My goal for this interview is to help you learn how to recruit all kinds of partnerships for your business by learning how Twilio teamed up with a massive number of developers.
When I heard that Twilio recruited 20,000 partners I invited the company’s founder, Jeff Lawson, to teach us how he did it. Twilio provides a web-service API for businesses to build killer apps that interact with phones.
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About Jeff Lawson
Previously, Jeff served as Product Manager for Amazon Web Services, and has held founding executive roles for NineStar, Stubhub.com, and Versity.com.
Andrew: Three messages before we get started.
First, do you know someone who wants to build an online store? Would you tell them that I said Shopify is the easiest way to build a robust store? When electric car pioneers, Tesla Motors, wanted to build their online store, they chose Shopify and so should you. What will you sell online after you discover Shopify?
Next, are you still coordinating projects by email and wondering why you’re not productive? Check out teamworkpm.net. Teamworkpm.net is trusted by big organizations like Universal Studios right down to small two man operations. How will your team benefit from a productivity boost by using teamworkpm.net?
Finally, do you want to build a web app that interacts with phones? Twilio makes it easy. The founders of Pager Duty created a web app that tells site administrators when their systems are down. By using Twilio, they could send alerts via phone and SMS to their users. They didn’t have to build it themselves. They could just use Twilio’s system. How will you use Twilio to build voice and SMS apps? Check it out at twilio.com, and here’s the program.
Hey, everyone. My name is Andrew Warner. I’m the founder of mixergy.com, home of the ambitious upstart. How does a company get developers to invest their time, to invest their money and reputation by building on its platform? Well, joining me is Jeff Lawson, founder of Twilio, which has over 20,000 developers building on its platform. Twilio makes it easy for developers to build killer apps that interact with phones.
Well, I know that your company may not directly be targeting developers, that you may not be asking people to build on your platform. I understand that, but even if you don’t I know that if you listen to this interview, you’re going to find ideas that Twilio and Jeff are using that you can bring back to your business and help you partner with anybody.
So, I’m excited for this interview for anyone who has a platform that they’re hoping for developers to build on, but I’m also excited and I know that it’ll be useful for anyone who wants to build partnerships and Jeff has done that hugely. Jeff, welcome to Mixergy.
Jeff: Thank you, Andrew: I appreciate it.
Andrew: So, first I want people to understand what Twilio is and what could be done on top of Twilio. Do you have any example that will illustrate to my audience what you do and what’s possible?
Jeff: Yeah, absolutely. So, developers are building all kinds of applications. They either make and receive phone calls or send and receive text messaging using our platform. One great example of that is GroupMe, a text messaging application that lets you send a group text. You send one text message to a phone number and people subscribe to a group, and that message gets fanned out to the entire group and then people can reply and so forth. So, that’s a message application.
Other neat voice applications, things where like a company PBX that you can receive an incoming call, play back some audio, “thank you for calling my company”, send the call to the sales team or to an individual and such like that. We have an open PBX as an application that we actually wrote in open source that runs on top of our APIs, that lets any company have a simple, extensible phone system purely driven by our APIs. And it’s a PHP web application.
Andrew: How did the GroupMe Company come about? You started to tell me a little bit about them, and I’ve been reading a lot about them in the news. Can you tell my audience about how the idea happened and how it developed?
Jeff: Absolutely. It’s truly one of these amazing stories of entrepreneurship where a few guys, even Jerad, were at a Hackathon in New York, the Tech Crunch Hackathon, Tech Crunch Disrupt Hackathon, and they had a big idea. They said, I want to make it easier for me to communicate with my friends and people who I associate with, either for work or socially. And they were thinking about a whole bunch of ideas and met one of our developer evangelists at the Hackathon, Ann Daniel [sp], and she said, “Well, hey, have you seen our text messaging API where you can send and receive text messages?”
They immediately got to work and in less than 48 hours later they essentially had GroupMe built which was a group text messaging platform which I described a minute ago. But the key thing is they built it, the website, the name and actually all the functionality of provisioning phone numbers for new groups using our API, receiving a text message, fanning them out and all that in about 48 hours. And they demoed it at the end of the Hackathon at Tech Crunch, and people were pretty wowed.
And we are, about six months later, I believe, and they’ve got a company. They just raised a bunch of money, and they’re growing really rapidly. And it all started because of this spark of an idea at a Hackathon that 48 hours later they had the product built and usable, and they were using it.
Andrew: Weren’t there presenters at Tech Crunch’s event that were starting to text each other using GroupMe? So, the system was built at the event, and I think some of the presenters were starting to use it to chat behind the scenes with each other.
Jeff: Yeah. It’s one of those things where once you see it and it’s so easy. They did an amazing job with the sign-up process and everything else, and it’s naturally sort of a viral application, that people start using it right away. And I think you just saw this fan-out happen right there at the Hackathon and then disrupt people using it, and that’s one of the things that caught people’s attention so quickly which was, oh my God, this thing got built… It’s not even cooled yet. It just came out of the oven, and it’s so useful.
Andrew: All right. And your revenue comes from where?
