Four Thoughts from Twilio’s SIGNAL Conference

I’m back from SIGNAL, Twilio’s annual customer and developer conference, and have had a few days to think about the sessions and the overall environment of the conference. While Twilio pushes its own narrative through press releases and product announcements, below are four takeaways from the conference that help separate the SIGNAL from the noise. I obviously was only able to see a small percentage of the presentations, so I’d be interested in the thoughts of others who attended.

  • Flex is a hit. Flex is Twilio’s SaaS platform built on top of their communications APIs, and is a direct assault on the lucrative call center market. In speaking with would-be customers, you get the distinct impression that Twilio is flush with Flex orders that will keep them busy well into next calendar year. Even if you significantly discount their list pricing of $1/active agent/hour, you quickly come up with fairly conservative growth scenarios in which Flex helps Twilio blow past their guided revenue estimates. With Flex reaching general availability, expect this trend to accelerate, and to see its full impact starting with their Q1 earnings announcement.
  • Ambivalence regarding the SendGrid deal. The general consensus regarding Twilio’s just-announced acquisition of SendGrid seemed to be that the deal was logical, but that the price was modestly rich. Some of the financial types would have preferred to see a debt-financed deal, or one partially financed via a secondary offering that could have been raised during Twilio’s recent all-time highs; either scenario presumably would have resulted in less dilution. Still, the general consensus was that this deal checked a necessary box, and will be seen as neutral in the long term.
  • Significant developer interest in video APIs. Video is a particularly difficult engineering problem, and of the sessions I attended, those involving Twilio’s video APIs seemed to generate some of the most extensive developer Q&A. The advanced session detailing the video roadmap was particularly impressive, with detailed demonstrations of enhanced APIs for managing network quality drawing enthusiastic developer responses. Their entire video team was impressive, and this could be a significant area of growth going forward.
  • Narrowband IoT is very promising, and will drive use cases we have not yet imagined. In conjunction with T-Mobile, Twilio announced the release of a narrowband programmable wireless product that will enable developers to create ultra-low-power on-network devices. Twilio claims certain devices will be able to run for as long as 5-10 years on just a pair of AA batteries. Twilio distributed developer kits containing a SIM, an Arduino-based development board, antennas, temperature/humidity sensors, push button sensors, and more. Developers seemed eager to get their hands on these kits (I took two), and I’m sure more than a few attendees received extra scrutiny walking through airport security with this box of scary looking electronic parts. With unicorns such as Bird relying on similar underlying IoT technologies, I would expect adoption of these programmable wireless APIs to accelerate.