Teleku Takes On Twilio, Helps Developers Integrate Telephony Services Into Web Apps

Back in fall 2008, we covered the launch of Twilio, a service that gives web developers an API to easily build web apps with telephony features, like audio playback, voice recording, and more recently, SMS messages. Now a new challenger is approaching: a service called Teleku offers many of the same features, but it’s taking a different approach that its founder says makes it more flexible. It’s cash-flow positive, and it was built by one man over the course of two months. Teleku is in a private beta, but you can grab an account by going here and using the code ‘techcrunch’ to sign up.

So how does Teleku differ from Twilio? It’s a matter of flexibility, according to founder (and sole employee) Chris Matthieu. He says that when you use Twilio, it’s an all-in-one deal: you write your code in Twilo’s easy-to-use syntax called TwiML, which is then sent to Twilio’s telephony services in the cloud that are hosted on AWS. That’s great (and may be even preferable to some people), but with Twilio you can’t port your application to a cheaper service should one become available.

With Teleku, you can write your code using TwiML, or you can use Teleku’s own simplified telephony scripting language, called PhoneML. Your code is then sent to Teleku’s servers, which translate it into industry standard (but harder to write) VoiceXML. Matthieu says you can use that code on any of a variety of established telephony providers, including Voxeo and Plum Voice, and it will also work with enterprise systems that rely on VoiceXML.

Matthieu says this gives Teleku users a few advantages: first, they can swap between various providers if they find a better rate. And he also says that Voxeo and other telecom services have better optimized their servers than AWS has to work with voice traffic, and that they offer a few features that Twilio doesn’t yet, like speech recognition.

Finally, Teleku offers a wizard for building web-enabled telephony services for people who don’t have any coding experience at all. This allows you to select actions from a dropdown menu, like “Play”, “Speak”, and “Transfer” (you then fill in text dialogs to instruct the application what to say or what number to transfer to). You can drag and drop these actions depending on what order you’d like to execute each action. Watch the video below for a complete demo of the wizard.

Teleku is offering two pricing models: first, an ‘all-in-one’ package similar to Twilio’s that uses Voxeo as to handle its telephony services. This costs three cents a minute, which is the same as Twilio. For users that want to use Teleku in combination with a provider other than Voxeo, Teleku doesn’t charge on a per-minute basis. Instead, it adopts a web-service API model, charging on the number of calls rather than the call length. Teleku is still a small operation, but Matthieu says he’s already had early acquisition talks with potentially interested buyers.

All of that said, Twilio CEO Jeff Lawson contends that there are some tradeoffs that come with Teleku’s flexibility. He explains that applications ported to these other services won’t always translate properly (he says this is one of the benefits of using Twilio’s all-in-one model). He also says there are some features that Teleku doesn’t offer, like 2-way SMS.  But he says Twilio isn’t necessarily opposed to the concept of portability, and that Teleku validates Twilio’s easy-to-use approach to telephony scripting (he also notes that 37signals has started integrating Twilio into some of its products).

Image credit: Sumo Web Works.