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Why Twilio looks better from afar
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iPost Unified Messaging

I’ve been in the computer telephony game for a while.  I launched my first startup in this space, InterGalactic Research, in 1995.  We had a product called iPost, one of the world’s first Internet-based unified messaging platforms. iPost combined a Google Voice-like phone interface, a Gmail-like web interface, plus everything that eFax does and you could even send notifications via SMS to your favorite mobile devices.  Pure messaging bliss.

People loved it. Carriers, infrastructure providers, telephony card makers, text-to-speech providers, everyone loved iPost.  We secured investors in short order, we announced a partnership with Ericsson, licensed it to Motorola, won Info Magazine top 100 awards, cover of Home Office Computing magazine, we’d made it big.

But we were also frustrated.  We realized how insanely difficult it was to make computers talk to telephones.  Back then they called our industry ‘Computer Telephony Integration’ (CTI).   We thought, hey, if a few kids in a garage Central Florida could be this disruptive to the entire communications space, why not move out to Silicon Valley and do it even further?

So we did.

In 1999 we launched Voxeo.  Instead of building a specific CTI application (like iPost), we wanted to build a platform that let any developer build any telephone application. We created a super-simple, XML-based telephony language (here’s a document about CallXML from 2001 that describes it), raised initial funding from a very high-profile group of Angel investors, (including now-Google-Chairman, Eric Schmidt) and later did a high-profile VC round with Mayfield and Crosspoint. We invested most of that money in R&D and building a broad developer community. Soon thousands of developers were signing up every month.

Now the Voxeo and Tropo community boasts over 250,000 developers.  Voxeo is employee-owned, global, profitable and can call half of the Fortune 100 our most important customers.  I’m not saying this to brag (well, maybe a little), but I prefaced all of this by saying, “I’ve been in the computer telephony game for a while.” Back in 1999, I was Voxeo’s Vice President of Community Development, now they call me a Chief Evangelist.

I’m telling you all of this because, by the title of this post, you’re probably wondering why I say “Twilio looks better from afar”.   I’ve watched Twilio closely for over two years, since shortly after they launched.  I’ve talked with current and former Twiliots (Twilions? Twilioers?), venture capitalists, telephony geeks, coders and Silicon Valley “insiders”. And I’ve come to a few certain conclusions.

Twilio is certainly a Silicon Valley darling, but like some darlings, they look much better from afar.  Here are biggest three reasons why:

1.  Twilio is Still Losing Money

This one is easy to explain.   Twilio launched in 2009 with $1 million in seed money.   Every subsequent round of funding they’ve raised always happens in Q4 (November or December):

Series A:  12/09 $3.7 million

Series B:  11/10 $12 million

Series C:  12/11 $17 million

For you math geeks out there, that’s a total of $33.7 million.   It might also give us a good reflection of Twilio’s actual annual burn rate.  My guess is that we’re going to hear some kind of announcement in the next month or two.

Basically it comes down to this:  Twilio is going to have to convince investors to put in more money (my guess is they’re asking for somewhere in the range of  $30-$50 million. Heck, it could be some insanely skewed SV numbers like $150 million, who knows?)  Historically, investors who put money in a Series D round can already see the exit.  It’s typically known as the “bridge” round and it only happens if existing investors are 100% gung-ho about an IPO or acquisition.   Given the tech-IPO climate in the last year with giants like Facebook falling flat, that seems unlikely scenario.

2.  Twilio is Losing Talent

Let’s face it, the face of Twilio is vastly different than it was 18 months ago.   Danielle Morrill, Jon Sheehan, Stevie Graham and John Britton, all the most visible people who did the heaving lifting in Twilio’s early days are gone and have been quietly replaced with “telco industry insiders” like new Marketer-In-Chief, Lynda Smith of Nuance and Genesys and Euro-Marketing-Director James Parton of Telefonica.   I don’t know about you, but when I see almost all of a company’s most public-facing developer evangelists leave within a year, it smacks of a core strategy change, one of replacing established mojo with a briefcase-wielding enterprise sales team with commission quotas.

Twilio has already experienced rapid growth.  I’d say it’s probably not difficult for smart engineers to see the writing on the wall and they would rather take their chances at a new startup with exponential growth possibilities rather than one obviously at the ‘winding down’ phase of startups.

