Twilio CEO Talks Up Transformative Power of Software

We're in a new era of software, and the way companies are unlocking software's value is fundamentally changing, Jeff Lawson, Twilio co-founder and CEO, told an audience of analysts in a state of the union-style talk yesterday.

Lawson started Twilio in 2008 to address and change what he perceived as a problem in the communications world: "Everything we do in software is measured in sprints; it's measured in weeks, in customer feedback, and we're always shipping. Yet in communications, things take years and millions of dollars before a customer can ever touch a solution or give you feedback and tell you if you're going in the right direction," he said. "And that seemed crazy to me."

With the realization that communications "diametrically opposed" to the software ethos, Lawson and his co-founders created Twilio to take "communications out of its legacy, which was in hardware and physical networks, and migrate it into its future, which is software" (see related article, "Calling on Software for Future of Communications ").

Since its founding, Twilio has been continually expanding into the various corners of the communications space. Having started with Programmable Voice in 2008 and adding Programmable SMS in 2010, Lawson said he then asked himself what else would comprise the future of communications as "clearly there [was] going to be more than just voice and SMS." Twilio released its Programmable Video and Programmable Chat APIs in 2015, and built out its offerings in Channels, Apps, and Virtual Assistants categories in 2016. And earlier this year, the company announced Programmable Fax, Augmented Reality, and Virtual Reality APIs. Maybe in 2025, Twilio will be rolling out Programmable Holograms, Lawson quipped.

It's All Down to the Platform

"The new era of software is actually all about platforms, and about giving APIs to developers in order to build the next generation of software," Lawson said. Twilio has positioned itself as a developer-first company from the outset, so there's no surprise this messaging. Developers use Twilio APIs, gain a sense of trust with the technology, and ultimately bring Twilio into the businesses for which they build solutions, he added.

Twilio's master plan for business is a simple three-step process, Lawson said. Step one, build a platform and put it in the hands of developers. Step two, "go deep," and "make sure our platform wins," he said. Step three, repeat the process by building more platforms.

The first platform Twilio produced out of these efforts is its Engagement Cloud, revealed in May. The bulk of work Twilio has been doing since its inception has been leading to this platform, focused on the contact center space, or business-to-consumer communications. And building this customer engagement cloud was a big undertaking, Lawson said.

But given step three (repeat) of Twilio's process, what about the next platform? "IoT cloud is our next big platform," Lawson said, giving a nod to the company's Programmable Wireless API as the beginning of these efforts.

Ultimately, Twilio is banking on the rise of software in communications. And to the naysayers of this software paradigm, Lawson says, "You can move fast, always be shipping, and you can do so with five nines of availability. ... We call this, 'agility with resiliency.'"

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