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The Apigrate Origin Story

My career began in 1996 at Price Waterhouse working on SAP implementations. This is the story how, over the next 18 years, Apigrate came to be.
The Apigrate Origin Story

I started my career at Price Waterhouse in 1996 working on SAP implementations. It was a great experience with a lot of intense training, travel, and opportunities to work on Fortune 500 consulting projects. I learned a lot about business integration working as a backend developer (ABAP for those of you who may remember it!) on huge implementation teams (there were 50-plus people on the consulting implementation team my first project from BOTH PriceWaterhouse and Andersen Consulting).

Intensive PW bootcamp in the summer of 1996. We learned Objective C, SQL and PowerBuilder. After training, we all rolled onto different projects around the country. (image credit: Melissa Rosenstrach Zimmerman)

Big projects can be stifling. After my third successive assignment to another massive implementation project with Price, I wanted to find out what working on a smaller-scale project would be like, so I followed a college friend of mine to a midwest-based consulting company hiring developers with SAP experience. Working on more SAP implementations, I continued to gain not only technical experience, but also build real-world knowledge about how businesses in different verticals run; from integration, to sales, through supply chain and fulfillment. It wasn't long, however, before I began to tire of some of the technical similarities between SAP implementations. These were the glory years at the turn of the millennium. We had just traversed the Y2K "scare", and a lot of young professionals like me wanted in on the "action" of the first DotCom Boom. My boss recommended an opportunity at a 3PL internet startup in the western suburbs of Chicago, and I requested immediate reassignment. The condition was that I would train up heavily on HTML, Javascript and Java. When I rolled on to the project, there were a mix of consultants and other subcontractors; and this was where I met two other developers, who I'll refer to as "Joe & Steve". They were destined to become both my friends and mentors.

It was an intoxicating time. I had a pile of O'Reilly books on my desk to keep up with the latest software trends. The 3PL project was interesting, (I had to write a web-based quote wizard for companies that wanted to bring their business to the warehouse). This experience led to others, and eventually I had enough experience to join as a developer at other startup companies. (Even after the Tech Bubble burst in 2001, there was lingering angel investment in the midwest.) There was a lot to like about having a ton of responsibility, wearing many hats, and having to continuously learn and experiment with evolving technology. Some of these startups evolved successfully, but after the third one I joined failed, I found myself briefly unemployed.

It's never fun to be unemployed, but it was lousy timing on a lot of other levels. I was a young father at the time, and joblessness coupled with the sleep deprivation put a lot of stress on my wife Caroline and me. I was all the more grateful, then, to find Omeda. Omeda was/is a family-owned and it was a great "start-up like" opportunity in the northern Chicago suburbs. An established company, Omeda was embarking on a complete reimagining of their legacy software B2B marketing platform. They needed someone with full-stack development experience and that as the owner colorfully explained to me at the time, "understands it's about the data!!!" I jumped at the chance. With trust of ownership (and not a few "animated" discussions among leadership), I worked to build a great development team at Omeda over a decade. I even brought in Joe & Steve as subcontractors when we needed some additional firepower for the always-innovating Omeda team. I wouldn't trade my Omeda days for anything.

The Omeda "War Room" in the late 00's

Meanwhile Joe and Steve were working diligently on another idea-trying to find a way to make it easy for companies, especially ones with fewer or no developers, to build software solutions with their existing staff. Their application, called ItDuzzit (as in, "it does it") allowed business staff knowledgeable about data to use a drag and drop UI to create integrations between cloud apps like Autotask, Salesforce, QuickBooks Online etc. Today, we would refer to ItDuzzit a "low code" iPaaS technology. Back then, there weren't many competitors except Zapier. ItDuzzit had only a handful of customers at the time, but the stars were beginning to align.

Another evolving trend that began in 2000 and accelerated through 2010 was the emergence of software as a services APIs. You may remember that Salesforce, eBay, and Amazon were the early leaders. Enviously, other SaaS providers observed how these companies were able to make their services both salient and "sticky". They too began creating and deploying their APIs to make it easier for companies to integrate their services. By 2010, a vast array of APIs became available to those that could use them to "assemble" creative software solutions using combinations of different SaaS capabilities.

But there was a catch. If you were a small company or even a medium-sized one, you still needed a developer (or several) to leverage these API capabilities. And developers can be famously fickle employees (I know this from being one, hiring and trying to retain them). Most developer talent was (is still!) scooped up by Fortune 500 companies who could pay higher salaries driven by talent scarcity. The SMB market was left to compete for the remainders. And yet, this dynamic was why ItDuzzit was to succeed.

