Larry Lisser
Larry Lisser is a seasoned startup leader with a passion for commercializing emerging communications companies. Larry helps voice and collaboration...
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Larry Lisser | June 22, 2010 |


Twilio Brings the iPhone Model to Phone Systems: Can VARs Get in on It?

Twilio Brings the iPhone Model to Phone Systems: Can VARs Get in on It? OpenVBX and its developer ecosystem may be an opportunity in the making for VARs to monetize.

OpenVBX and its developer ecosystem may be an opportunity in the making for VARs to monetize.

Telecom can thank the cloud for many things these days, not the least of which is the slew of seasoned, yet first-time-telecom entrepreneurs it has brought our way. With barriers to entry falling, fresh talent has arrived, and with it new ways to approach old problems.

The team at Twilio, led by Jeff Lawson (once removed from Amazon Web Services), is making good on the promise that fresh blood is indeed healthy. The upstart cloud communications provider recently announced the availability of its OpenVBX:

OpenVBX is a full suite of tools for managing virtual phone numbers, building business telephony apps, creating applets for auto-attendants, call forwarding, voicemails (with transcription), receiving text messages and more. It's positioned as much less expensive and more flexible than popular business call-routing solutions, and you can either integrate it with an existing solution or create one from the ground up....

Twilio arrived a few years back with every intention to disrupt. They were first-movers, quickly engaging a legion of web developers by enabling them to create communications applications from scratch--or to simply incorporate telephony components (voice, SMS, telco, etc.) into existing web applications. Until now, the developer community has by in large created niche, over-the-top type applications.

The company, though, makes money by exposing easy-to-use development tools, then hosting the applications in their "communications cloud". So at some point, for the business model to scale, developers need access to larger mainstream markets. The iPhone model, for instance, works because the smart phone is nearly ubiquitous--or will be.

In business communications, the closest thing to ubiquity is the plain old phone system. By exposing open source phone system software combined with a web service API, Twilio is putting its developers--and hence itself--at the heart of business communications, creating opportunities for meaningful scale.

So if this new phone system-to-market model works, who stands to profit? Well, if VBX is deployed in high numbers, Twilio will monetize the success by being the telco host. If developers launch pay-for applets (ie. Plugins) that attach to large number of VBX implementations, they also stand to win. But what about others, like legacy voice or IT VARs, do they have a play in this?

By definition, VARs make money by adding a value layer between the manufacturer/provider and the end-user. Achieving this in the small business phone system arena has been increasingly difficult, as more products become plug and play. But it seems to me that OpenVBX--when combined with the importance yet growing complexity of mobile solutions--creates unique opportunities to verticalize the phone system like never before. To date, vertical marketing has started and stopped with vendor brochures. Twilio's model could change this.

Or perhaps this is what VARs need to embrace the hosted phone system model--rather than be dragged into it--and gain greater control of their customer, and destiny. Think about it: Twilio + a business process or vertical applet + plus Amazon + CounterPath’s new PBX mobility software = killer solution for a vertical segment, that a VAR could specialize in. The value, and the revenue, could come from customization, ongoing support, up-releases and I imagine a cut of the telco recurring. Or it could all be repackaged into a creative monthly offering.

I recognize I'm simplifying this, but conceptually OpenVBX and its developer ecosystem may be an opportunity in the making for VARs to monetize. And if not them, maybe a new crop will emerge.


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