Every once in a while we come across a company that seems to have a giant bullseye on it for acquisition, with a great product, viable business model, and a talented team. Twilio, a startup that has created an intuitive API for a variety of telephony services, is that kind of company (it also managed to Rick Roll my boss). The startup has developed a simple API with pay-as-you-go pricing that allows developers to quickly implement phone services into their applications, opening the door to a number of services that were previously only accessible to the small sliver of engineers trained in the dark magic of phone calls. Twilio is launching today in private beta, and TechCrunch readers can grab an invite here.
CEO Jeff Lawson says that while other web telephony services exist (like Asterisk, an open source project), these technologies tend to be very complex and difficult to use, even for experienced developers. Lawson says that Twilio is looking to commoditize these phone services by making them much more accessible to developers, by introducing a set of very intuitive commands. The API primarily consists of 5 commonly used phone actions (Say, Play, Record, Dial, and Gather a phone number), each of which behaves exactly as you’d expect it to. That Rick Roll app we heard a few days ago? Here’s the code (for you non-programmers, this is pretty basic stuff):
Lawson showed me a number of other impressive examples, including a project that he said managed to replicate GrandCentral’s core functionality in only around 15 lines of code. A number of organizations have already started using the API to build their own applications, including a non-profit that has now automated hundreds of calls that used to take staff hours to make.
Twilio is adopting the cloud-service model, with no contract required and flat fees for calls depending on the number of minutes used and the number of phone numbers needed (developers can also scale their needs based on demand, so they don’t have to worry about their servers crashing). And while the Rick Roll app was created with the service, Lawson says it was just a pre-launch joke, and that safeguards are in place to prevent any future applications from making annoying phone calls.
Twilio isn’t perfect – it doesn’t yet support voice recognition, which is a key component in many telephony services (though this feature will be released in a future version). But it is very cool, and will probably be very popular among developers. Don’t be surprised if this one gets snatched up soon by a cloud service provider like Rackspace or Amazon (my money’s on Amazon – CEO Jeff Lawson was a Product Manager for AWS).
There are a few of other startups trying to make phone services more accessible to developers, including Skydeck, which we covered here.