With SMS, Twilio Continues to Shake Up Communications

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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