Jeff: So, what we do is we charge a simple pay as you go pricing model where people building applications pay for minutes on phone calls. Text messages are per message and phone numbers per month for the phone number. So, my background immediately before starting Twilio, I was the product manager at Amazon Web Services. So, we really modeled the solution after Amazon Web Services where essentially you’re buying primitives that live in the cloud and you pay for what you use, and it’s all usage based.
And then, the other components are making it very easy for developers to sign up, have public documentation, put in your credit card and go. And the whole idea is reduce and remove these barriers to having infrastructure available at your disposal that is not only easy to get started with but also scales as you need it to.
Andrew: All right. Why go after developers? I think you might even be the first who I’ve had on here who goes after developers specifically, and his whole business model is built on finding, recruiting, promoting to supporting developers. Why developers?
Jeff: So, it’s really interesting in that a lot of people didn’t believe this was possible, maybe, five years ago. It’s sort of based on the observation that I had as a developer myself, so this is my fourth startup. In each of my three previous startups I essentially needed something like Twilio, and I was in a position to understand my requirements, you know, what problem did I need to solve for my company as well as what solutions might actually fit that requirement as well as be easy to integrate where I could scope out the amount of time I thought this would take to build and everything else.
And so, I was empowered to figure out the right solution to solve my problem and to make that decision and go forward and use it. And so, the idea that you go after developers is developers ultimately get it done. They’re the doers in the organization, and so when you put up a lot of walls right in front of a doer, “Oh, contact our sales team to discuss solutions” or “Oh, sign a MDA so you can read the documentation.
Doers just view that wall, instead of jumping through the hoops, mixed metaphor here, they sort of turn around and they say, “Maybe, I’ll try to find some other way to do this.” It’s the idea behind Twilio and particularly it’s the reaching developers but also how you reach developers which is what you put in front of them, which is you market to developers. But then, you actually let them achieve what they want to achieve with self-service, with public documentation that’s published and everything else.
It’s sort of the whole package, but then why developers? It’s because they’re the doers, and it’s because they’re the ones who are able to understand their needs, the problems that their company is facing and how they can solve it with a solution. And by letting them sort of do that assessment, build that prototype, all without asking anyone’s permission, without having to go through multiple stages of procurement inside a big company, they can essentially keep the ball moving and keep progress being made which to me is so cool.
To me, that’s a lot of what Amazon is about. That’s what Sass generally is about. The current incarnation of Sass which is… And I’ll give you a good example. When we were evaluating Help Desk before we launched Twilio, we said, “Well, we’re going to provide great support to developers. We’re going to need a tool to do that.”
We went and looked around and Googled all sorts of help desk software and the ones that said “contact sales” or for a demo we just turned and walked away. And then, we found Zen Desk as a great example where we could try it out on a free trial and get our hands on it right way and assess it for ourselves. Yes, this is the right solution. Great. I’ll put in my credit card and it’s good to go. Developers act largely the same way.
It’s interesting also because this works both in small companies, you know, startups like GroupMe. They were just able to read the API and go build it and 24 hours later they’ve got something to show. But all the way up to big companies, too, and enterprises. I think this is underappreciated by a lot of people which is that at large companies, yes, you typically have a more nuance, complicated process to close a really big customer deal.
But the initial stages, the ones where recommendations are made about what path should we go down, well, if you have a developer sitting in the room and people are debating all sorts of abstract things – well, maybe, this company can help us do that. Maybe, that company and, maybe, the pricing for that will be this. And then a developer in the corner says, “Well, I actually built the prototype and it’s working and we can all use it right now.”
That speaks a lot to removing the risk of the project of all the unknowns because somebody actually built it, and it’s usable and demoable. I’ve heard from developers who are customers to say we made heroes out of them in their company because they walked into a meeting and showed off the prototype. And everyone in the room, their phones ring as part of the prototype, and literally people would applaud that, saying that was amazing.
Andrew: And you know it? That’s also interesting because developers are recruiters. We don’t tend to think of developers as recruiters. We tend to think of, maybe, bloggers as recruiters, of marketers as recruiters, but developers in many ways are. You mentioned GroupMe as the example earlier on.
They’re recruiting new users of the Twilio service on your behalf in a way that you never could have done before, and the developer in the office who had everyone in his office applauding because he did something cool with the Twilio technology was also a recruiter. We tend to think of developers as shy people who aren’t promoters at all, but through their work they do a lot of promotion.
All right. So, what I want to find out today is I want to find out how you get these guys because they’re not an easy group of people. They’re not an easy group of people to recruit, an easy group of people to find, to win over, and there are not as many doers in the world in general as there are people who are talkers. And these guys are too busy doing, I imagine, to come out and be recruited. So, let’s find out how you did it.
In fact, before we get into the specific techniques that you and I talked about before the interview, you mentioned that you want to talk about the philosophy versus tactics before we get into the main ideas here. Why? What’s the difference? What’s the philosophy and how does it affect the tactics?
Jeff: It’s an interesting question, and I think this goes to where a lot of companies, I think, fail at reaching developers. And, maybe, where some of this stigma around reaching developers comes from is a lack of understanding of what drives developers and what would be appealing and how to reach them. I think one of the things that we do which is the three founders of Twilio, we are all developers in our background. And so, it came very naturally to us.
