Where it's based: San Francisco
When it was founded: 2008
Why it's Fierce: Twilio, a six-year-old startup out of San Francisco, has managed to achieve what a group of the world's largest wireless operators could not: Provide a single platform for developers to access wireless networks.
"Twilio successfully virtualized everything a developer needs," explained Lynda Smith, the company's CMO. "That is one of the salient features that brings developers to us, is that developers can develop once and can deploy that anywhere in the world."
Backed by $110 million in venture funding, more than 250 employees and agreements with more than 1,800 major wireless carriers and aggregators around the globe, Twilio provides what is essentially one API (application programming interface) that mobile service and application developers can use to send messages and make calls across the globe. Underscoring the usefulness of that service are the more than 300,000 developers and businesses that have signed up with Twilio to date--including Hulu, which uses Twilio for its call center; Uber, which sends alerts to riders through Twilio; and Coca-Cola Enterprises, which uses Twilio to direct field technicians through its Salesforce application.
"Twilio has made communications just a regular part of the app. And communications are contextually part of the app," Smith said. "It's not just a phone call, it's part of the experience."
Twilio's service is essentially the exact solution that the GSMA's Wholesale Applications Community--backed by Verizon Wireless (NYSE: VZ), AT&T Mobility (NYSE: T) and Sprint (NYSE: S)--had hoped to offer when it launched in 2010. In 2012, the WAC folded back into the GSMA, and its technology assets were sold to Apigee. "Telecommunications has traditionally not kept up with the speed of business," Twilio's Smith noted dryly.
Twilio maintains a significant business development team that oversees its global carrier relationships--and importantly the company takes full responsibility for its communications offerings. "We never pass the buck," Twilio's Smith said.
Although it operates in the old-school world of telecommunications, Twilio also offers a decidedly new-school business model that provides customers a free tier of service and then only bills them for the messages they send. "We've got a 'no-shenanigans' business model," Smith said.
What's next: Smith said Twilio plans to continue to build out its platform to support additional kinds of media. She said last year the company introduced the ability to send picture messages, and expects to expand to additional services like that in the future, though she declined to provide details.
Smith also said Twilio plans to expand internationally by building physical offices overseas.