Jeff Lawson is the founder and CEO of Twilio – a company that creates APIs that connect many different applications and companies. In a sense Lawson, who is still an active developer and writes code that he executes on stage during the company’s annual customer and developer events, has created software glue. That’s placed the company in a great position to become a part of every company’s digital transformation.
“It’s a digital world. Every company is undergoing digital transformation and every company has to become a software company. So, who do you turn to to build that? It’s your developers,” said Lawson.
He says developers have become increasingly influential in the directions businesses take. It was something Lawson saw coming when he founded Twilio 11 years ago after carving out a successful career as a developer. Back then, he says things like interacting with phone system was “magic”.
Those kinds of interactions were complex, required the deployment of new hardware and cost a lot of money. He didn’t see that as a sustainable model. Developers, he said, were accustomed to prototyping and iterating based on customer feedback.
“Experimentation is a prerequisite to innovation,” he said.
That lead Lawson to the foundation of Twilio. He said that when he created the company, two factors came together. One was something he got right while the other was “where we got lucky”.
The company wanted to put communications into the toolkit of every developer.
“Let’s make to so every developer knows how they can use communications and make it work. We looked at communications and it was all complex; multiple stacks, copper wires, fibre optics and all this kind of stuff”.
Over the last decade, Lawson has looked at every element of communications and simply asked “Why isn’t that an API?”.
Where Twilio got lucky was the explosion of mobile devices. When Twilio launched, today’s smartphones weren’t on the market. There were no app stores but the availability of powerful pocket computers created an entirely new platform that Twilio was ready to pounce on.
For example, the preponderance of text-based apps has been a boon he says. Text messages, Lawson says, have extremely high open rates, in excess of 95%. By being able to access text messaging, over IM platforms as well as SMS, businesses can reach customers more effectively than through other platforms such as email.
As 5G networks start to expand around the world, the number of connected devices will increase. Locally, we know that Telstra is planning to deploy 5G using the 26GHz spectrum it hopes to purchase at auction. That will support lots of devices in a relatively small area. Those devices will need SIM cards and network access – something Twilio feels is a significant opportunity with here and globally.
This is an area where I’m starting to see developers, both established and in the start-up community, start to think about possibilities.