A story about the Superhero API and the people who are using it
Hey guys! This is a story about the history of the superhero API, on which I've tweeted here and here. So I thought this would be a good checkpoint to understand the progress I made on it so far, and also create a document on how people are using it so far.
How it Started
Wayyy back in 2018-2019, I used to write technical articles for various publications. This was before I realised I could write for myself and grow my personal audience. An idea that I had pitched was writing an article on building an app for the web (using React), and also for the voice assistants (Alexa and Google).
I was looking for any pre-existing APIs I could use, but couldn't find any good ones. So, with no particular tech-stack in mind, I decided of building something around superheroes, since it has a really cool emoji in Apple (which is the current logo for the API).
To get started with it, I scraped a few superhero wikis and tried to fetch the common data points within them. Then, I dumped the data file into a Node app and queried the file on each request, while still retaining good performance. So, Vercel was a good candidate for this one-off application.
After the API was set up (which was the easy part), I managed to create apps for the platforms in mind, and my first article went live on freeCodeCamp. The voice apps do okayish, and the article must also have done reasonably well, because it became easier for me to write there and in other publications after this article.
So in a way, the API was built to serve me and I was the first user of my API.
A few months later (second-half of 2019), me and a friend were looking to apply to YC with just an idea. The idea was to build a platform for serving ML models, and we would seed the platform with an initial set of models. While doing the market research, I found rapidapi, and to test it out, decided to put the Superhero API up on it. The rapidapi experience was really great back then, and I eventually forgot about it. And no, we didn't get into YC 😂 (Although we were told we were in the top 10% of applicants that year, it sounds more like a psychological play to make us reapply.)
For over an year, there wasn't much activity on the API, a few people were using it here and there, and I tried to experiment with monetisation for high-volume users. I landed somewhere around 1-2 USD MRR, which I didn't touch further for over an year. Mainly because I forgot this API existed.
Later on, in 2020, I decided to take a deeper dive into indie-making and decided to revive an old website update tracking Telegram bot of mine as an API. Although the API still has 0 users, I managed to get the superhero API into my focus again. This time I saw I had emails on feature-requests by users. By implementing them and moving to a Freemium model for the new features, I managed to optimise monetisation.
How it's going
After my optimisations back in December, I managed to hit 5 USD MRR with a completed user request. Later on, through organic growth, I hit about 23 USD in Jan, and recently 46 USD in February (which, you may remember, is near VPS profitability for me). Although, whether I can maintain this growth, or even the current MRR, is a different matter altogether. Broadly, people are using the API for:
1. Portfolio Projects
The benefits of having a pre-made API are many, you can focus on just delivering value via a frontend interface while the API developer handles the heavy-lifting of data gathering and manipulation. Projects like my own article and apps, where I used the API to show my React skills when I was just starting out, can take benefit of this approach.
Another user used my API to demonstrate their React and UI skills in a search tool, for applying to jobs -
2. Data Exploration Projects
It's useful to use a pre-existing API in a data exploration project. This is because all the data is already collected for you, you just need to access it in the right manner and make graphs and other visual things from it.
One of these projects is superhero ETL on GitHub, which "Combines the Best 50 Superhero Movies dataset with The Superhero dataset for the analysis and data visualization" - https://github.com/LinaSachuk/SuperHeroes-ETL
Another user wanted the data directly to build a data visualisation of superhero power-levels which you can find here.
What the future holds
From here, with the Superhero API, I'm mainly focusing on maintaining the growth, or at least current MRR level, while making changes to the API according to user requests. For eg, adding regex-based search for a user who wanted multiple results for a query.
Other than that, I will be focusing on building other similar products with a focus on distribution and a clearly defined demographic. One of those is casparser.in, which has a clear niche among Wealth Managers and Portfolio Managers in India.
So, if you want to follow me on my journey through these things, why not give me a follow on Twitter :).