Joe & Steve had created a solution in ItDuzzit that was starting to attract an interesting array of customers. They tended to be businesses that were less fearful of technology, but also ones that weren't planning on hiring developers any time soon. They were businesses that already used a lot of software in their day to day operations, but were sick and tired of getting it all to work together without spending hours of frustrating duplicate data entry. Many of these were MSPs (managed service providers), accountants, and ecommerce entrepreneurs. Most of them used software still in use today like QuickBooks Online, Autotask, Salesforce, Zoho, and Shopify (and of course a lot of extinct SaaS solutions too).

Back at Omeda, we had moved onto the newer software platform I had helped architect, but my feet were starting to get itchy. I was spending less time in the trenches and more time on management responsibilities. While (I am told) it was something I was good at, I yearned to get back into a more hands-on technology role. One day, over lunch with Joe, I asked how it was going at ItDuzzit. He explained that Steve and he needed to spend more time on product features and business-development. The growing ItDuzzit client base was asking a lot of questions about how to build integrations. Would I consider coming on board with sales AND development responsibilities? I said yes. It was hard to leave Omeda, but it was time for a new (and short) chapter.

ItDuzzit's newest employee.

Over the next year, in a cramped Ravenswood office situated right above a Jimmy Johns, fueled by Joe's coffee (which is strong enough to start a car), I got to work. Days and nights were spent reading API documentation to understand the "backend" capabilities the most popular software in use. I called and emailed SaaS companies to beg them to update their documentation and clarify their release schedules. I built capabilities into ItDuzzit adoption of these APIs without writing code. But best of all, I worked one-on-one with our customers building low code, big custom integrations. Bringing these integrations live often freed an owner, a salesperson, a field service tech, or an accountant from hours of inter-application drudgery. A lot of them described getting an integration to work for the first time felt like "magic"; and I absolutely loved doing it. I soon developed my own saying, "the magic never gets old".

We made a lot of magic with different apps on the itDuzzit platform. In early 2014, ItDuzzit had a booth at a conference in Silicon Valley for a SaaS technology vendors. There was a lot of interest in ItDuzzit from attendees, including Intuit (makers of QuickBooks and Quicken). One of the Intuit engineers asked us whether they were aware that ItDuzzit accounted for something like 30% of all of Intuit's API traffic (at the time); to which we responded "no, but that IS interesting!". Over the next couple of months of due diligence, Intuit pried open our source code, asked us questions about our roadmap, and asked us ad nauseam about our SLDC processes. All the while, our customers had their own unending stream of integration needs to which I had to attend.

In August of 2014, Intuit acquired ItDuzzit. It was very exciting. We all became full-time employees with the condition that we eventually relocate out to the San Jose area. Joe & Steve, as founders, jumped at the chance, but I hesitated. My sons were all in their formative elementary and middle-school years; and nearly all of my family was in the midwest. After Caroline and I discussed it over the next few months, I decided to stay put. But that meant (eventually) leaving Intuit. What would I do next?

Intuit acquired ItDuzzit in 2014, rebranding it as Intuit AppConnect.

A path forward quickly became clear. The Intuit acquisition involved all of ItDuzzit's technology assets (code, documentation, databases, etc). They were very interested in leveraging the ItDuzzit technology for their own strategic purposes, however they wanted to do so with exclusivity-in other words, all the existing ItDuzzit customers would have to migrate off the platform. We all fought as hard as we could to prevent this from happening, but had to settle for an extended grace period of 18 months for our customer base of some 1000+ customers. Since Intuit wasn't interested in supporting the customers, Joe suggested I start my own consulting company. I could continue to build new integrations (albeit not on ItDuzzit), I would help the ItDuzzit customer base transition off to other integration platforms. And thus, in November 2014, Apigrate was born.

Ye olde Apigrate logo from 2014.

The early days of Apigrate were frenetic; but I was fortunate to have a built-in base of potential customers, many of them MSPs. The most valuable partner I had was Autotask, essential operating software used by many of the most successful MSPs to manage products, services and IT contracts. Even today, Apigrate still does a lot of Autotask integration, but back then, they really kept the lights on! Over time, Apigrate has had the privilege of working on a lot of great projects with software too numerous to name here. However, it is the people we get to work with on those projects that makes it all worth it.

Upon reflection, I'm still much the same person I was when I trained in Tampa with Price Waterhouse all those years ago. As an business owner, I've had to adapt and learn in ways I'd never dreamed of. But I still delight in helping customers build apps, integrate and make a difference in the future of their businesses.

"The magic never gets old!"

Derek Gau, President and Owner, Apigrate LLC