How would we reach ourselves, and how would we talk to ourselves? There’s a few things that go into that. Number one and probably most importantly is being very genuine. So, we try to make sure that whatever we’re doing, it doesn’t come across as just marketing speak. And that’s where a lot of bigger companies, maybe, where you’ve got a marketing program tailored to developers that isn’t being designed by developers, comes across as ingenuine.
And so, there’s an actual concept of being genuine, and it’s not something you can fake necessarily. It’s just something you are. An example of that is every single person who works at Twilio has built an application using Twilio. So, even people who aren’t engineers here, everybody, even somebody in sales or in marketing, the first week if they haven’t done it before they got the job, which most of them have.
In fact, our office manager, her resume applying for the job was a Twilio app. You called into a phone number, and it read her whole resume to you. You could browse in it. It was very cool.
Jeff: But everybody, if you haven’t built one before, their first task when they get here is build a Twilio, right? And so, everybody here is capable of doing it and understand what it means to build a Twilio app. So, there’s a certain genuineness to whenever we talk to people because we’ve all done it ourselves, either been a developer, built a Twilio app, understand what’s going on. So, that’s the first and most important thing, I would say.
Number two is understanding that, I think, the goal is to empower the developer. And so, put a skill in their tool belt that they didn’t previously have, and developers are driven by knowledge. They’re driven by the ability to do things that they couldn’t do before in that sort of discovery process.
So, I think a lot of what we do is we try to make this process of discovering Twilio about being empowered and having a new capability that you didn’t have before. I think that’s another thing which really drives developers, when they discover Twilio, just get really excited and to become those evangelists for the technology.
Andrew: I see. OK. So, you’re saying it’s the for us, by us attitude where we’re making it for people like us, by people like us, and it’s not sales people selling a product that they’re not familiar with. The other thing you said goes into everything you do, the sense of empowerment. You want to empower the developer.
Jeff: It’s interesting. You just mentioned people which is when you’re interacting with a sales person, do you get the feeling like they’re empowering you or that they’re trying to reach into your pocket? I think it’s sort of a different way of feeling like how, when you sign up for Twilio it’s more about what you’re learning and what you’re getting out of it and what capabilities you’re adding to yourself as a developer as opposed to somebody reaching into your wallet.
Now, of course, we’re a for-profit company, and we hope that you’ll build an application that will ultimately make you successful as a developer but also make us money. That’s all there, but it’s not the forefront thing. It’s not the “have a sales person contact you.”
Andrew: Speaking for-profit, are you guys profitable yet? Is there a plan to be profitable any time soon, considering that you’ve raise so much money? Do you need to?
Jeff: We generally don’t discuss financial details of the company. Let’s say we launched on day one with a revenue model. So, we weren’t a company that had a “figure it out later” mentality. We were, again, coming from Amazon Web Services background which is we’re providing a valuable piece of infrastructure that costs money to operate reliably, and so therefore we’re going to put a price tag on that valuable infrastructure from day one.
Andrew: All right. I actually happen to have in the background here a 10-year-old USA Today article that starts off with the story of how you seemed to have it all, and then you had nothing but time on your hands. It’s about a company that you started called Versity that is so… Do you remember it? Of course, you remember it.
Jeff: When you get your picture walking down the beach in the Hamptons with a colorful umbrella in USA Today, you don’t really forget that.
Andrew: You know what? I hit readability, that little bookmark, too soon on the article, I didn’t get to see a picture. All I see is a very readable version of this article. Essentially, you sold to collegeclub.com, and College Club generated revenue of $2.9M in 1999, $2.9M in revenue but net losses of $25.7M.
How has that experience so early on in your career, and I’ll get to the tactics in a bit, but how did that experience shape the way you think about business and entrepreneurship and specifically tech entrepreneurship today?
Jeff: Yeah. It’s interesting. I guess there’s a few ways to look at it. So, that was my first company that I started. I started that while I was still an undergraduate in college. And I was the company that provided lecture notes and other academic tools to college kids, and we sold it to a company in San Diego in a merger. And the idea was the joint entity was going to go public, and such were the ways in early 2000. But ultimately the company that acquired us got caught up in the implosion of dotcom in those days, and that was the outcome.
I would say for the most part it affected me a little bit, biased me towards making revenue and building a company based on the fundamentals of business which is paying customers and revenues because those things are real. And so, I do believe in that; however, I will temper that by saying there’s a lot of people who say that’s the only thing and screw the venture capitalists and screw Silicon Valley and all that stuff. That’s all shenanigans.
I don’t really ascribe to that either because to me part of building a strong business based on those fundamentals is having good partners and is being able to grow quickly when you have an idea that has traction and is working, and you need to accelerate it faster than your current revenues would necessarily permit you to.
So, I do believe in bringing in investors as partners to help you expand the business rapidly, not just because of the money they bring in. But if you pick the right investors, they will do a ton, and I say as partners to really help you grow the business and be great business mentors and advisors to you on how to do so.
You know, it’s interesting, the first company experience being virtually the company that we built and we had funded in ’98 and then again in ’99 and then sold in 2000. We executed our business plan to a T. So, it actually was an enormous success from that perspective, and we had, I think, about $14,000 of revenue based on raising $12M from VCs.
