In 2008, Jeff Lawson pitched his startup Twilio to Union Square Ventures. His message was clear and convincing: “We have reduced the entire chaotic and complex world of telephony to five API calls.” Lawson then sat on his laptop, coded an app and called one of the VCs, Fred Wilson.
And that was all he needed to see. He agreed to make the investment on site.
Since then, Lawson has made Twilio a powerhouse in the enterprise software world. The company now has a market capitalization of $ 58 billion and revenue rose 52% to $ 448 million in the most recent quarter. There are over 208,000 active customer accounts.
A key to Twilio’s success has been helping companies transform digitally. Customers were able to use the company’s technologies to develop systems and innovations that go far beyond standard software.
In fact, Lawson recently published a book about it. It is called Ask your developer: How you can leverage the capabilities of software developers and win them in the 21st century and I read it about the vacation. Unlike the typical digital transformation books, this one is based on the point of view of a person who is both a programmer and a CEO. This unique view offers great insight into how companies can make better use of technology.
I also recently had the opportunity to interview Lawson. This is what he had to say:
Tom Taulli: Your book approaches the strategies of digital transformation differently.
Jeff Lawson: Right. First of all, Marc Andreessen said: “Software eats the world.” It was a predictive prediction. The power of software is really changing every industry there is.
But he didn’t describe how it would eat up the world or what roles there would be. Remember, no one is really talking about how people are making this transformation – and of course it’s about software developers.
I have the advantage of speaking to Fortune 500 companies and everything in between. The conversations I often have include an understanding of developing software to be competitive in the digital economy.
And it’s a pretty daunting process. You have to hire great developers. You have to make it successful. If not, they’ll go elsewhere, like Google or Facebook.
My book is about how to get in touch with developers. It’s a game book for thinking about the subject.
Taulli: The decision between buying and building is difficult, especially for non-tech companies. What do you see as a way to make the best decision?
Lawson: There is no shortage of vendors who say, “Oh yes, trust me. Buying and plugging in my software will solve your problems. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel. “
However, when everyone is using the same technology, there is no differentiation. There will be commercialization.
So there are times when technology needs to be bespoke and have a special secret sauce in order to win in the market. Every company has its table inserts.
An example that I like to use is the traditional bank. It is often an undifferentiated experience. Because of this, disruptors like Square and PayPal have achieved great success. These companies have created unique customer experiences. Your bank is now a mobile app, not a lobby.
For the incumbent operators, there may be a further decline in the customer base. It will then be a Darwinian evolution that is about building versus dying.
Taulli: What strategies are there for digital transformation?
Lawson: One thing that comes out of the startup world is iterate and learn. Quickly create something that you believe will solve the problem, then introduce it to customers for feedback. Think about all of the apps on your phone that are updated regularly.
Taulli: You also believe in small teams. You learned that at Amazon.
Lawson: I think this is the key to empower an organization to scale. But for a lot of companies, it seems that the universe wants them to get worse as they get bigger. There is more overhead. There is more communication. A person will feel like a cog in the machine. They say, “You know, I’ll just take my paycheck and do what they tell me.”
Because of this, most companies fail at some point when they get bigger. They just collapse under their own weight.
And I find it quite remarkable that Amazon seems to have avoided this result, at least so far. And I think that’s because of the focus on small teams. This is because the company is continually being restructured into startup-sized units.
That’s what we do at Twilio. You need to regain the energy, enthusiasm, customer focus, and sense of urgency that startups have – no matter what you do.
Taulli: You also believe that there has to be a different mindset when it comes to developers.
Lawson: There are many misconceptions about developers. It’s not about shoving Pizza, Mountain Dew and Doritos under the door. It’s not about putting detailed requirements together when creating a project.
Developers are not math nerds who like things like quadratic equations. The reality is that many of them that I have met in my life are creative people. You can play a musical instrument on the side or be active in sports.
The key to unlocking the talent of developers is making them contributors. Management should share problems with them, not solutions. Leave it to the developers to find the best approaches.
Otherwise, you will treat them like factory workers. It should come as no surprise then that you will find it difficult to attract and retain talent.
For example, many executives know their top salespeople. These are the rainmakers. Executives will praise them and give them perks like new cars when they hit their numbers. But how many executives know the names of their top technical talents? Not enough.
This doesn’t mean developers need to be pampered. They should not. However, they need to be recognized and become an integral part of working with the company. How to get the best solutions on the market.
Tom (@ttaulli) is a consultant / board member of startups and author of Artificial Intelligence Foundations: A Non-Technical Introduction, The Robotic Process Automation Handbook: A Guide to Implementing RPA Systems and Implementation of AI systems: transform your business in 6 steps. H.e has also developed various online courses such as: COBOL and python Programming languages.