3. Twilio is Displaying Increasing Signs of Desperation

Last week someone called me to comment on a TechCrunch article “announcing” “Twilio’s biggest partnership yet.”    This “announcement” caused quite a stir in the Twittersphere.  I keep putting “announcement” in quotes, because in reality there was no “announcement”.   As Dave McClure gives Michael Arrington Rosescommunications industry analyst Dave Michels pointed out on his blog, Talkingpointz.com, to this date, no one at AT&T or Twilio can confirm any sort of partnership.

Another sign of desperation? Re-releasing old news. For instance, today Twilio just did a press release “renewed alliance with Microsoft“. What’s particularly meh about this announcement is that they already made the same exact announcement in May.

These are exactly the kind of things startups do when are trying to attract investment: leverage advertisement buying power to get fluff pieces written about them and re-hash old announcements to create fake buzz.  No doubt, Twilio certainly knows how to churn the Silicon Valley hype machine, but when you start to peek behind the red curtain even a little bit, it starts to look full of fluff.

Even Twilio’s own biggest fanboy, Super Angel Dave McClure, agrees, “Last time I checked, you can’t even provision a phone on Twilio or AT&T’s service (or at least they are not allowing it).  I am still waiting for the real disruption to begin.

Well, Dave, we’re all waiting.

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Is Brogramming just thinly veiled sexism?
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Brogramming. It’s one of those Internet memes, like Dudegineering or Fratcoding, an over-the-top mashup of machismo and geek chic. The very tongue-in-cheek Brogramming page on Facebook has garnered over 22,000 “likes”. At last fall’s Twilio Developer Conference, Twilio’s self-proclaimed “punk rocker”, Rob Spectre, did an entire 15-minute standup routine presentation as “Chad, world-bashing brogrammer and bro extraordinaire”.

Last week the Brogramming meme hit the main stream media in a Businessweek article by Douglas MacMillan called “Rise of the Brogrammer“:

At some startups the pendulum has swung so far in the other direction that it’s given rise to a new “title”: brogrammer. A portmanteau of the frathouse moniker “bro” and “programmer”

MacMillan also notes in the same article:

There’s also an audience that feels left out of the joke. Women made up 21 percent of all programmers in 2010, down from 24 percent in 2000. Anything that encourages the perception of tech as being male-dominated is likely to contribute to this decline, says Sara Chipps, founder of Girl Develop It, a series of software development workshops. “This brogramming thing would definitely turn off a lot of women from working” at startups, says Chipps.

Here’s where it starts to get interesting: Two days ago Gregory Gomer at BostInno.com wrote about a hackathon called the Boston API Jam, sponsored by some big names in the tech community that promised women serving beer as a “Great Perk”:

Thanks to Storify and Irene Ros, you can follow the ensuing tweet storm including the pull out of sponsors Heroku and Apigee and the public apology from the event organizers, Sqoot.

Later THE SAME DAY, a surprisingly similar public tweet flamewar erupted between Shanley Kane and Geekli.st founders Christian Sanz and Reuben Katz.  Kane tweeted that she was offended by a video (which has since been removed).  Kane tweeted:

@csanz @rekatz why the ads with a woman in her underwear dancing around to dupstep?

Again, Storify to the rescue (ironically Reuben Katz used to be their CTO), as collected by Charles Arthur in a post he called “Oh Hai Sexism“.   If you read through the post, you’ll see my name in there because I happen to follow Shanley, Christian and Reuben on Twitter and I was fairly shocked as I watched the two Geekli.st founders deflect and attack as deftly as Rush Limbaugh, implying that Shanley was somehow only offended because she didn’t get a hired by Geekli.st.  When they brought her employer into the mix I just felt sad for them.  They just kept digging a deeper and deeper hole, and went as far as to create a fake twitter handle to propose the question of “double standards” (that was extra specially tight work, guys).

The Geekli.st guys have since published an apology.  And I see they’ve started frantically giving High-Fives to all of their female members.  I guess that’s one way to combat sexism in tech.

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How Twilio used idempotency to save the world from AWS
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I was so inspired by the mythical tales of heroic network planning and design in Twilio’s post ,”Why Twilio Wasn’t Affected by Today’s AWS Issues“, I made this short animation to express the pure unadulterated seeping pile of awesome it represents. Kudos to the author, and thank you commenters for your inspirado.