So, we executed the business plan that everybody in 1998 agreed was a great business plan, and the thinking there is, of course, it’s changed a bit although lately those companies aren’t as focused on revenue, your Twitters of the world and whatnot. I think there’s a place for that, but just our company is not.
Andrew: You know what? I think that bold statements make headlines. If you were to say “never take funding” it would make a headline. If you were to say “never build a business that’s not profitable” it would get headlines. But real business is a lot more nuanced than that. Would you in a growing business like Twilio be willing to invest in your own business. And by investing in your own business I say invest by taking your profits and put them into acquiring new customers, into growing your base. Would it make more sense to do that? Of course. Would it make more sense to take outside money and invest it today to lock in this audience? I think so.
I wanted to understand how that experience so early on shaped you. And there’s one other question that I’m wondering about that. Did you at the end of it say, “Forget it, no more starting companies for me.” Was there a period where you said, “I can’t do this?”
Jeff: No, I mean, to me this is why I live. I started my first company in middle school. So, throughout middle school and high school I was doing video. I was carrying the camera at wedding and bar mitzvahs. There was this company I started myself, and it was a blast. It was neat, and it just got me hooked on this. Do what you want to do and decide your own fate.
To me, that’s what entrepreneurship is about. And ultimately building something that’s valuable to other people is the best reward and seeing, for example, walking down the street and seeing the t-shirt from your company, someone wearing it. That is one of the ultimate things that’s cool.
Andrew: Do you remember the first time that happened?
Jeff: Well, on my first company I remember it happening. It was on a college campus, and I saw someone wearing the shirt. It’s so cool. When someone you don’t know and is not employed by your company, you’ve never met before, and you’re in a strange place and you see them wearing the shirt, it’s a really cool thing.
I remember I was walking down the street in Los Angeles actually a few years later, and I saw somebody wearing the shirt. I asked them where they got it, and they said, “Oh, I was a student and it was a really cool shirt.”
Andrew: Let me get us back on focus here. I want to get us back on track. First thing is or one way that you recruit developers is you organize Hackathons. How do Hackathons work? How do you organize them and why do you do it?
Jeff: So, Hackathons are neat. It’s a time for developers to come together because everybody has projects that they want to work on. The ideas that they have have been floating around that you may or may not get to, depending on all the other things going on in your life.
To me, Hackathons are a place were you can set aside the time in your calendar and be like, well this weekend or Saturday afternoon or whatever it is, I’m going to go to that Hackathon. And I’m going to set aside the time and do the things that aren’t necessarily the top priority of something at work or whatever else. But, to spend some time on things that I wanted to hack on because I think they’re neat, and see what happens as a result of it.
So, sometimes we organize Hackathons, but a lot of times we sort of provide support for other people who are doing Hackathons and help them with either a place, so our office of which you see the walls behind me. We often open up to developers and groups like meet-ups and things like that, invite them in our office and say, “Yeah, sure. Hold your Hackathon here this weekend. In fact, we’ll even bring in the pizza and the beer and the Internet and everything else just so you guys have a place to do it.”
Andrew: What is a Hackathon? It’s essentially for developers to get together. Sorry, you go ahead.
Jeff: It’s essentially a time and a place for a bunch of developers to get together and to work on essentially projects, things that are typically like, things of curiosity. I just want to hack on this. So, it’s not necessarily about work, or it’s not about something that I need to get done. It’s something I want to do for the enjoyment of hacking.
Various Hackathons work differently. Sometimes, there’s a theme. Sometimes, developers at a Hackathon will have a theme. Sometimes, it will be a contest. OK, at six o’clock we’re going to demo what everybody built and then there’s a prize. Sometimes, it’s not. Sometimes, there’s no prize, and it’s just for the joy of it.
Typically, there’s some sort of show off period at the end which is, hey, we’ve done all this sitting here for 12 hours or 6 hours or 48 hours. Let’s show off what we were able to accomplish, and I think that’s a big part of it, too.
Andrew: How many people get into the Hackathon?
Jeff: It all depends. A small one might be 10 people. A big one might be hundreds of people. So, it all depends on the size of the space.
Andrew: That makes me wonder this. You’re a company that’s got 20,000 developers working with us. Why would you care about 10 developers coming in and coding? Why would influence your business to have, maybe, 200 developers coming into your office and coding? It doesn’t seem to scale, and you’re only reaching the local developers.
Jeff: So, we do make an effort all across the United States to reach developers, but it’s a fair question. Why would you focus on these 10 developers? The answer to that is people who go to Hackathons are the doers. They’re the people who woke up Saturday morning and said, “I could sit around all day watching TV, or I could go to a Hackathon and do something with my day.” They’re the doers. They’re the same people who…
Andrew: That’s true but there’s not that many of them. It’s like someone I met. I’ll give you an example. Someone I met recently was promoting their website by putting a sticker up in a bathroom somewhere at some club. I figure, how many people who go to the club are going to see the sticker? How many of them are going to remember to go back to the website and sign on, and even if it’s everyone in the club, it’s still not significant enough to really make that business flourish and it doesn’t scale enough. So, why focus on something that’s so small relative to the number of developers you have, and it doesn’t scale to tens of thousands of developers?
Jeff: Let’s go back to the notion that people who go to Hackathons are doers.
