Jeff Lawson

CEO and cofounder of Twilio

THIS CHAT HAPPENED ON November 16, 2015


Jeff Lawson@jeffiel · Twilio, CEO
Hi everyone. Jeff Lawson here. I'm the founder and CEO of Twilio, a cloud communications company that is modernizing the 150 year old communications industry. If you've not heard of Twilio, there's a good chance that you've used us without even knowing it. If you're a Nordstrom shopper, fly Alaska Airlines, use Uber or Lyft, stay in Airbnb rentals or even if you've used a dating website you've likely used Twilio. I'm a big believer in the power of developers to create amazing customer experiences and have built a business that will ultimately make our communications better and more efficient. I've started businesses before Twilio and was the founding CTO for Stubhub so I've learned a few things about starting a company, rejection, acceptance and sticking to your passion when all you're hearing is "NO". Happy to share what I've learned
Ryan Hoover@rrhoover · Founder, Product Hunt
Welcome, Jeff! I've seen several SMS-based apps popup over the past year (I collected a bunch of them here). What's the most creative thing you've seen built using Twilio?
Jeff Lawson@jeffiel · Twilio, CEO
@rrhoover Hey Ryan! Thanks for having me 😀 Most creative thing? There's so many - developers surprise us every day. But here's one I really love: the Parkinson’s Voice Initiative. Dr. Max Little developed a way to detect Parkinson’s disease through a simple voice recording. Via one phone call, Parkinson’s patients are able to test, monitor and treat their disease through an application built on Twilio. You can read more about it here: They claim to be able to diagnose Parkinson's w/ 99% accuracy I think I read using a simple Twilio phone call. Wow. Another one that comes to mind is the "Internet of Bears" - see there's these researchers who track the migration of bears. And they have to jump out of helicopters and tranquilize the poor animals to put a data collection collar on it. Then a year later, find the bear again, jump out of a helicopter again, tranquilize it again... ugh. So these researchers instead fitted the bears with collars that, with very little power, and in areas w/ out good cell coverage - can transmit the data off the collar via SMS on 2G networks. Pretty cool.
JJ Tang@jjrichardtang
@jeffiel Hey Jeff! Thanks for being here today 🙌 a) If you could time travel back to day one of Twilio and have 15min with your former self to communicate any lessons you've acquired with the intention of saving yourself mistakes and heart ache, what would you tell yourself? b) What is something you might believe in that others find crazy/insane/out of the ordinary? Bonus quick fire questions: - Favourite emoji and why? 🤓 - Who do you think of as successful and why?
Jeff Lawson@jeffiel · Twilio, CEO
@jjrichardtang Hey JJ - in order a) Have difficult conversations early - the most painful times I recall from Twilio have been when that thing in the back of my mind - say a performance issue or a disagreement on direction - doesn't get out into the open early enough. b) I think it's the power of a small team of developers, like 2-3 people, to build something extraordinary. I think back to how much the three founders of Twilio accomplished in our first year with so much focus. It's common to believe that building important new things require lots of staffing and strategic planning - but I think innovation requires experimentation, and a very small group of focused people are the real unit of progress in a company. That's why we focus on small teams. It's not that insane - many developers know this - but it's surprising how that's forgotten in most companies. - Favourite emoji and why? Fav emoji? 💩 because it was the first emoji sent with Twilio via SMS during our testing. I'm pretty sure it's still baked into our unit tests somewhere. - Who do you think of as successful and why? Anybody who ships!
Theoharis Dimarhos@theo_dimarhos · Marketing+Biz Dev at AngelouEconomics
Hi Jeff! How do you think about online schools/education? What would the ideal interface for a project like that look like if you had to build it?
Jeff Lawson@jeffiel · Twilio, CEO
@theo_dimarhos Hi! Unfortunately I don't know much at all about online education. So I guess I'd advise you to ask a more likely customer - I'll just send you in the wrong direction
Pek Pongpaet@pekpongpaet
@jeffiel Hi Jeff, great to see you on ProductHunt How do you see communication changing within apps and products using new technologies whether it's with Twilio products or other platforms. How will customers interact with services and service providers?
