Kong: Enabling Companies To Become API-First, Driving Developer Productivity And Automating Security

By Amit Chowdhry • May 28, 2024

Kong enables any company to become API-first. Kong’s unified cloud-native API platform is easy to use and works in any environment — unleashing developer productivity, automating security, and boosting the performance of APIs and microservices at scale. Pulse 2.0 interviewed Kong co-founder and Chief Technology Officer (CTO) Marco Palladino to learn more about the company.

Marco Palladino’s Background

Marco Palladino

What is Palladino’s background? Palladino said:

“My career journey began with a passion for programming and open-source technology. I’ve always been driven by the desire to build and innovate, which led me to co-found Kong with my longtime partner, friend and Kong CEO, Augusto Marietti. I’ve been a self-taught developer since the age of 13, or maybe younger. I still remember playing with programming on Windows 3.1 on my 486 computer with a ‘Turbo’ button back in the day. I quickly got passionate about building networking software, which eventually led to my interest in APIs, both RPC and HTTP, back in those days. I remember SOA and Web Services being “the thing” at that time, but all that XML certainly didn’t make it easy to adopt. Over time, my passion for APIs led me to the creation and scaling of technologies that simplify and accelerate innovation in the cloud-native space.”

“My primary responsibility as CTO is to lead the technological vision for Kong, ensuring that we continue to innovate and meet the evolving needs of modern architectures, particularly as they pertain to the intersection of APIs and the burgeoning field of AI. Mashape itself — and the reason why I moved to the U.S. from Italy — was born out of the vision that the world would be dominated by APIs. But, in the late 2000s, people were asking us, “What is an API?” Now APIs are powering every digital experience of our modern world. As a matter of fact, the Internet as we know it has slowly transitioned from email and websites into APIs: close to 90% of the traffic today is API traffic.”

Formation Of Kong

How did the idea for the company come together? Palladino shared:

“The idea for Kong was born out of the necessity to solve the challenges we faced with API traffic management and microservices at our first cloud service startup, Mashape. At that time, around 2015, we were processing API requests for 300,000 developers and we built Kong as our own internal technology to support this traffic. Eventually, we open-sourced Kong, and it became more popular than Mashape, so we pivoted.”

Favorite Memory

What has been Palladino’s favorite memory working for the company so far? Palladino reflected:

“My favorite memory was shipping the very first version of Kong Gateway. At the time, the previous product, the Mashape API marketplace, was growing in adoption but the business model was flawed. When we announced Kong Gateway that was very much a ‘live or die’ moment for us as we were pivoting. It was also one of the most creative periods of my life: I remember being entirely in tune with the codebase, dreaming of it, absolutely obsessed by the work we were doing because we truly believed we were working on novel technology that the world had never seen before.”

“I recall that those were the days of monolithic API technology born in the ancient SOA era, and there was nothing as lightweight, as performant, as fast, and as cloud-native as Kong Gateway at the time. And we were right. The day we announced Kong Gateway, we started to get immediate adoption off the bat, and we closed our first enterprise customer only six months later. Shortly after that we were able to secure a new round of funding from A16Z and others, and we were able to move to a new Kong office and start to really grow the business.”

Core Products

What are the company’s core products and features? Palladino explained:

“Kong’s core offering revolves around the Kong Gateway, an open-source API gateway designed to manage, secure, and orchestrate microservice APIs. With our latest release, 3.6, we’ve expanded the gateway’s capabilities into the AI domain, introducing a new suite of plugins that integrate AI functionality seamlessly, making it the most versatile, cloud-native AI gateway on the market. I should add that this new suite of plugins is open source and free, making any Kong API Gateway (3.6) an AI Gateway.”

“While Kong started with an API gateway and that is still our core business, it has expanded to other areas of the API lifecycle, like service mesh (with Kong Mesh) and API design and testing (with Kong Insomnia). Today, we are seeing success across all products in our platform, which is called Kong Konnect. It provides a unified control plane for managing all services and APIs from service mesh to APIM with a service hub, developer portal, and a lot more.”

Challenges Faced

What challenges has Palladino faced in building the company? Palladino acknowledged:

One of the key challenges has been adapting to the rapid rise of AI and LLMs and ensuring that our API gateway can facilitate secure, manageable, and observable AI traffic. We’ve tackled this by innovating and releasing our new AI Gateway, with multi-LLM support and no-code AI plugins, giving our developers with a free solution from Kong that enables them to stay at the forefront of AI adoption.”

“Many organizations today are implementing — or want to implement — AI into their products, but they can’t responsibly enable their teams to do so without visibility, control, and governance around the AI traffic. With Kong’s new AI Gateway we are providing technology for developers to be more productive with AI (and to manage credentials, observability, and prompt generation out of the box), while at the same time giving the organizations the right technology to enable responsible adoption of AI across their applications.”

Evolution Of Kong’s Technology

How has the company’s technology evolved since launching? Palladino noted:

“Since launching, our technology has consistently evolved to stay ahead of the curve in the cloud-native API landscape. We’ve gone from a simple API gateway to a full-fledged service connectivity platform, now integrating AI capabilities, multi-LLM support, and sophisticated analytics to serve the complex needs of modern enterprises that are building AI projects in their technology infrastructure.”