Jeff: When that same doer goes back to work on Monday, maybe, they learned of Twilio at the Hackathon. And now, they’re bringing Twilio into their work, and they’re predisposed to building things on Twilio because they’re a doer. And they walk into work, and they say, “I learned about this great new API over the weekend, and now I know what problems I can actually solve with it, walking in the doors of my business” which is more likely for us to become a profitable customer than a weekend project.
So, I would say, it’s not this idea that the project that is built at the Hackathon is going to be the next enormous revenue driver for us although, of course, we love it, too. And we’d love every hacking project to become a great company, but that’s not necessarily the goal. The types of people that go to the Hackathons are influencers at their companies but are also influencers more overall.
So, somebody that goes to a Hackathon is part of a developer community. That’s probably how they found out about the Hackathon. That’s why they go to the Hackathon. So, they’re also more likely to be on Twitter, saying “Hey, I learned about this great new API” and being an evangelist now for Twilio in the developer community and now they, let’s say, that developer has 1,000 followers. Now, we did just affect 1,000 people.
Andrew: OK. All right. I see that. And I’m starting to think of how others could start applying this, but I don’t have any specific examples. But I do see now the… Go ahead. Sorry.
Jeff: Well, I think it’s part of the whole general notion of reaching early adopters, so one of my previous companies has an interesting side story here. One of my previous companies was a bricks and mortar retailer. This is an interesting project of mine. A bricks and mortar retailer for extreme sporting goods.
Jeff: Skiing, snowboarding, surfing and all that stuff, right? One of the notions we had in building that company and in building that brand was that you have to appeal…dirty or not. So, the dirty secret of that whole industry of REI, of hiking, climbing, camping but also extreme sports like snowboarding, surfing, BMX biking, whatever is that most of the money is made from people who do not do those sports.
How many people do you see walking around with a North Face jacket and you ask them the last time they were, you know, they jumped off a cliff in their skis. Most of the money is made by people who are sort of interested in it as a fashion thing, but how do you get the credibility to sell a fashion item to those people? Well, you appeal to the people who are the doers, and you make it so the guy who is jumping off the cliff, jumps off the cliff wearing the North Face jacket.
And then, over time you sort of appeal to that core and then the outer rings of influence there and become a part of it, too. So, a similar thing could happen here where you appeal to the developers who are the real doers and are the real centers of social networks of other developers. And then, it spreads out from there.
Andrew: All right. Another thing that you guys have done that I see a lot of is the Twilio fund with Dave McClure, and I see a lot of it because Dave McClure has a big mouth and a keyboard with a big caps lock key.
Jeff: Big, dirty mouth.
Andrew: Big, dirty mouth. How did that come about?
Jeff: So, Dave is really interesting. We met Dave very early on sort of in the company and it’s interesting. The first time I met him, he said, “I don’t know anything about Telecom. This is so far outside of my realm of knowledge”, and then I sort of showed him how you reach developers.
He actually really bought into this developer approach pretty quickly, and he thought it was really interesting. I think part of it goes back to his days at PayPal where he was doing the developer program at PayPal and sort of recognized how developers could drive adoption from his PayPal days.
So, Dave became an early advisor in the company, and then he became an investor in the company. He’s always been interested in how developers using an API sort of drive adoption. And so, the Twilio fund came about, so Dave was doing personal investing and some investing with Founders Fund. And then, mid last year he broke off and started his own fund, 500 Startups, and his goal is to do a lot of investments, smaller and a great volume of them.
I saw a Tweet from him mid to late last year. The Tweet just said, “Wow, I’ve invested in three Twilio powered startups this week.” I saw that Tweet, and I emailed Dave and I said, “Hey, Dave. Maybe, we should formalize this” because that’s a really cool observation that a lot of companies are actually getting off the ground because of Twilio making it so easy to do. And so, that’s where Twilio fund was born from was that Twilio is making it so easy to start something and that sometimes what you need is just a little bit of fertilizer or gasoline poured on the fire, another mixed metaphor. You don’t want to pour fertilizer on a fire.
Andrew: So, what you’re saying is the idea came from you. You went to the investor. You went to Dave and you said, “You should formalize this and create something like the Twilio fund where you invest in guys who are building on our platform.”
Jeff: Yep, and because he was already doing it organically. I sort of took that observation. I said, “Dave, why don’t we formalize this” because it gives developers building on Twilio now a more structured way of reaching out to Dave and saying, “Hey, Dave, maybe you’re interested in what I’m working on.” And it also gives Dave a way of sort of understanding the nature of all those applications so that he can very efficiently make yes or no decisions, based on what he should be investing in because he’s able to sort of match that category of opportunity of entrepreneur against the range of opportunities in Twilio based stuff in telecommunications.
So, it makes everything more smooth. It’s more efficient for the entrepreneur to reach him. It’s more efficient for him to make a quick decision. So, it seems like a win for everybody.
Andrew: It’s a great deal for him. He’s getting, for a $10,000 investment I think he gets a one percent stake in the company.
Jeff: It was important to me, when Dave was putting together the program, was that like the Twilio fund that he was putting together be very simple, very straightforward, no shenanigans kind of thing. That’s generally how Dave operates.
Andrew: He’s not known for shenanigans.
Jeff: I guess it depends on what kind of shenanigans.