Jeff Lawson@jeffiel · Twilio, CEO
@pekpongpaet Hi Pek. Software will completely change communications in the coming years. The biggest impact of marrying software and communications will be how you can so thoroughly integrate the communications into the software experience. Think about it - the apps on your smartphone and in the cloud have all the context of our lives. Yet traditional communications are pretty dumb - they can carry no context - the network is 150 years old, and wasn't designed for context. All you have is the phone number. We see customers building communications into workflows that make the communications feel a lot more contextual and relevant. For example - when you're in your airline app, and you're trying to change your flight but you can't (at least I usually can't for some horrible UX reason) - then you click on the "Contact Us" area of the app and you get a toll free phone number. Click it and you're out into your phone's dialer - and all the context of who you are, what flight you're looking at, etc. are lost to the 150 year old communications network. We're seeing customers start to integrate the mobile app experience and communications - so that you can click "Talk to Us" right from the app to initiate an IP call - and because you're authenticated in the app - an agent can greet you by name, and ask you "How can I help with flight 1234 tomorrow?" It's really cool stuff - because the result is so seamless, the communications almost disappears. It just is. Kind of like when you hail an Uber or a Lyft and you can call the driver from within the app - you don't think about the phone stuff, you're just connected to the driver and she knows who you are and why you're calling immediately.
Mike Coutermarsh@mscccc · Code @ GitHub
Hey Jeff! How did you make twillio's onboarding for developers's SO GOOD? What did you measure/focus on?
Jeff Lawson@jeffiel · Twilio, CEO
@mscccc Thanks for the compliment. We just wear our own shoes as developers - and ask does this make sense? We try to rid ourselves of the "curse of knowledge" as best we can, empty our heads, and ask does this make sense to the uninitiated? We also try to make sure we use words in our API and docs that are familiar to users of the technology, not those steeped in it. For example, the industry calls phone numbers "DIDs" (Direct Inward Dial) - we're like WTF we call them phone numbers. We also "write the docs first" - before we build a product, our goal is to write the documentation and float it in front of customers - because docs are the perfect way to describe what something does - much better than marketing collateral - and we therefore get very good feedback early in the product development cycle.
Emily Hodgins@ems_hodge · Operations @ Product Hunt
@jeffiel Thanks for being here today 🙌 During your career to date, what has been your a) most challenging moment and how did you overcome it? b) proudest moment and why? c) most surprising moment?
Jeff Lawson@jeffiel · Twilio, CEO
@ems_hodge Thanks for the question Emily. Most challenging? I think it was when we went out to raise our seed round for Twilio in the summer of 2008 - our plan was to raise a seed round and then launch but we couldn't raise a dime. Partially it was the financial meltdown - but also a lot of investors didn't understand our developer-first approach. The founders had a very serious conversation where we asked whether we should throw in the towel, if this was a bad idea, etc. But customers were saying we were on the right track, and our conviction said we were building the company that we wanted to build - so we persisted. But that was a tough decision - we were almost 12 months in w/ no salaries and investors saying we were "doing it wrong." Proudest? One of the people I spoke w/ in that early seed round was Mitch Kapor. He declined to invest, and advised me to get somebody who can help with "Go to Market" - at the time, I didn't know what that even meant - so I asked him who, by name, I should get. He said "Dave McClure." I went out, recruited Dave as an advisor, then got him to actually invest. So six months later, I marched back into Mitch's office, brought Dave with me, and said: "I did what you said. Here's Dave, will you invest now?" He did. That felt good. 😀 Most Surprising? We started working with the Polaris Project a few years ago - they're an organization that fights human trafficking. In partnership w/ Thorn and the Salesforce Foundation, we helped build an SMS hotline for women to get help if they're stuck in the sex trade. Polaris came on stage at our developer conference in 2013 and told the story of a woman who, after several years of being stuck in the sex trade, texted that hotline to get help. As a result of that text, the police came, arrested her captor, and she was freed. It was bone chilling to hear the story. I remember being there on stage, actually holding back tears, and feeling so amazed that Twilio could end up playing a role in that woman's life. Something I never would have imagined when we started the company. Here's more info about Polaris, an amazing organization: and about our work with them:
Amir Pakzadian@amirp · Sr PM @ Amazon / Founder of
Hi Jeff, what qualities do you look for in Product Managers when you interview them?
