Behind the API Interview with Matthew James, Codat

Welcome! On Behind the API, we talk to the people who work to build awesome API products about their journey, learnings, and overall approach.

On today’s session for Behind the API, we are joined by Matthew James. Currently at Codat, Matthew is the ultimate launch solution designer with customers launching their Codat experiences.

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Speaker 1 0:02

Welcome on behind the API. We talked to people who work to build awesome API products about the journey, learnings and overall approach on today's session for behind the API. We're joined by the legend Matthew James currently at Codat. Matthew is the ultimate, uh, law solution designer with customers, uh, collaborating for Codat experiences. So, Matt, thanks for being here today and just to start us off, what is Codat and why does it have you excited?

Speaker 2 0:29

Hey Kirby, thanks for having me. I feel very lucky to be here. We were just talking about this, but compared to some of your other guests, I feel like just a guy who plays with an API sometimes To get right into it. Codat is basically the answer to the question. What if you could have easy standardized access to small business data? So any kinds let's narrow that in a little bit. So Codat provides integrations in a standardized format to three broad sources. So that's accounting banking and commerce datasets. Now, who is this useful for usually two kinds of parties. One you're offering some sort of financial products. So you need to be able to interface with their QuickBooks or their bank accounts or their e-commerce platforms. So you can see the revenue. And the other kinds of players are people who are offering services direct to that small business. So maybe that's an accounts payable solution, not saving the business time. Instead of having to go through a hundred bills in a month, you get it all once, click a button and it's done. So those are our two sort of sides. And at the end of the day, Codat really is making life easier for small businesses. I got excited about it for that primarily, but when I see also what kinds of things people are doing with the product that really gets me excited too, because we were formed out of a lender. That's what would be first obvious use case was the founders actually were tasked with going to build API integrations and they're like, we should just be able to buy a product that does this, but the product didn't exist. So they went and founded Codat and four and a half years later, here we are. So some of the things that we never imagined though, things like R and D tax credits, huge and some exciting people doing ESG reporting, also very cool, sort of on the forefront of where businesses going. And then also like every other client also just gets me excited.

Speaker 1 2:22

Yeah. I've definitely been a customer of one of the McAfee James solution design sessions, because I feel like oftentimes people show up with one use case, but then once the learning about the breadth of what Codat offers it has grown into, and it's continued to grow it too. There's a lot more creativity that can be unlocked. Now, before we go into more of that, let's start a little bit in your API journey. So how does a person with an economics background find themselves nerding out and API is in the high-rise of New York city and a cool FinTech.

Speaker 2 2:54

We can do a little history lesson on me. So my economics degree, as you've mentioned, that was from Wheaton college back in the day, definitely skills that I use every single day, really bachelor's degree. So worth it. Um, of course I enjoyed every minute, but you know, how bachelor's degrees go? The one thing that happened to me while I was there was I went through a couple of sort of soul searching moments. I thought I was going to be a lawyer. I thought I was going to be a doctor. And then at one point I thought I was going to be the next big mathematician. So I'm studying for some courses in mathematics and we had to take an introductory coding course. And so that's where I kind of got my first exposure to it. I'd always liked playing around with things like even with my hands on the technical side. So I really enjoy making music. When you are trying to get a signal path established for microphone to your computer, it uses similar parts of your brain as to when you're trying to get an API to work. Cause you're like plugging things in here you go. That's like the authentication. And then you're trying to like make your requests on both sides. But I got my start there. And after I finished my various bits of education, I went into traditional finance at Goldman Sachs for a little bit quickly made the, uh, the transition into FinTech because that fits with me as a person a lot better. And that was where the API, as an idea really entered my consciousness. My previous employer was a regulation tech company. And what they would do is basically do a file exchange with the people that we're serving so that they could run analysis on their portfolio. And that was of course done either through a file upload or the preferred method, the API. And so once I found out about that, you know, I was troubleshooting this sort of things with the clients and that's where I had to kind of like get used to the idea of an API. And then I'm playing around in swagger trying to figure out what a rest API means. I had some good laughs about that with a couple of my friends at that company. But once you start spending time with this stuff, it just opens up those creative bits of your brain. That's what my experience had been. It was a really great video by, I think it's Tom Scott, where it's called something like this video has X number of views and he just uses the API from YouTube to update that constantly. So that's just like a silly example of where these things show up, but it gets my brain going and now coming all the way to Codat, we've reached full API potential where we literally are an API product, um, and connections in data connections anywhere, right. That's basically what's power. So many things that we use every day. And that's why I love being at the park or at like at the heart of these connections between other businesses and their data.