Andrew: I see what you’re saying, and a lot of people that I saw who were interested wanted not so much the $10,000 as the attention from Dave McClure and having him on board in their business.
Jeff: That’s one of the key things, getting the attention because Dave is a sort of marketing adoption, fun old guru. How do you market your product, and how do you measure and constantly improve the tactics you’re using? So, getting Dave’s personal attention to your company and to how you’re doing that is really valuable. And I’ve seen a few Tweets from people saying, “That’s far more valuable than the $10,000.”
But what’s interesting with the $10,000 he calls it a one percent term sheet which is $1,000 for one percent, and it’s not a negotiation every time.
Jeff: And it’s not like you go apply for the Twilio fund and then you’re negotiating with a VC where they’re trying to get the best deal and you’re trying to get the best deal from the fund. It’s saying, if you apply here’s the deal. If you like that deal, apply, and if you don’t like that deal, don’t apply. But it’s a very streamlined process, and it’s very simple. And so, I like that.
Andrew: Another thing that I’ve seen that you guys do is you’re a Biz Spark network provider. What does that mean that you’re a Biz Spark network provider?
Jeff: It’s another thing. Microsoft runs this program where startups adopt Microsoft technologies, and for reasons I don’t entirely know, you have to have a sponsoring company that is part of that network that can introduce the startup into getting the deal. So, it seemed like a no brainer for us which is to be one of those network partners that is able to introduce any startup that is using Twilio and who wants to partake in the Biz Spark program to get very inexpensive Microsoft products, they could do that. It seemed like another perk that if companies want it, we could provide it.
Andrew: I see. So, you introduce the startup to Microsoft. Microsoft then gives the startup all kinds of cheap software.
Jeff: Yeah. I don’t remember exactly. It’s like $100 or maybe it’s free, and you get server products and licenses and all sorts of stuff. So, for customers of ours who are using Microsoft products, it’s actually a really fabulous deal.
Andrew: Why is that good for you? How do you end up getting new developers because of that?
Jeff: We thought about it less from a perspective of “Oh, this is going to help us, you know.”
Andrew: You’re saying this is just another thing we can add to developers.
Jeff: It was a service that we could offer that just helps our customers which is really important. Should it be understated, which it is our goal to constantly stay in power and help our customers. And we think that ultimately that’s the way to build a customer base by helping your customers to be successful and make money themselves because if our customers not making money, then we’re not going to make money.
Everything that we can do to help them be successful as a business is good for us. And so, Biz Spark is one of those things that we could do to just provide a little bit of assistance to them.
Andrew, I lost audio.
Andrew: There we go. Let’s go through the list, and then I won’t tell you what we’ll do afterwards. I have an idea, but I don’t want to alert you or the audience to it.
Andrew: What else do we have here? A job board. How does a job board help you guys?
Jeff: A job board?
Andrew: Yeah. You guys have a job board on your website. I don’t see too many companies offer a job board on their site.
Jeff: Like the Gallery?
Andrew: I thought you had an actual job board. Am I wrong? Let me see where I saw that.
Jeff: I don’t think so, but it’s a good idea.
Andrew: Oh, there it is. Yeah. Oh, I see. When I go to twilio.com, it’s company jobs. It’s your own jobs that you’re offering. Is that right?
Jeff: It’s Come work at Twilio.
Andrew: Come work at Twilio. OK. Let me cross that off the list.
Jeff: You can come work for us.
Andrew: Actually, that would be interesting if you offered a job board for developers who are building on Twilio. So, the companies that want those developer have a place to go find them.
Jeff: Yeah. That would be interesting. So, that’s sort of what we’re doing with our Gallery. See it at the top.
Andrew: What is the Gallery?
Jeff: So, Gallery is a place we created for developers to share both themselves So, as a developer you’d share yourself. One because you might meet other developers that way, but more importantly so that you could, if you’re interested in finding work, contract work, building stuff for people, this is a way of showing off both your skills, the languages you know, the types of applications you built for the industry or the use cases you’ve got a knowledge of as well as applications you’ve actually built.
And that flips to the other side which is showing off your applications. The idea there is it gives exposure to the developers who launched something and want another way to promote it. It also helps in the way we actually organize the data entry for the Gallery. It’s designed to help developers think through why they built it and how they would market it.
So, the questions are things like, what problem does your application solve? How does it solve it? So, it’s almost like you’re writing a mini business plan by posting it to our Gallery, and it’s a way to provide discovery for developers of their applications.
Andrew: I see. OK. I was going to click over and see a couple of examples from the Gallery, but every time I click on anything on my browser today it slows down Skype. So, I won’t do it. Do you have an example of something that’s on your Gallery right now, what someone has built and shown off there?
Jeff: Oh, yeah. I mean, there’s tons of stuff up there. Most of the stuff I’ve mentioned is a co-application that I think is featured right now, Voice Cloud, which is essentially an entire PBX in the cloud. You go and you sign up for it. You can power your small business using Voice Cloud, and what’s really neat is they actually have a general version.
They also have a version they made specifically tailored for realtors, and so it’s got all these bells and whistles that are specific for realtors who are managing listings and their phone number’s on signs in front of a house that they’re listing, all sorts of stuff. So, it’s a vertical solution for realtors, but it’s a horizontal solution for any company wanting a virtual phone system.
