8 Comments

Summary:

Twilio is launching an SMS service that allows web app developers to add SMS-based functionality into their web apps for about 3 cents a message. Twilio also cut the per-month, per-phone number price to $1 a month from $5.

About 25 months ago, when I first met Jeff Lawson, formerly of Amazon Web Services (AWS) and the founder and CEO of Twilio, I was skeptical of his chances. After all, he wanted to marry the world of voice to the world of web applications. This oft-discussed marriage of web and voice has been attempted many times and has often met with failure. So for the longest time I resisted writing about it.

Fast-forward to today and my skepticism about Jeff’s business is decreasing, for multiple reasons. For starters, the company, which has raised $4.3 3.7 million in total funding from the likes of Union Square Ventures, The Founders Fund and well-known angel investors, has been very smart about leveraging AWS to build a massively scalable telephony platform cheaply. Amazon CTO Werner Vogels, when describing his fascination with Twilio recently, remarked:

“Twilio excites me with their programmable voice platform and that is a company where you see the power of the cloud, of a startup becoming a platform to challenge any incumbent. The cloud is helping make an even playing field.”

More importantly, it’s gained traction with developers, its target market. In a marketplace where giants like BT (via Ribbit) and Telefonica are stalking similar opportunities, Twilio’s early traction is testament to the company’s laser-sharp focus on developers and their needs. It has taken what had been a complex task and made it simple. Using Twilio, developers can add new phone numbers in real time, allowing them to re-sell them to their customers.

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The dead-simple service gives even voice newbies an ability to add voice-to-web apps. It’s garnered the support of nearly 6,000 developers, who have built 1,000 applications that utilize Twilio’s voice API in their web applications. From Heineken to Sony to Intuit — all are users of Twilio’s service.

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Today Twilio is launching Twilio SMS, which allows app developers to add SMS-based functionality to their web apps for about 3 cents a message. By working with SMS wholesalers and developing such a simple SMS integration platform, the pay-as-you-go service means that any app can have notifications or can be made to do specific tasks via SMS. In addition, the company has cut the per-month, per-phone number price to $1 a month from $5. Toll-free numbers cost $2 a month. Lawson says that even at $1 a month he makes money, so he is happy to discount.

With my initial skepticism subsiding, it’s clear that I’m going to be keeping an eye on this little company, looking forward to their next disruption.

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  1. Hi Om,

    Glad to hear we’re winning you over, feature by feature :) Stay tuned for future disruptions…

    -jeff
    Twilio.com

  2. First, congratulations to Twilio on this new feature. I firmly believe that offering real-time communications APIs is not just about voice, but about all possible channels for interacting with your users.

    SMS is a good first step, but for full multi-modal applications engaging on all possible channels is a fundamental requirement. This means including instant messaging networks, Twitter and others.

    This is largely what drove Voxeo’s acquisition of IMIfied (http://imified.com) which we have since added with support directly in Tropo (http://tropo.com). This allows for engaging your users via SMS, Yahoo, MSN, Gtalk, AIM and others, all using the same application.

    I know that to engage with users you need to let the user decide how, this is not the future but right now. Full multi-modal APIs are what is going to allow a seamless engagement. Start-ups and organizations that take advantage of this increase their chances of success significantly.

    Full disclosure: I am with Voxeo and responsible for Tropo.

  3. Realtime interactions is always good.

    I like the way Invox – http://www.invox.com (I am a BIG fan of this company after I have seen this at IT Expo last year and I write about them whereever I can) integrates with IM and SMS. It can send you Instant Message (customized) when a call comes in or a text messsage etc. Comes equipped with drag and drop designer and 40 different mashups. Their showcases – 4-5 steps each show how easy it is to integrate with Twitter, Database, SF etc.

    As a company, monetizing voice over phone is difficult when the costs are extremely less. 3c/min – thats a very hard chase unless looking for an acquisition.

  4. Denis Chukhryaev Tuesday, February 9, 2010

    More options for developers are always welcomed. However, what Twillio is offering still requires software development skills plus additional infrastructure. Which may be a problem for some people. I wonder if Om would consider featuring powerful Visual Call Flow technology from Anveo (http://www.anveo.com). Anveo’s flexible Visual Call Flow technology allows anybody, without any special skills, Visually create powerful Voice 2.0 Applications which run in the Cloud without the need for any infrastructure investments.

    Full disclosure: I am Founder of Anveo.com

  5. Congrats to Twilio on this feature; will definitely be keeping an eye out for this company.

  6. I wish you pundits would stop confusing “telephony” with “voice.” From a user’s perspective, your SMS service is an exchange of short text messages and only uses the telephone network and endpoint devices for access. You could easily add in voice by translating the text to voice with TTS technology, but that’s not what we are talking about.

    Enabling applications to send SMS messages is certainly as useful as sending email messages, but more practical for mobile devices.

  7. Danielle Morrill Wednesday, February 10, 2010

    Hi Art,

    Twilio started out with a simple cloud telephony API for voice, which is why we are referred to as a telephony company. We are certainly moving in the direction of more multi-modal communications with SMS, and it will be interesting to explore whether being able to send/receive SMS to a traditional “landline” phone proves valuable.

    I encourage you to check out our website to learn more at http://www.twilio.com

    Cheers,
    Danielle @ Twilio

  8. A little confused with this:

    “For starters, the company, which has raised $4.3 3.7 million”

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