Meet Twilio, The San Francisco Startup Set to Disrupt Telecommunications in Germany

jeff-lawson-CEO von Twilio copy
jeff-lawson-CEO von Twilio copy

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Chances are you have not heard of the San Francisco-based startup Twilio. However, if you have used high profile services such as Uber and Airbnb, then you are already a user of Twilio.

To communicate with your hosts and guests on Airbnb, you can verify your phone number. This verification process is powered by Twilio. In case you are an Uber fan, text messages that you receive on the arrival details of your ride are also run by the startup.

In an interview with VentureVillage, CEO and co-founder Jeff Lawson explains that Twilio’s technology is the solution to a “dumb communication” problem. “Dumb communication” is what made ordering a taxi so tedious before services like Uber and Lyft came along. If you have ever experienced seemingly endless busy signals or a long wait outside for a cab, then you are fed up with dumb communication too.

Twilio’s aim is to make communication more meaningful, relevant, and contextualized. The startup is software in the cloud that lets companies get phone numbers all around the world and use those phone numbers to make or receive phone calls and text messages.

Twilio and Telecommunications Industry

When I asked Lawson to go back to the beginning of how Twilio was founded in 2007, he said that in order to do so we needed to go back 150 years to when Alexander Graham Bell made the first phone call.

“If you think about what has happened over the last 150 years, while [telecommunications] technology has gotten a lot more sophisticated, how we are using the technology is basically unchanged,” says Lawson. He explains that Twilio is disrupting the telecommunications industry by moving communications from hardware to software. Since Twilio’s founding, businesses, especially high growth startups, are demanding this technology.

“My experience from having founded three companies is that in every one of those companies we needed communications to build a great product,” continues Lawson. “Yet, the traditional model of communications is big hardware and big software, where the timeframe is measured in years, and check sizes are measured in millions of dollars. We thought that this does not lend itself to the pace of innovation that occurs in software.”

Uber is a prime example of how agile Twilio is. As the ridesharing startup races to offer its service to all parts of the globe, Twilio expands right along with it. “We can power our clients’ operations and their lightning fast growth. In the past, you always had to work with a different carrier depending on where you are,” adds Lawson.

Twilio has a pay-as-you-go model, which is particularly attractive for startups who can scale up and scale down whenever they need to.

Next stop: Germany

Twilio currently has 350 employees worldwide and offices in San Francisco, London, and New York. Berlin and Munich are its newest locations.

I asked Lawson what he anticipates will be Twilio’s biggest challenges in Germany. He described the enormous telecommunications market, and how the startup is still at day zero in terms of its potential.

Globally, telecom services are set to make up more than 40 percent of  worldwide IT spending in 2015. For Lawson, it seems clear that there is much more opportunity than roadblocks for Twilio ahead.

To hit the ground running in Germany, the startup is now providing communications services for DriveNow. It has also partnered with SAP to work on integrations with the corporation’s cloud software SAP HANA.

When I asked what is next for Twilio, Lawson replied that further expansion would continue to be the priority. I particularly liked his thoughts at the end of the interview: “The German startup scene is filled with entrepreneurs and innovators. We can’t wait to see what they will build.”

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Image Credit: Twilio