And it’s another good example because it’s yet another way for them to market it, put it out there, explain what it is and give links back to their site. We’ve heard from a lot of developers that were driving a significant amount of traffic to their websites from the discoverer.
Andrew: OK. Beyond the Hackathons, you guys have all kinds of events at your office. Why? In fact, I think when I talked to John… What does John do? John Sheehan? Is he an evangelist?
Jeff: Yeah. He’s one of our developer evangelists.
Andrew: I’ve got a note here from the first time he and I talked where he said, “Come, hang out at our office.” You guys allow people to just come and hang out at your office? Why?
Jeff: Yeah. If you go to twitter.com/contact, I think it is, there’s a map to our office and it just says, if you’re in the neighborhood stop by. We love visitors. And it’s true, we do love visitors. We’ve got an open office. We invite customers to come in whenever they want when they’re in town.
This happens a lot. They’ll call us or email us and say, “Hey, I happen to be in San Francisco. I’d love to stop by. Is that OK? It said in your website that was OK. Is that really OK?” We said, “Absolutely. Come on by.” People stop by. They say “hello”.
We love meeting developers and often get into long conversations with them about either Twilio because it’s a great source of feedback for us to have that face to face communication and also talking about development in general or entrepreneurship in general. We love giving our customers advice on…their building their businesses or they’re writing code or anything else. We’re happy to chat and make ourselves available.
Another thing is hey, if you’re in San Francisco and you need to get some work done, well use our Wi-Fi. Here’s an outlet, and here’s our coffee maker. Have fun.
Andrew: So, anyone in my audience who happens to be listening, can just pop in to your office, doesn’t even need to give you any notice and they can just hang out with their computer and get some work done.
Jeff: Yeah, totally.
Andrew: You know what? I used to seeing this over at Jason’s office. I’d go over to Mahollo [sp] and there’d just be random people in the office, especially after hours when there’s still people trying to get work done, employees trying to work. There’d be people hanging around. I always wondered. How could Jason’s people get any work done when there’s always these strangers walking around, kind of hanging out, pretending to be working, sometimes really working, sometimes actually just chatting. Doesn’t it get in the way?
Jeff: Well, you know, I think certain people engage in that, in chatting and all that kind of stuff and hanging out and other people are getting stuff done. They put on their headphones and are busy working. It’s not a big distraction. I don’t think it affects us like that, and I think for the most part we’ve got an area of the office which is a little away from everything else that’s going on. So, we make sure it’s not too distractive for the employees who are working.
But essentially to me that’s one of the reasons of having an office, so you can invite people into it, just like at home. That’s why you have a home is so you can invite people over, similar idea.
Andrew: I’m so freaking uptight. I can’t relax enough to do that. I’m going to try it with you right now. Anyone who’s listening to this, who’s an entrepreneur and, in fact, anyone who’s listening to this at all and is no an ax murderer and needs office space, whatever city I happen to be in, I usually have office space because I rent from Regis. I have tons of space here. Let me know. I’ll set you up with Wi-Fi, with a telephone and with a desk. Let’s see how it works.
Jeff, if they become a time suck, what I’m going to do is I’m going to call up your number at Twilio, and I’ll put them on the phone with you so they can chat with you and I can go back and get my work done.
Jeff: Very good. Very good. I’ll provide you with a little tip though.
Andrew: Yeah, please.
Jeff: Our invitation is not co-working, you know, set up shop for six months. But it’s more, come, hang out and be social and chat.
Andrew: Mine is, do not hang out with me. I like to sit here and focus on my work, but I’ll give you office space where you can sit and focus on your work. And we’ll both be like mental patients staring at our computers and not talking to anybody. We’ll hang out for a bit. I’ll get you coffee. I’ll get you guys set up, but mostly we need to shut up and get some work done when we’re at the office. I’m not as nice as Jeff. If you want to hang out, Jeff’s office at Twilio is open to you.
How about one last thing? How about the fact that you have an evangelist? What does an evangelist do? I understand what an evangelist is supposed to do, bring people in. I mean, like tactically. How does an evangelist go and get people to love and use Twilio?
Jeff: Let me start off with who are evangelists and what is their background? Why did we hire them because it’s an interesting role. I think it’s probably different at every company. I think evangelists at Microsoft or Amazon are different than what we have here. What we are looking for when we hire evangelists are developers who have probably been writing code for a company and just sort of found that they almost prefer being social a little more than they enjoy being isolated with headphones making up code.
I think this happens to a certain number of developers which is their disposition is their social in that the headphone cranking out code work day just isn’t quite for them. And that’s perfect background for someone to be an evangelist for us because what they get to do is use their development skills but to connect with and to help other developers who are building things on Twilio.
And so, the things that they do are, basically, connecting with developers online. So, they do a lot of things like writing blog posts, running our weekly contest where we give away…I guess, right now. It used to be a Netbook, but Netbooks got disinteresting. Right now, we’re doing Kindles. So, they run the weekly contest where every week we give away a Kindle to the developer who writes the best app in a certain category or theme for the week.
They get out and about in the offline world. So, they go to meet-ups. They go to conferences. They go to all sorts of places where developers are hanging out, just to participate in the community, obviously to introduce people to Twilio. But for the most part just to meet developers and to hang out and work on projects.