Jeff Lawson@jeffiel · Twilio, CEO
@amirp Good question Amir. Great communications, good strategic thinking, and able to wear many hats. PMs at Twilio are CEOs of their product, and have to bridge many concerns from customers, people inside the company, financial implications of decisions, partner with engineering on architectural and code realities, etc. The PM has to cut through the noise, arrive at what's most important for customers, and get it built. Not an easy job.
PK Fields@eldersense · Founder, ElderSense
Hey Jeff, thanks for participating, where do you get all of the phone numbers you make available to track?
Jeff Lawson@jeffiel · Twilio, CEO
@eldersense Hey PK - we work with carriers around the world. It can be a PITA to work with as many carriers as we do - but the benefit of being able to get a phone number in realtime is pretty awesome. I'm proud of the network we've built and how we can help bridge the complexities of telecom into something simple for developers.
Lokossou Vital@lokossouvital · Interaction designer
Hi Jeff, what is the place of design at Twilio?
Jeff Lawson@jeffiel · Twilio, CEO
@lokossouvital It's interesting that a designer was in our first 10 hires. Not surprising for a mobile or web app, but for an API company that's a bit unusual I suspect. And I have empathy for our design team when they're trying to depict an API on the website - something that has no physical presence, no UI to show off, nothing. There's a lot of head scratching at times. "How do I make HTTP headers look interesting?" However, design is pretty critical when you're trying to relay complex information. For a developer product, the documentation IS the marketing. We learned early on that investing in design for our docs can really help developers in the onboarding phase. Our product pages are also a place where our design team puts a lot of effort - because we need to show you what the API is capable of, but also how it works. We've got developers reading the page, but also business-minded builders who aren't as interested in code. Design is always iterating on how to best tell the story to a diverse audience. Like on this page: showing how the conferencing works both with and without our "Global Low Latency" technology. The page for Twilio Video was also a design journey: (They even implemented in JS a small lag between the videos to simulate real internet latency on a video call - love their attention to detail)
neeharika sinha@neeeharika · Google, Threadchannel
Hi @jeffiel 2 questions 1) How did you deal with rejection and power through? 2)What does Twilio hope to achieve in the next 5 years?
Jeff Lawson@jeffiel · Twilio, CEO
@neeeharika Hi Neeharika! Rejection is tough, but it's something you get accustomed to as an entrepreneur. Just don't take it personally. Be open to seeing trends, such as if many customers don't want your product - you should listen to that, or if many employees have concerns about your leadership style, or whatnot. Over time, you'll develop wisdom of which "rejection" moments to brush off, and which to listen to.
Carlos Ruiz Díaz@caruizdiaz · CEO and Co-Founder of @TokyApp
Hi Jeff, I'm running a telco startup focused on customer support. What advice can you give us in order to outperform the competition (like you did) when we are operating in such a crowded market like this one?
Jeff Lawson@jeffiel · Twilio, CEO
@caruizdiaz Easy - focus on your customer and forget all the noise. Easier said than done, sure. But just keeping saying that to yourself: Is this what my customers want?
Supafamous@supafamous · Lead Product Manager
@jeffiel You speak admiringly of what Amazon does and some of the process and values at Twilio seem to be derived from them. What are 2-3 things about Amazon's culture/process which are most transferrable or most valuable to companies like Twilio?
Jeff Lawson@jeffiel · Twilio, CEO
@supafamous Hi Supa - like all companies, Amazon had things it did well, and things I would have changed. But the thing I admired most was the focus on customers. It's very easy to say that, but then have an organization lose sight of the customer when internal dynamics or short-term financial needs come into play - but I always felt that Amazon was truly focused on the long game of helping customers. At Twilio, bringing customers into every conversation (figuratively, and sometimes literally) is something we strive to do. We have a Leadership Principle: "Wear the Customer's Shoes" and I want to build a wall of customers shoes here at Twilio as a constant reminder of that principle.
perryevans@perryevans · CEO, Closely Inc.
Is Twilio reliant on "creating a new number" or can a service be built on top to combine new number options with layering onto an existing "land line" ?
Rony Mestel@ronymestel · Product Manager, Tickeem
Hi Jeff. I am a developer and product manager for a new startup in Uganda, East Africa. How did you validate what you doing is right? the product you are building will be successfully as it is today, even though investors and other people say NO to you. did you not doubt your new product? and thought of leaving it?