Speaker 1 5:42

Yeah. So when I think about, um, developer experience or DX, someone's kind of going through all of the stages of API discovery, um, a persona and you kind of be in that persona, which is I'm just trying to learn, or I'm very new to API APIs. It's almost like the best API companies that did really intentional product design can help someone be set up to be successful. And I know that Codat definitely knocks it out of the park. And we'll talk a little bit about more, but for you, when you think about the experience of discovering an API has capability, it's going to the documentation and even just getting the API keys, what are some of the companies that you have loved to interact with outside of Stripe that, um, you think they're just doing a great job.

Speaker 2 6:29

So I've got two examples for you. And these are both very Codat specific because this is the stuff that I'm basically using every day plaid and into it, great jobs on their API is as far as I need to use them. So I think the defining characteristics of both of these are you can sign up yourself. You don't really need to go through some big process, takes less than five minutes. Suddenly I've got a developer account, good we're in. Then I can start testing, making calls to the API, to an actual set of data. So both of them do a really good job of providing me with some sandbox data that I can use. I love the Intuit QuickBooks sandbox. This is like where I spend, I don't know, a couple of hours a week just playing around with things to see how we'll handle different scenarios and what our clients are going to be running into. Um, plaid. Similarly, they do this thing where they will give you a sandbox dataset if you need it, which I know sounds, you know, like a low barrier to entry, but it's actually super helpful. So those are the kinds of things that differentiate in my head. I'm like, okay, I can actually go and use it. And you're giving me something to play around with. And I'm very happy at that point. I did a little bit of research just to throw in one other thing. If someone else wants to pull on a thread, I don't know too much about these guys, but Marquetta seems to be a very cool player coming up right now. I had a chance to talk to a couple of their guys at an event a couple of months ago, but it seems like they're going to be doing some interesting stuff.

Speaker 1 7:55

Okay. And right now, you know, the tenant's recorded is New York FinTech week. And Codat did sponsor a pretty important, happier that I saw this sold out it's so let's say for example, a young startup is there and they're coming to Matthew James, and they're saying, well, what should we avoid? You just told us all of the great things to do, but what is something that we can do to, you know, really kind of be focused on just like, Hey, don't make these mistakes. Some of the worst APS I've worked with fail on these things.

Speaker 2 8:26

Yeah. That's a really interesting point. I mean, honestly, I got to go back to that first one. Don't not have sandbox data. Like I know I've said it twice now, but like that just makes it so usable. Um, but to give some actual examples, I think if you can make the API as streamlined as possible, that is so helpful. And what I mean by that is let's like kind of learn some mental model of your API and then don't change that too much, whether that's like, um, you know, you can obviously break this up into segments. Like that's what we do with our API. We've got different end points that then kind of do things differently. But when you're interacting with the cadet API, it kind of feels like one product we've always got like similar kinds of objects together. I mean, this is like basic stuff, but don't mess that up. Don't make people do a lot of context switching. Um, and the other thing is don't have outdated documentation, no one dislikes it more than that. It's almost better to not have documentation than to have documentation, which will lead your users in the wrong direction.

Speaker 1 9:29

Okay. Now thinking about, um, so, you know, still at happy hour, this FinTech is just really eating up the Matthews games experience and they're like, cool. What are some tools or vendors that you use like in your daily life, um, that you love that you would just kind of recommend NPS hardcore?

Speaker 2 9:50

Oh yeah. I mean, there's the obvious answer, man. If you're doing anything API, like what are you doing if you don't have post man? Um, that's like the number one tool for me. I love that thing live in that dark mode post man. Um, other than that, you know, there are so many tool sets that people can get up and running with. Right. I could go maybe a little more specific onto depending what, but this is like getting into like a value thing too personally. I really love having things written down and well-documented even if it's sort of like ways of working and if you're a startup, you know, does that kind of thing is going to differentiate you for yourself in six months when you come back and try and remember what decisions you made to get somewhere. Um, so I love notion huge fan of that. Um, I recommend everyone to be on there just like kind of doing everything I've got to work Nosha and a personal notion, um, full of API requests that I have made full of things. I have discovered that I need to do differently depending on what end point I'm working with. So just doing like personal documentation is really big for me.

Speaker 1 10:55

Oh, that's cool. And the hacker and he was probably really enjoying that notion API as well. So

Speaker 2 10:59

I haven't had a chance to play around with it yet, but I really do need to.