Oftentimes, our evangelists will go to a Hackathon and just hack on a project that they find interesting. As part of that, it may often include Twilio so it’s a way for them to sell Twilio, but it’s also something that they as a developer thought that it would be fun and interesting to do.
And then, the last one is communicate with developers online in a one on one setting. So, if you email Twilio and you say, “Hey, I have a question. I’m writing an app and I have an error in my Ruby code, or I can’t figure out how to get Twilio to do this or that.” You email Twilio, and you get someone who is a developer answering your email. And so, chances are they know the language you’re working in. They obviously know the Twilio API, and even if your problem isn’t related to Twilio but the problem is your Ruby syntax is wrong, they can help you figure that out, too.
And so, it’s really neat because it gives these developer evangelists multiple channels but all with the same goal which is helping developers, online, offline, via email, in person, everything.
Andrew: I see. You know, as you’re answering that question, I’m thinking and say, you know, Jeff’s a really nice guy. I’ve got to mellow out. Here I am, making an offer and inviting people to my office, and I’m being a hard ass about it. I’ve got to learn from Jeff.
All right. I take it back, guys. Whatever you want to do, come. If you want to hang out with me, you can talk, whatever you want. I’ve got to learn from the people I interview. There’s something really nice about you, and there’s something very hard about the way I presented myself earlier. I’m going to learn from you beyond that.
I took out my iPhone. Here’s what I’m going to do. I’m curious here what happens when I call your number here, the 877 number on the bottom of your site, 877-899-4546. I’ll call it on my iPhone and put it on the speaker. Sorry?
Jeff: 889? I think you said 899.
Andrew: Oh, I did. I had it wrong. OK. Let me do it again, 877-889-4546. I did this with Tony Shay of Zappos when he told me how nice his people were, that if they didn’t have a shoe they’d refer you to a competitor. I called up his sales people, and I said I want a shoe that I knew they didn’t have just to see…
Phone operator: Thank you for calling Twilio, the cloud communications company. For sales, please press one. For support, press two. To report an outage, press three.
Andrew: All right. So, there’s nothing else. There’s nothing else that clever that will read out your website or something to me, that shows off the Twilio platform?
Jeff: Right now, we’ve kept it pretty simple as a way of getting you to support or someone to talk to as quickly as possible. So, there hasn’t been much on there. So, we should have more fun. I think there might be a few Easter eggs in there.
Jeff: Off the bat, I don’t remember what they are.
Andrew: All right. But the whole idea… Sorry?
Jeff: They wouldn’t be good Easter eggs if I just told you what they were.
Andrew: But I could now call and get that system where I can punch in whatever number I want and go directly to the person I’m trying to reach. And all that was built on Twilio.
Jeff: Yeah. So, our phone system is an installation of open PBX, the open source system I was telling you about earlier that runs our phone system.
Andrew: OK. All right. Sorry?
Andrew: Final question. Anyone out there that wants to recruit anybody? I’m going to ask you for a piece of advice, but I’m going to come up with one thing that I learned from this interview. Be a nice guy. Just be nice in general. You guys have been incredibly nice. You’re sponsoring Mixergy. You’re incredibly nice to sit here and do this interview with me and also all the interactions I’ve had with Twilio are great.
If you want to recruit people, the first thing you have to be is genuinely nice. I have to work on that. I’ve got to learn from you. I’ve got to learn from Gary Vaynerchuk [sp]. Every interaction I have with the guy just comes across as loving you. He loves me like my mom loves me, I feel like. All right. So, what else?
Jeff: [laughs] That’s good life advice.
Andrew: So, one piece of advice for anyone who wants to recruit people the way that you guys recruited developers?
Jeff: Ah, I see. So, the general advice I would give and I don’t think it matters if it’s developers or any other audience. I would say the number one thing is be genuine, right? And it’s obviously easier to be genuine if you are recruiting. So, for us as developers talking to other developers came naturally to us but be genuine. That’s where I think, especially with developers, because developers are very attuned to marketing speak or sales speak.
Being genuine and not coming off as marketing speak is the best way because you’re having a dialogue with that person you’re trying to reach or coming to the website is sort of a monologue, and you’re talking to them before they get the chance to talk back to you. If you come across as a soul less, identity less entity which is most enterprise software, that’s what you’re saying. You’re putting up that wall. There’s sort of a wall, contact our sales team.
There’s also sort of a wall personality. You’re talking to a bland emotionless corporation who is not talking to you straight. And I think the way that we try to do it is to say our brand represents us as people talking to you as a person. And that’s where you get the genuineness, and that’s where you get the reality of that conversation. And I think that’s something that is important for any company to acknowledge.
Andrew: All right. The website is twilio, T-W-I-L-I-O, dotcom. Guys, if you build anything on top of Twilio, please send me an email. I’d love to see what you guys have built. And if you use any of the ideas here from this interview to recruit developers, to recruit users, to recruit anybody, please email about that, too.
I always love getting feedback from the audience. Jeff, thanks for doing the interview.
Jeff: Thank you, Andrew. It’s been a lot of fun.
Andrew: Cool. Thank you all for watching. I look forward to your email. Bye.
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