Twilio's enterprise play: Champion devs, woo their bosses

The cloud communications API company wants to attract corporate developers and big them up to bosses

Twilio’s head of product marketing and developer relations, Manav Khurana

Twilio’s head of product marketing and developer relations, Manav Khurana

Twilio’s APIs are behind some of the essential features of Australia’s most popular apps. The ability for an Uber driver to text their next passenger, the voice call functionality of Airtasker and Whatsapp's number authentication were all built with the company's building blocks.

The cloud platform removes the slog of provisioning infrastructure and negotiating carrier contracts, giving developers the ability to embed messaging, voice and video to reach ‘nearly every phone on the planet’ with relative ease.

Digital-first, start-ups-done-good such as AirBnb, Freelancer, Deputy, Hulu, Lyft and Box formed a significant portion of the company's revenue last year (WhatsApp accounted for around 9 per cent of sales and Uber more than 10 per cent). But after listing in June last year Twilio is now looking to break the bigger, and more stable market of established enterprise brands.

CEO Jeff Lawson said last year, he wants Twilio to be thought of as “AWS for telecom”. The appointment of George Hu to the role of chief operating officer earlier this month — Hu is a former Salesforce COO — is telling of the company’s direction.

To succeed Twilio needs to woo developers working at big corporates – and their bosses too.

Twilio’s VP of product marketing, Manav Khurana, puts it this way: “Help the developer realise what they can do, then help the leadership team that has developers realise what a developer can do.”

Growing on the grapevine

Twilio, along with Stripe and AWS, was an early example of the business to developer – B2D – model. The company’s marketing has generally been through word-of-mouth in the developer community, with presence on the messageboards and at the hackathons where devs discuss their work.

“The growth we’ve had so far has all been organic,” Khurana told Computerworld. “It’s developers and product owners that have discovered Twilio, either they’ve heard it from their friend who has done something great with Twilio, or they were searching online and go ‘oh that’s cool I can do this now’.”

The approach has worked so far. As of June last year, Twilio claims it had more than a million developers registered on the platform, and more than 100,000 paying customer accounts.

Some of those developers are “on the decision making table no question” of the companies they work for, sometimes they are founders, says Khurana. But that’s far less common in larger enterprises.

In a bid to win the attention of corporate developers, in September, the company launched the Twilio Enterprise Plan, packaging in advanced security, access management, and administration features. ISO 27001 Information Security Management System certification was added in January.

Essentially, the package quelled the concerns of the enterprise developers’ many stakeholders, Khurana says.

“If she’s at Uber or General Electric, she wants to innovate at same speed and using same tools,” he explains. “But at a larger business she needs to go through the security team, the purchasing team, the DevOps team, to get that approval. And that often takes months if not years, and that’s what’s holding larger companies back and smaller enterprises get up their faster.”

Devangelist

While convincing developers of Twilio’s potential, the company is also promoting corporate developers to their executive bosses.

“The next part is more for the leadership team in IT, to realise that the answer to the customer experience question, the answer to the digital experience question actually lies with their developers. They can own their roadmap if they ask the developer to solve those problems.”

The success of customers like Uber makes enterprises ask "what are they doing that I'm not doing", says Khurana, but there's more convincing to be done.

When he spoke to Computerworld, Khurana had just come from a business lunch where he’d been evangelising developers to major corporate prospects.

“We obviously are focusing a lot on enterprise adoption. And we do need to convince the corporates that they should ask their developer. That’s a challenge were actively addressing,” he says.

“The role of the developer in a larger company – there’s still work to be done around the awareness of what she can do and how far she can go.”

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