Chris Kranky

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Twilio mash it up good

Chris KoehnckeChris Koehncke

I’ve watched in amazement the number of start-ups offering
telephone API services. Every VC warmed up their check book after witnessing
the ridiculous acquisition of Ribbit by BT UK for $105 million. Surely if BT
acquired this company, others were looking to buy as well and thus there should
be other “look alike” Ribbits for these suitors to acquire.

Enter Twilio. Twilio is for web programmers who want to
develop a voice application and don’t
want to bother with all the underlying equipment and service issues and need an
API that they is understandable to them in ‘web terms’.

Twilio-logo-no-tagline1 Twilio isn’t creating any applications, just the underlying
infrastructure of offering inbound telephone numbers (local and toll free) and
the ability to make telephone calls from a web API and do the classic IVR
command and control of the telephone call on the fly. The concept is solid, and
the pricing is right, free to play around and only $5 a month to maintain it
and $0.03-$0.05 per minute for the actual use of the application. Sounds good.

If you wanted to do this from scratch, you would have had to
buy or build some SIP base platform which obviously would cost money. Get SIP
telephone accounts which again cost money in small volume. So clearly it’s
better to rent than build in the case of Twilio.

The challenge is will Twilio pass the credibility test. If I
write an application, the presumption is that’s it’s a service that I’m selling
to someone else or using internally where I’m on the hook to deliver. So what
happens if Twilio goes belly up one day?

Credibility is always a problem for any small company, they
could simply just vanish with little or no notice. Thus if I’m basing my own
business on Twilio, I’d have to do so hard thinking. Unfortunately, Twilio is
doing what it can, promoting the people who are using it and hoping to create
enough groundswell to in fact survive.

So we return to the main issue. Since BT's acquisition of Ribbit, what's happened with Ribbit? Well basically nothing. Ribbit doesn't offer any commerical service and BT doesn't look like they've figured out a way to monetize the investment (sorta would help if you figured this out before you spend the money).

My guess is these types of companies, while interesting, have a limited market (start thinking up how many real applications there can be – I personally don't like machines calling me or dealing with a machine via the telephone). Big companies need big revenue buckets and sadly voice mashups aren't likely to satisfy their $$$ needs.