Twilio’s Jeff Lawson says bots are overrated

In a wide-ranging interview with TechCrunch reporter Frederic Lardinois today at TechCrunch Disrupt San Francisco, Twilio co-founder and CEO Jeff Lawson talked about the trials of going public, why paying attention to the stock price is unproductive, and how bots are overrated.

It’s certainly interesting that the leader of one of the premiere communications companies today thinks bots are unproductive in their current guise, and went so far as to make fun of the hype around them. It’s not that he doesn’t think bots will be useful, but he thinks the interactions today are lacking, and that the focus needs to be on the content.

He believes what folks are doing around delivering the news is probably more gripping than trying to create a customer service interaction at this point. When the interactivity matures, that will probably come, but being able to “choose your own adventure” in news and take a path based on your own preferences is working really well today.

He used the New York Times coverage of the Olympics this past summer as an example. He liked the idea of getting one story a day, one that felt like you were having a conversation with the reporter, rather than being told a story. It’s those kind of interactions where he sees messaging shine.

Lawson, whose company went public in June the day before the Brexit vote, said he actually ended up moving the pricing announcement because the team was concerned about the impact of the vote, something they hadn’t considered when they were planning it out.

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For Lawson, being a public company hasn’t changed much. “Nothing changes. If you let existence of stock price change how you think about building the company then you are destined for problems. This is what we say internally all the time. Our business is to control things we can control — customers, products revenue,” he said in the interview.

He says that if you’re looking at the stock price, you’re not concentrating on what matters in the business, and you end up on an unrealistic emotional roller coaster where you feel great when the stock doubles and horrible when it loses value. The price of the stock on a day-to-day basis shouldn’t have an impact on how you run the business — and that includes whatever personal wealth you’ve gained or lost as a result of owning stock.

“If you look at stock price, trying to ascertain personal impact of that you will go crazy and focus on the wrong thing. That’s not reality,” Lawson said.

While his company was the first unicorn to go out this year, he didn’t feel pressure to go public beyond the idea that he has venture investors and at some point he needed to provide a tangible return for them.

His advice to companies just starting out was to make good investment decisions along the way — accept investments from people who believe in your vision and give you reasonable terms, then the decision to go public is based on management’s belief it is the best time.