1424305_798766343473447_743051478_nWe’re investigating the nature of these Innovation Engines in a series of What To Think podcasts, sponsored by Pivotal Tracker, and columns by VentureBeat editor at large Dylan Tweney. Tune in here to learn the secrets behind the tech world’s most successful platforms.


In this week’s podcast, we kick off an occasional series of interviews with platform builders: the founders and inventors who are creating software platforms upon which others are able to build things. We’re calling this series “Innovation Engines.”

Our guest this week is Jeff Lawson, the founder and CEO of Twilio.

Twilio’s mission, as Lawson explains it, is to create developer tools that allow app makers to include communications features — phone, video calling, text messages — in their apps.

“We’ve wrapped the whole planet in this [communications] technology, yet how we actually interact with that technology has changed very little,” Lawson told us. “The phone app on an iPhone is still basically just a 12-button dialer. … It’s a flat-screen representation of a 150-year-old network.”

By providing tools for developers to integrate phone calls into their apps, Twilio is aiming to surpass that limitation. Instead of pushing you over to the phone dialer, an app might connect you with a customer service representative in real time, from within the app — without having to re-enter your customer number or confirm your name — and it’s Twilio’s tools that make that possible.

These tools have attracted a large and enthusiastic following to Twilio. Over 700,000 developers now use the platform.

In our conversation, Lawson talks about how the telecommunications world and the software world are converging, and why devoting time and thought to its API and its documentation has been critical to Twilio’s success as a platform.

Note: Twilio has reportedly recently raised a $100 million round of funding, valuing it at more than $1 billion. However, Lawson and Twilio did not confirm this funding during our conversation.

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