Fast Tube by Casper

If you enjoyed this, you might also enjoy:  Tropo vs Twilio – AKA a little more noise for Dave Mcclure

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VoiceXML Asterisk Tropo & Twilio as seen by their fanboys
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VoiceXML Asterisk Tropo Twilio

Inspirado by Mark Headd.

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Tropo vs Twilio – AKA a little more noise for Dave Mcclure
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My post Why Choose Tropo over Twilio caused quite a stir on Hacker News last week.  The resulting comment storm still hasn’t quieted completely.  The debate continued on to the VOIP Users Conference Podcast, where I was a guest along with Twilio CTO Evan Cooke in a podcast called When Clouds Collide.

Personally, I was inspired by the discussion, and put together this short animation to help explain some of the finer points:

Fast Tube by Casper

Before everyone goes crazy:

Here’s the article where Dave McClure was quoted as saying “Open is for losers“.  And here’s where he was quoted saying “Fuck that noise” in response to Twilio criticism (or if that link goes away…here’s a nice Fuck That Noise screencap)

If you have trouble viewing the YouTube version, you can always go to the source:  Tropo vs. Twilio

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Why choose Tropo over Twilio?
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A few weeks ago I was in Portland at the CivicWebs Hackathon talking with Amber Case and Aaron Pareki when Amber asked me why Tropo is better than Twilio.  She acknowledged that while she and Aaron love Tropo and built their GeoLoqi app on Tropo’s API, a lot of other people seem to like Twilio.   “So why is Tropo better?” she asked.

I responded with all the certainty, aloofness and charm I could muster: “Because we are!”

For most normal people, that answer might suffice, but Amber Case is a Cyborg Anthropologist.  It’s hard to win her over with just charm.  So I started laying out some of the reasons why Tropo is just plain better, and I figured rather than just keep them between me and Amber and Aaron, I’d share…

1) Features – Twilio for pranks, Tropo for business

This is where Tropo really blows Twilio away, and even Twilio’s own people acknowledge it.  At an API vendor shootout session at Internet Telephony Expo earlier this year, Danielle Morrill, Twilio’s head of marketing, said that Twilio would never be able to keep up with Tropo on features.

Twilio is great for making prank phone calls

Tropo offers a ton of advanced features that Twilio just can’t match: Voice recognition, SIP connections (critical for integration with other VoIP systems), Skype integration, instant messaging, short codes, hosting, numbers in 41 countries, speech in multiple languages, and a host of other things.

Furthermore, Tropo is a unified API. The days of needing one app for voice calls, another for SMS and a third for conferencing are over.  The same code you use to say something over the phone can also respond via SMS, IM, and Twitter.

2) Tropo’s Extreme Support

Twilio works on a credit system that requires developers to pay to play.   Tropo is and always will be 100% free for developers.  No credits, no limits on minutes, no ads played to you or your callers.  Every developer gets 24×7 support from engineers that know how to write code.  Paying customers measure their response times in minutes.  Our support team is consistently ranked the highest in customer service and satisfaction, at the top of not only our industry, but above all other software and telephony companies.

3) Scalability, Reliability and Portability

Twilio’s service is based on Asterisk, a free and open source telephony framework and runs on Amazon’s EC2 network.

Tropo runs on Voxeo’s SIP Cloud, the largest worldwide voice application host. Voxeo has been running phone+web applications for 10 years.  Because Voxeo’s been doing this stuff for so long they know that business customers demand security and reliability, which is why Voxeo manages their own datacenters that connect directly to major carriers and delivers tens of millions of voice minutes a day for the largest companies in the world, including half the Fortune 100.

Portability is another factor.   If someone develops an app on Twilio, they’re pretty much locked in to Twilio.  Hopefully it will be a happy marriage, but what happens if they want to switch providers?   Tropo, on the other hand, can be run in your own network.   You can even run Tropo on Amazon EC2 (if you want to).

If you haven’t tried out Tropo, you should give it a whirl. Here’s a great tutorial to help you get started: How to build a Twitter Bot using Tropo and JavaScript

Related Post:  Twilio vs. Tropo AKA A little more noise for Dave McClure