“We are driven by our vision, by our customers’ needs and by the large community of developers that is using our technology every day. Today, Kong runs more than 7 million instances of the gateway every month in the industry, without counting the service mesh and the millions of developers on Insomnia that are also using our products.”

Significant Milestones

What have been some of the company’s most significant milestones? Palladino cited:

“One of Kong’s most significant achievements is very recent. Last year we crossed the $100 million mark in annual recurring revenue. Starting from humble beginnings in a garage in Italy, Kong products have evolved into a critical infrastructure platform for companies like PayPal, Nasdaq, and Volvo. This achievement underscores Kong’s growth trajectory and solidifies our position as a leader in the cloud-native API technology space.”

Customer Success Stories

After asking Palladino about customer success stories, he highlighted:

“We have over 600 customers, however here are a few examples that come to mind: 

1.)    Verifone used Kong to consolidate regional payment systems into a single global system. It improved time-to-market 20x and reduced the total cost of ownership of API management by 75% with the Kong platform. 

2.)    SKY Italia created an APIM platform to support Sky’s revenue-generating business. Since implementing Kong, they have seen 30% cost savings on infrastructure, increased time-to-market by 20%, and a 70% increase in performance.

3.)    McAfee implemented Kong to improve performance and reduce costs, as well as to create a scalable foundation that allows flexibility in meeting data volume. Since using Kong, it has seen a 50% cost reduction and can sustain high throughput with low latency.”


After asking Palladino about the company’s funding and revenue information, he revealed:

“At a high level, of course. Kong reached a key milestone last year, achieving $100 million in annual recurring revenue and continuing its hypergrowth trajectory at between 40% to 50% per year.”

“This financial achievement underscores our sustained growth and the expanding trust in our cloud-native API platform solutions. Our strategy includes leveraging our financial strength for further R&D and possibly acquisitions, expanding our product offerings, particularly in API governance and security, and generally ensuring that we continue to provide cutting-edge platform tools to our users and clients worldwide. With a solid customer base and a deep commitment to innovation, Kong is focused on our hyper-growth trajectory and market expansion.”

Differentiation From The Competition

What differentiates the company from its competition? Palladino affirmed:

“Kong is probably the largest contributor to technology and software in the developer community and in the entire API ecosystem. It’d be challenging to find a company that has contributed more. This is being reflected in the adoption of our products, with Kong Gateway being the most popular API gateway on GitHub for example, and in the innovation that we continuously build, like the new OSS AI Gateway we just announced.”

“Therefore, Kong sets itself apart with our open-source ethos, developer community engagement, and innovative approach to cloud-native API platform technology. We want to be the one-stop shop for developers and organizations building the future of our connected digital world.”

Kong AI Gateway

What is the goal of the Kong AI Gateway? Palladino shared:

“The goal of the Kong AI Gateway is to simplify building and AI service consumption among application development teams, providing a robust infrastructure to manage, secure, and observe AI traffic. It’s designed to simplify AI integration, enforce governance, and ensure that AI services are consumed in a compliant and responsible way across the entire organization.”

Open Source ‘No-Code’ Plugin Suite

Please provide details about the Open Source ‘No-Code’ Plugin Suite that is entirely focused on AI and LLM usage. Palladino replied:

“Multi-LLM Integration: We’re breaking down barriers to AI adoption by providing a standardized interface for consuming multiple LLMs, enabling developers to switch between AI providers with ease, and being able to store credentials and extract metrics/logs from one place. The no-code plugins can be used to enrich, transform, and update all existing API traffic with AI without having to build code for AI. Simply by using declarative configuration on Kong Gateway to use any of the LLM providers that we support out of the box, you immediately have the benefits of AI applied to our traffic. For example, it is possible to automatically enrich or sanitize data on the request or the response, or translate error messages in other languages for internationalization, and more. These no-code plugins can also be used to orchestrate different LLMs: before sending a request to a self-hosted model, apply some transformations using a more powerful cloud model.”

“AI analytics: In addition to the code and no-code capabilities, all AI traffic can be further observed and monitored. Through our plugins, we offer in-depth analytics to monitor AI usage and performance, ensuring that insights from AI traffic are accessible and actionable.”

“Advanced engineer prompts: Our AI Gateway simplifies prompt engineering, allowing centralized management of prompts, which are essential for responsible and compliant AI usage, and the ability to determine which prompts are allowed and which ones are not. Furthermore, we provide an advanced templating mechanism for AI prompts, which enables adjusting the prompts on the fly without having to update our applications.”

Future Company Goals

What are some of the company’s future goals? Palladino pointed out:

“Our future goals include continued innovation in the cloud-native API and AI space, expanding our global reach, and further enriching our platform’s capabilities to support the increasingly complex architectures that our customers are deploying. But the grand vision for Kong is to provide open, performant, and reliable API technology that the world can rely on to build the underlying architecture of our API-powered world.”