Speaker 1 11:04

Okay. So in this hypothetical example, um, something that I love about Codat is the product marketing is top notch and I've had an opportunity to meet, uh, you know, the head of Codat design, super cool guy. And, um, you can tell that the company puts an emphasis on storytelling. And so when thinking about companies that are API first and trying to even kind of break down what is possible with the API, but then also what is digestible, what are some examples of some companies that are doing great storytelling and in their product marketing and you know, what would you kind of like recommend or highlight there?

Speaker 2 11:43

Yeah, that is such a good observation. I mean, it, it comes back to this like core principle that storytelling is really what we're kind of always it's. If I'm trying to sell something, this person wants to buy a story. Now who's doing this well. I mean, there's some really great players out there. Um, I like to think we do it pretty well. Um, thinking API specifically, I guess the people I've mentioned so far, but you know, there's just a lot going on in this space. I don't know if I could point to anyone specifically who's like really tying together storytelling and API is for me, but I know that there's a lot of good stuff happening.

Speaker 1 12:23

Yeah. I'll, uh, I'll plug round-tables one of my favorites. Uh, the crew over there is of some really nice things with API storytelling around accounts, receivables and counts payable. And then, um, I've always loved alpaca. This API that allows, uh, you know, you can do that fractional trading and this is just some very focused thing. So you get to tell an awesome story with it. Um, you know, thinking a little bit about solution design. Now, when I think about Codat, it's like, I know Codat accounting, and you hit on kind of that core, first problem to solve. You don't have to name customers on this. Uh, but thinking a little bit about, you know, where you can go with API design, what are some cool things that Codat customers are building now with the e-commerce, um, extensions that are on there, the plat extensions, and starting to get a little bit outside of the accounting stack of more to the business stack?

Speaker 2 13:16

Yeah. This is a great question. And we are certainly seeing the market kind of evolve to this because here's the difference between accounting and banking and commerce. Accounting is user entered data and it basically always will be at least for the foreseeable future, compare that to your banking or your commerce data. That's like a transaction which has been recorded by some other third party. So there's that element that we're not relying on someone to go and update books. This is like definitely driving in some interest here. So we've got revenue based lenders. They're always super interested in what's going on in the commerce platforms. We're working with some really interesting people there. A couple of them ended up being in New York city. So we can both do some business and go out and have a, have a nice time in the evening. Other things like that. I think a lot of people who are using accounting data want to get into this one day. So where I see this going is with some of the exciting stuff I mentioned ESG. I think they want to get into that. That's still probably looking a little bit ahead, but that's going to be really big for them as an industry. And we are doing some new things actually to kind of take the accounting data and the banking slash commerce, do some, do some melding together to see what we can do even better for our clients. So it's like, let's take that out. Kind of take that context from accounting plus that immutable data over here and try and merge that together. One other thing I'll mention is you also have some traditional players who are moving into this space and it's always to me when you have a traditional player. So either some sort of large FYI or another kind of large tech company who's ready to innovate. And I've seen this specifically with a couple of our larger clients, they're actually thinking about how do I get into this kind of world of tomorrow? What if we just relied on the banking data? And that's kind of put us on notice to say, all right, if we're going to give this offering, what other value adds can we do? And so that's what we're kind of looking down that route. I already mentioned of putting the two data sources together. The last thing I'll mention on this is you'd be art. I should say. I'm always surprised at how many people want to make data easier to use. So a business is running their Shopify store. As an example, there is a provider out there who's going to take your Shopify data and then kind of give you actionable insights out of it. And people are really interested in this kind of stuff, too. Same thing with your cashflow, from your bank account. It's kind of like when I get off work, I check my mint account to see like where's my money coming in and going out. And they're kind of like commercial versions of that for small business. So those are like the three areas I'm seeing a lot of movement right now.

Speaker 1 15:59

Now, um, you know, I haven't had the opportunity to be a Codat customer, um, and also, uh, experienced a little bit of the customer success strategy of Codat. You'll led by professor Andrew King, you know, former Stripe. And I'm talking about before plat,

Speaker 2 16:15

Former plan,

Speaker 1 16:17

We're planning for,

Speaker 1 16:19

can you, you went to work with customers all the time. You see kind of this, I'm excited, let's do it. And then there might be starts and stops along the way. And you know, we have had an opportunity to talk with, uh, Matt Tanner at Moses. You know, they really focus on watching people through the API journey, but when you're thinking about Codat customers, anybody in general, what are some things that a customer success team can do or solutions design team can do to really help people see it all the way through to like beat in production. Again, that suite value that, uh, you know, the API has been to offer.

