I've discussed Twilio (NYSE: TWLO) many times over the past month. I talked about the bearish arguments against the stock, its long-term growth opportunities, and whether or not investors should buy the stock's post-earnings dip.
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Today, I'll take a look at some lesser-known facts about Twilio that might change your perception of the cloud service provider.
1. Its co-founder and CEO helped build AWS
Twilio co-founder and CEO Jeff Lawson helped build Amazon (NASDAQ: AMZN) Web Services (AWS), which became the biggest cloud platform in the world. Amazon hired Lawson in 2004 as a product manager for the small team which would officially launch AWS in 2006. Lawson only spent 15 months at Amazon, but the experience introduced him to the concept of offering computing infrastructure as a cloud-based service.
After leaving Amazon, Lawson realized that he could apply the AWS model to mobile devices by integrating mobile communication features directly into apps via APIs (application programming interfaces) -- simple building blocks which developers could integrate into their apps. This idea became the foundation of Twilio, which enables developers to integrate voice calls, text messages, videos, and other features directly into their apps with APIs that pull data from Twilio's cloud service.
The close ties between Amazon and Twilio persist to this day. Twilio still runs on AWS, and Amazon uses Twilio's APIs in its Lex chatbots, SNS notifications, Chime enterprise communication service, and Connect cloud-based contact center.
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2. It generated its first major media buzz with a Rickroll
Twilio was founded in 2007, but not many people outside of the VC or app development community knew about the start-up until late 2008 -- when Lawson developed an app which "rickrolled" (sent Rick Astley's "Never Gonna Give You Up" to) people with a single call. The prank was covered by tech sites like TechCrunch -- which referred to Twilio as "some new start-up" -- thus piquing mainstream interest in the company.
Just a few days later, Twilio officially launched Twilio Voice, an API to make and receive calls which were completely hosted in the cloud. That paved the way for its cloud-based text messaging and video APIs to arrive later on.
3. It gained a big ecosystem boost from 500 Startups
One of Twilio's biggest backers was Dave McClure's 500 Startups, an early stage venture fund and seed accelerator. In 2010, 500 Startups launched the Twilio Fund, a "micro fund" which set aside $250,000 in seed money for start-ups that used Twilio's APIs.
That move was intended to build Twilio's brand awareness and expand its ecosystem. But that's hardly a concern today -- Twilio's platform now dominates its niche of cloud-based voice and text APIs, and its top customers include Facebook's Messenger and WhatsApp, Netflix, and Airbnb.
4. All "Twilions" must create new Twilio apps
Twilio calls its employees "Twilions," and all new Twilions must develop a new Twilio-based app and present it to the entire company. Even non-engineers must do the same thing -- they're sent through Twilio's coding "boot camp" to learn coding basics.
Most of the apps, like one that answers text queries with a Simpsons' GIF, aren't practical. But the key takeaway is that anyone, even non-coders, can learn to build a Twilio-based app. Once a Twilion passes that test, Lawson gives the employee a branded track jacket and an Amazon Kindle with $30 of monthly credit -- "to encourage people to invest in themselves," he told Forbes last September.
5. One of the most innovative companies of 2017
Twilio was ranked eighth on Fast Company's list of the world's 50 Most Innovative Companies this year -- putting it in the same league as tech heavyweights Amazon, Alphabet's Google, Uber, Apple, Snap, Facebook, and Netflix.
To illustrate Twilio's impact, Fast Company noted that banking giant ING replaced all the hardware and software that runs its global call center system with Twilio's cloud-based service. It also noted that Twilio's services had "become so pervasive that most people don't even know they're using them" -- like when they're receiving notifications from Uber drivers or getting a new password from Netflix.
What's next for Twilio?
Twilio had an interesting beginning as a start-up and a volatile run as a public company. It still faces tough questions about its future -- especially with regards to its valuation and growing competition from bigger companies and internally developed APIs.
However, these five facts also indicate that Twilio is a nimble company, and Lawson is a capable hands-on leader. Those qualities could help Twilio evolve into a better-diversified company with sustainable growth in the future.
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Suzanne Frey, an executive at Alphabet, is a member of The Motley Fool's board of directors. Leo Sun owns shares of Amazon and Twilio. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Alphabet (A shares), Alphabet (C shares), Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Netflix. The Motley Fool recommends Twilio. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.