of the world through its unique value proposition and key competitive differentiators?

ZV: We have built a super-highway with on-ramps and off-ramps such that disruptors can choose where they want to get in and where they want to get out without additional negotiation, integration and contract. In layman terms, our end-to-end platform offers easy on-boarding, easy exit and an expeditious approach to enabling the digital strategy and ambitions of a company to unlock new opportunities that may not have been thought of yet. Each time a disruptor chooses to join us, it will be a painless monetization opportunity for them. This takes the pressure off when times are hard while maximizing the revenue potential when times are good.

Another way that we help disruptors is through synergies with like mindedness. Disruptors will be partnering with a company that has the same hunger to grow with a common goal to grow fast. Leveraging on our willingness to try the untested is beneficial and works both ways. For us, it is also an interesting activity to partake in as we can build up something special and unique that others will want to disrupt further. We do this because we think that it could lead to the next generation of new solutions, new services, new APIs or something very specific that if it is proven to work will lead the way in the market.

Our end-to-end platform enables 10,000 developers globally to build apps and connect through our API to monetize ideas. The story of a Bangladeshi or Sri Lanka developer who manages to create an app on our platform within 15 minutes by using some API on our platform and have his app consumed the next day in South Africa is truly heartwarming. We can enable a man that does not even have a passport with a global business in 15 minutes. That is an amazing story and it is the reality for many of our partners. These real life applications highlight the importance of the role that we play in industry and the real value behind it.

QML: Can you please describe how digital asset linking through Apigate’s API platform business can be a key enabler for companies to enhance sales and global business reach? How different is it from what is already available in the market?

ZV: In the age of software-powered digital disruption, APIs are important for fostering innovation. Achieving success in today’s world requires connecting digital assets and it is APIs that will drive this success. Many companies cannot do this on their own yet so Apigate was built to extend the reach of a company’s core assets, allowing them to be integrated, shared, re-used and sold as to build new revenue streams.

Digital asset linking greatly simplifies the way companies have traditionally done business. It offers an interface through an API to the company’s industry ecosystem to build the necessary partnerships, acquire customers and communicate. Apigate’s edge is that it does this smartly and within a short period of time with a one stop solution that offers global reach to multiple parties with only one contract, one connection, one party to be accountable and one business model. For start-ups in particular, Apigate makes it not only easy to get into business but also to get into a global business.

Apigate currently serves the entertainment, OTT, app, banking, payment, insurance, e-commerce, travel, transportation, and logistic verticals as these verticals have sufficient transaction volumes to benefit from more streamlined and digitized operations but the opportunities are limitless. With Apigate, every dollar is spent smartly as it has the tools to help acquire new customers through our connection to 3.1 billion of mobile users. Without Apigate, it will take companies something like 100s of flights, 1000s of hours of meetings, multiple days of lawyer meetings and at least 3 years before getting to profit. If you just look at this for a moment, we are removing the pain of doing business and providing a faster and smoother enabler to bring in the money earlier giving companies a quick time to value.

QML: What are Apigate’s marketing and product positioning strategies? Do you plan to form any strategic alliances / partnerships? If yes, how will these efforts strengthen and fortify Apigate’s plan to advance global digital transformation.

ZV: We have ApigateHub, ApigatePro and IdeaMart. ApigateHub is the next generation API ecosystem platform for business-critical applications, rapid growth and monetization. ApigatePro is a low-cost, open source API management platform that is used by Telcos and large enterprises while at the same time is perfect for early stage start-ups and small to medium-sized businesses. Since ApigatePro is self-hosted, the platform can scale with the size of the organization, and resources can be allocated to it as they are needed or available. What makes ApigatePro stand above other open source API management platforms is the scope of features it provides, which includes prototyping, security, integration and governance tools that are typically found in other commercially available API management platforms. IdeaMart is a platform for developer community and content providers to create simple API based services in 15 minutes.

Our ambition of becoming the next billion dollar unicorn cannot be done alone. We will do this with partners that have the same ambition to succeed as us. We spend 50% of the time creating and engineering internally and 50% of the time co-creating with partners. We have recently announced in San Francisco that we will form a global partnership with a partner that will allow us to penetrate and reach the solutions that we need to strengthen and fortify our solution offerings.

At the same time, we are always looking out for new products through partnerships or through acquisition of IP that will bring value to our solution and give us the edge. A potential partnership could be with cutting-edge product providers. These are companies that have spent a lot of effort in engineering a niche product and can ideally benefit from the channel that Apigate offers in return. I will like to think of it as WIN-WIN when both of us can leverage on our synergies to solve consumers pain points. To this end, we are even willing to work with our competitors to achieve this. Co-opetition is not out of the question.

Our platform has become an integral building block of digital transformation enabling companies to deliver exceptional customer experiences, create new revenue streams and connect employees, partners, apps and devices to data—securely, seamlessly, globally. This is all part of our grand plan to advance global digital transformation.

QML: Can you please share with us the challenges including those of rapid growth and what strategy is in place to overcome them?

ZV: The biggest challenge that I face lies in needing to mobilize a fast growing company while I am still tweaking and transforming it to be more sustainable. Aspects of the challenge faced shows up in molding the culture, acquiring not just talent but the right talent and prioritizing the many opportunities.