Speaker 2 16:53

Yeah. So I've got a stakeholder idea and then a practical idea. So first of all, you have to lead with value. If you're having a conversation with a stakeholder, I always assume that I'm going to be the last thing on their to-do list. Unless I fight for it, I need to fight for the right to be something they want to do. So I'm trying to talk to them in their business outcomes as much as possible. It's, you know, we're trying to accelerate your time to market here, or we're trying to save you time so that you get the integrations you need, and you can go focus on other stuff, always trying to put it in the terms that they will easily understand so that we can have a good partnership together. And then on a practical level, I think assigning things to each other in some sort of working document is always the best way to go. This can look like a table with, you know, five milestones that we want to hit before we get to go live. And then let's assign these to you. I want you to go do these things, go enable the integrations, go test it. I'm in a broad VIG with a high level solutions document. You give me some comments on it. And then after that we go live. And obviously those things are made so that you can make tweaks along the way. But if you have that framework and it's really clear in everyone's head, even if you kind of miss a deadline, you can always say, all right, let's get ourselves accountable back on that. How do we keep pushing this forward? That has been invaluable too. I think especially stuff we've been doing over the last six months where we're trying to put this model in place.

Speaker 1 18:20

Yeah. The shared accountability, making a team when you're kind of joining up in their team. And then I know that Codat will do like a shared slack connection, um, and being part of like their, their customers community. Do you see a big difference and time to launch with th with customers that really invite in almost like a project that's like, Hey, we're going to go launch and having kind of a good cadence around communication, synchronous and asynchronous.

Speaker 2 18:49

I don't know if I see a direct impact on time to launch, but what I do see is stickiness for both parties and that's kind of good for everyone, right? A client wants a partner that they can depend on and a shared slack channel is a great way to build that trust and actually be there for them, right? It's not always the place where problems get solved, but you can always count on me being there to at least recognize it and then put it to the right channels. Any other actionable outcomes? I'm kind of thinking about that. Like where do I see this actually playing out? I think that at the end of the day, we all want to be human beings. Right. And it somehow is a bit easier to be a human being on slack. I think that they've tried to do that. At least you just easier to send a message. I don't need to worry about my formatting. I'm not going to sign off best Matthew, just like, Hey, like the, you still coming to the call today, like what's up. Uh, and then the, the guy messaged, he was like, oh yeah, sorry, just had some audio visual issues. And he was on

Speaker 1 19:50

Vacation. His best, best,

Speaker 2 19:53

Best sincerely is out for me.

Speaker 1 19:55

There's a UK office. You don't jump in with the cheers.

Speaker 2 19:59

Um, if I know that I'm talking to a cheerleader, then I can definitely throw in a cheers. Right. You always, you always got to, like I said, think about what that person is that you're communicating with. Try and get myself in their mindset.

Speaker 1 20:13

Okay. And so for the last question, and you just had your two year anniversary at Codat. So what do you feel like Matthew, James and his first 90 days at Codat? What did you learn kind of about yourself that you're applying, you know, for this kind of next chapter you have like say for your next two years.

Speaker 2 20:31

All right. We're doing some time travel. One of my favorite pastimes. So me, when I stepped into Codat, I like to think I, this probably happens whenever you get into a new job, but I was definitely kind of really excited. There's some phrase for this. It's something about like a rabbit, like a bunny. I was like really, really excited to be, to be there. Um, and I'm lucky that Codat is a great company because the process has not been me getting jaded. Right. It's the process of like me maturing it a little bit, um, and understanding what kinds of things you need to push on. So I've had a really great appreciation of how different teams can be super committed to their mission. And sometimes that doesn't really line up with each other, like just take the classic example of the product, like product machine and a sales machine. They're pointed in two different directions, but really they're working at their best when they commit wholeheartedly to that. But they're able to still disagree and collaborate. And I've really seen that come across a lot in myself over the last two years. I think I've become a lot more comfortable with that idea. And a lot of that has to do with the great people I work with, but I think that's going to be something I'm going to have to take away for a long time. I mean, there's a lot of other things to go check out my LinkedIn post on it, but that's definitely one that sticks out.

Speaker 1 21:55

Okay. Well, Matthew, thank you for being on behind the API and I hope you survived the last day of New York FinTech

Speaker 2 22:02

Kirby. Thanks for having me. This has been a blast.