UPDATED 16:12 EST / AUGUST 13 2021

NEWS

Kong CEO anticipated the power of connecting APIs

We spoke with the CEOs of companies that participated in the recent AWS Startup Showcase: Innovations With CloudData and CloudOps to find out what drives them and learn about their visions for the future. This is the ninth feature in this CEO Startup Spotlight series.

Augusto “Aghi” Marietti (pictured), co-founder and chief executive officer of Kong Inc., likens his company’s technology to a central nervous system for the cloud. 

“We’re building a kind of connectivity tissue for the cloud, an API platform that allows you to manage, secure and govern all of your APIs from one single place,” he explained. 

Kong creates software and managed services that connect APIs and microservices natively  across and within clouds, Kubernetes, data centers and more using intelligent automation. Kong Konnect is a full-stack service connectivity platform that allows developers, architects and operators to deliver connectivity at the edge, within their applications and in between applications from one control plane.

The genesis of Kong began when Marietti and co-founder Marco Palladino came together in Italy more than a decade ago to form a mashup platform company called Mashapps in a garage. In 2010, the founders picked up stakes to relocate to San Francisco, California, a huge inflection point and leap of faith. In 2011, the company pivoted into Mashape, an API marketplace, and secured $1.5 million in seed funding.

“We knew 10 years ago that  APIs were going to be the primary way to consume, sell and distribute software,” Marietti said. 

Indeed, two years later, Mashape became the largest API marketplace in the world. In 2015, Mashape launched an open-source project named Kong to the developer community with robust early adoption. The Kong business grew rapidly, and in 2017, Mashape divested the API marketplace product to RapidAPI so it could turn its full attention to growing Kong.

After gaining community and enterprise adoption on a global scale, the company decided to rebrand as Kong Inc. Today the company has more than 350 enterprise customers, and in February, it announced a $100 million Series D round of funding.

A dramatically changing landscape accelerates the pace of development

Traditional monolithic applications do not scale well in an increasingly distributed world. As they grow, they become hard to move, scale and deploy. In the era of digital transformation, however, software companies are realizing that in order to grow their business and build successful applications, they have to operate much faster at every stage, including innovating, developing, iterating and shipping. 

The software landscape is dramatically shifting with the advent of the cloud, virtualization, containers, microservices, containerization and other innovations that facilitate development. But as enterprises start to move in the direction of microservices and increasingly distributed technologies, they run into the challenge of managing a large number of APIs.

Flashback to Mashape, the API marketplace that Marietti and Palladino had created before Kong. The marketplace connected developers to different APIs so they could use them to build new software. The founders discovered that the real value in the technology they had created  was the backbone for running the marketplace. 

Fast forward to Kong today. Its platform was designed to handle a massive amount of API traffic, all simultaneously. Kong Konnect securely and reliably manages all the connections between different microservices through a single platform, making it easier for developers to build software and companies to bring new technologies to market a lot more quickly.

The company has the advantage of working with Amazon Web Services Inc. in its beginning stages. In fact, Jeff Bezos was an early investor. Mike Bilodeau, of Kong’s product marketing and corporate development, explained in a March 2021 interview with theCUBE that Kong shares “a lot of the same customers and a very similar ethos of wanting to help people do things in the most cost-effective rapid manner as possible, and to build the best software.”

Growing with ‘GRUCEO’

When asked where Kong is headed in the next few years, Marietti replied that he is focused on expanding Kong’s cloud service offerings to meet emerging needs and on growing internationally. The company is scaling operations and hiring across global markets, including EMEA, APAC and LATAM. It appears to be well on its way: Kong achieved a two-year revenue growth of 618% and was ranked 29 on Inc.’s 5,000 Regionals: California list of fastest-growing private companies in 2021, moving up from its 41st ranking last year.

While a lot of organizations struggle with how to scale while keeping their cultures intact, Marietti said his team are proud of the culture they’ve created and the manner in which Kong’s  values are instilled into its DNA. The name of the company’s mascot — the gorilla in its logo — is GRUCEO (grew-see-oh), which spells out Kong’s core values:

Global – Be inclusive. We think and act globally in all that we do. We embrace our differences because it makes us stronger.  

Real – Be authentic. We are genuine, principled and confident without arrogance. Show respect and kindness, especially in tough moments.

Unstoppable – Be relentlessly resourceful. We work with purpose, obsession and grit. It takes muscle to do the hard things, and doing hard things builds muscle.

Champions – Be customer-obsessed. We care. Customers are everything, so put them at the center of everything you do. We are all empowered to make an impact.

Explorers – Be curious. We value ideas over hierarchy. Never accept the status quo. We make bold bets, fail fast and learn everyday. There is always a way. 

Own It – Be an owner. We are drivers, not passengers, and own the quality and great outcomes for our work.

As a leader, Marietti seems to share a common trait among some of today’s CEOs, and that is trying to maintain a “low ego.” The title listed on his LinkedIn page is Chief Elevator of Others, reflecting his approach to leadership.

Success requires a good wave, a good surfboard and a good surfer

Outside of Kong, one of Marietti’s favorite activities is learning to fly, and he has 35 hours under his belt so far. The new pilot finds similarities in flying a plane and running a company. 

“When you fly a plane, relying on visual elements and not electronics, you have 30 seconds every minute to assess whether you’re going where you really want to go by checking things like nose and wing levels,” he explained. “This is about half your time as a startup, determining if the startup is really going where it should be going. Twenty of those 30 seconds is looking at the landscape — checking for other planes around you or if a mountain might be ahead of you, which is like scanning the market landscape. The other 10 seconds is watching the instrumentation; is the air pressure or speed rate too high or low? That’s similar to gauging your financial data and making sure you have enough oil in the tank,” he said. 

Marietti had another interesting analogy, not just for operating a business, but for creating a successful business: Surfing.

“To build a successful company, you need three things,” he explained. “You need a good wave, a good surfboard and a good surfer. You can’t go bigger than the wave, just as you can’t go bigger than the market. But you also need to attach yourself to the right wave. In our case, the wave is APIs.”

Marietti continued: “Then you have to have a good surfboard, which is the technology, or Kong. And, finally, you need a good surfer, and that is the team, the culture and the people. When you have all three components in place at the right time and in the right place, you have the masterpiece of surfing,” he concluded.

Kong may well have the right wave, the right surfboard, and the right surfer in place.

Photo: Kong

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