Firstly, as a spin off from a telco, we have had to take on the full responsibility for profit and loss. This new responsibility requires a revenue hungry mentality or culture that stimulates us to continuously think about how to grow our customer base and how to work closer with partners that are like us. To achieve this requires an internal transformation that once completed will fuel a future of fast growth.

Secondly, facing a limited talent pool means that it is very important for us to create awareness of Apigate globally in order to gain access to additional and international talent. While we are able to get talent on-board, our main challenge is to get talent with the right fit, for example, with the network and experience in the countries that we are targeting, in order to scale our global accounts faster and more cost effectively.

Thirdly, as we move away from being recognized as a telco linked platform and towards being recognized as a global company that is working to solve the problems in the digital era, the potential becomes so much bigger that we started to face the challenge of prioritization. We chose to be in this business because the API industry is expected to be worth US$230 billion by 2020 and of this, US$70 billion or 30% of market will be from within Asia Pacific, which is the fastest growing region in the API economy. This meant that we were not only going to be in the right industry but also in the right location, which was a good place to start.

However, as we ventured out across neighboring Asia, Middle East and African countries, we not only found business going global but also business coming into Asia Pacific as our base, the place that we know best. Companies saw value in us as a gateway into Asia. The opportunity has become so big and the need for our solutions is now so great that we now need to decide how to prioritize given the talent pool limitation. Meanwhile, we will continue to seek out the right people to grow our business fast enough to keep pace with the opportunity presented.

We are born out of a telco, bred for the cloud and built to last. Such is our mantra.

QML: Continued innovation is the key to success in this growing industry. How is the process of innovation managed at Apigate?

ZV: At Apigate, we are all responsible for innovation. Approximately 50% of innovation at Apigate comes from within our engineering team and our product division. We are a 5 years start-up company so our engineering and product is staffed by a team of 70 people. Our product council works continuously and tirelessly on new solutions mainly initiated by our customers because at Apigate, our customers drive innovation. So our product people actively meet with partners to discuss and brainstorm new ideas to address customer pain points as well as customer behaviors and demands. We continue to learn what is the next problem or experience that needs to be solved or improved and these learnings become inputs into our innovation process and product roadmap. We strive to better meet the needs of our joint customer base.

Part of my role and challenge is to build an environment that is conducive for innovation within a digital operation. I need to build the hungry culture and the act-now culture. People here need to become the experts and not generalists. For us, this is important because these aspects of work focus impacts speed to market, which is critical for our customers. We need to quickly figure out that something is not working and to take swift action to react. That is how I see innovation working for us. I do not believe that the task to innovate should be given to one particular person or one particular department. I think all of us should be in the mood to innovate and in the mood to sell.

At Apigate, we are all innovators and business development experts.

QML: There has been reference made to some of the world’s most renowned brands as early adopters of Apigate services. Could you please elaborate on the current state of adoption of Apigate services in the marketplace?

ZV: Over the past four years we have done all the hard work, all the heavy lifting and work that nobody wanted to do. Today through our suite of APIs and gateways, we enable Long-Tail and Short-Tail digital service providers and companies to serve over 3.1 billion mobile users. We have kept our focus on where we can make a difference and where we can differentiate ourselves from others. It is because to this keen focus on what we do best, we have experienced 8x growth within the last 8 months. What this means is that we have been successful at bringing revenue back to innovators and are seeing high adoption of our services and acquisition of new customers in sectors that have high potential and are very scalable. We are winning not only because we started in the fastest growing region in the API economy but also because we are focusing on a geography that we know best – Asia.

QML: What do you want Apigate to accomplish in the next few years and how would you define success for Apigate?

ZV: We would like to build Apigate into a dominant global platform that enables digital service providers to serve billions of mobile users globally. Our success will only be measured by the success we deliver to our customers.

I think our real goal for the next 3 years is for Apigate to demonstrate a profitable, sustainable market changing business. We are building the organization, the team and a global presence based on our promises. We have the opportunity to improve customer experience and people’s lives, and deliver measurable value to anybody that touches our platform. It is based on these values that I want to build this company into a super valuable company and to this order, achieve our ambition to accelerate more and to become a billion dollar company. We will achieve this either through investments or by going public and are encouraged by the results we are seeing so far.

QML: As we wrap up, what you would like to accomplish in the next few years and how will you define success for your position?

ZV: Internally, I would like to build an organization where people are motivated. I will be the happiest executive if I can continue to attract and retain talent. I think that building the right culture and cultivating a talent pool that is excited about doing the things that we do and stays on for more, are some of the things that will make me extremely proud and happy. Externally, I would like to position the company such that customers refer to us as a company that understands their needs and delivers results for them. As we work closer together and win over the customer together, I would love it if we can celebrate our successes together. Putting these measures internally and externally in place, I aim to grow our brand perception in eyes of the customer by leaps and bounds to really give ourselves a real chance at succeeding.

Our technology is driving critical transformation and value for our customers. Being in the trenches and working with the people driving those changes, from the boardroom to developers, is extremely rewarding. As this is only the start of things that are yet to come, I can only look forward to more…

QML: Zoran, thank you for this really inspiring session. I wish you and Apigate all the best for the journey ahead.

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