With more than 200,000 customers, a market cap of nearly $56 billion, and the recent acquisition of Segment for $3.2 billion, Twilio is a SaaS behemoth.
It’s hard to imagine companies like Twilio as anything but a giant. But everybody starts out small, and you can usually trace success back to key decisions made in the early days.
First, you need to have a product that developers can actually sign up for. This means ditching demos for real-time free trials or freemium tools.
For Twilio, a big differentiator was being one of the first technology-focused SaaS organizations that focused on empowering and building for the end user (which in their case is developers) with a self-service function. Another differentiator was, the executive team designed the organization to create tight feedback loops between sales and product with national roadshows, during which CEO Jeff Lawson frequently met with users.
Moreover, Twilio’s “secret sauce” per their S-1 is a developer-focused model and a strong belief in the future of software. They encourage developers to explore and innovate with Twilio’s flexible offering, which led to an incredible 155% net-dollar expansion rate at the time of the IPO.
Most importantly, Twilio put the product in the hands of teams before the sale happened, standing by to answer hard questions about how Twilio would fit into their infrastructure. This was pretty rare at the time — sales engineering resources aren’t cheap — and it was a strong differentiating factor. So much so that when the company went public, they were growing at 106% annually.
Twilio sells to developers at large enterprises by solving a problem that developers come up against regularly: Getting in touch with customers.
But as more successful public software companies emerge, it’s clear that Twilio’s secret sauce can and will be replicated.
Why traditional marketing doesn’t work on developers
Before I started looking at successful developer-focused businesses, I understood the developer-focused playbook to look a little like this:
- Don’t hire marketing (or sales, either). If you do, hire someone super experienced from an enterprise sales background. And then fire them within three to six months.
- Just hire someone who’s passionate about the product to “manage the community.” What is community management? Lots of swag. Cool meetups. Publish 1–2 articles as a stab at content (bonus points if they’re listicles). Oh, wait. How can we show the ROI here? Make the community manager do that until she quits. Repeat.