Twilio: How to make friends and influence developers

Cloud telecoms communication pioneers Twilio aren’t just bringing their messaging and voice APIs to Europe, they’re bringing their personable, evangelist-based community engagement approach too.

If you follow what goes on in Silicon Valley, you’ll be aware of Twilio. A US start-up that’s made waves across the telecoms and cloud communications space providing cloud APIs for developers and businesses to integrate SMS, VoIP and voice calls into mobile, web and desktop systems.

“There’s no limit to what you can do with it,” says James Parton, Twilio’s director of Europe marketing. “Because it’s just a raw API you can pretty much use it for any voice or text messaging use case you can imagine.”

These uses range from call tracking and marketing measurement, customer service, call centre automation, CRM and help desks, to mobile app distribution. High profile players like Foursquare and Path use Twilio to distribute their apps, prompting web users to enter their mobile number before generating a text which links directly to the app download page.

“That way you close that loop and massively increase the chances of the customer installing the app,” says Parton.

But in a business where there’s no consumer-side product to dress up and deliver the hard sell on, how are Twilio getting the word out to developers about their incursion into Europe. There’s a team of three working out of London right now, with more expected to join in the next six to 12 months.

Twilio’s tried and tested strategy, says Parton, is to support and nurture the developers and organisations that work with the Twilio APIs. “We don’t spend a lot of money on traditional marketing,” he says. “Most of our marketing effort is around our developer evangelists. We have a bunch of people, about eight in the US, and we’ll have two to three in Europe by the end of this year.”

Developer evangelist. It’s a 24/7 job. They’re out there constantly at industry events, going to meet ups, giving talks and getting hands-on with developers who are using the Twilio APIs.

The company established this method of working in the US, and has consistently demonstrated it as an effective way to connect with the developer community.

“Developers don’t tend to react too well to traditional sales and marketing techniques,” says Parton.  “So we don’t do that. We send a coder or an engineer to these events so developers can sit down with someone who has a very high level of knowledge, who can provide practical help without any of the sales bull s***.

“We don’t have a product to sell,” he adds. “We have an API, so our focus is making that as good as it can be, and giving people the help they need to get up and running very quickly with it.”

But who are these guys; these charismatic coding wizards who float around hackdays dispensing advice and wisdom? Where do you find someone who can do this?

It’s not easy. Parton and his team are on the lookout for these individuals to support their European operations right now, scouring the many developer events of Europe for people with the right ‘chops’.

“It’s highly specialised,” he says. “And it’s fairly easy to blag in an interview that you’ve got the chops. So we just keep our eyes out at the events we attend. We try to go out there and find people that are doing it for real, part of the community, perhaps running a meetup or a blog or speaking at a conference; rather than someone sitting behind a keyboard and pretending they’re doing it.”

The technical skill level bar in Twilio is very high. The kind of skill set an evangelist needs is up around the engineer level; someone who can write code in multiple languages; who’s comfortable on stage writing live code in front of an audience.

But while knowing your technical stuff is one thing, having the kind of outgoing, charismatic personality that gets people excited about the platform, and being willing to drag that magical personality to the many weekend and evening developer events, wearing a smile the whole time, is entirely another.

 “You need charisma and the in-built desire to help the people who use our platform,” says Parton.” We want to help make people famous, showcase what they’re doing with Twilio and get people excited about them. That’s the bread and butter of our company.”

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