'Communications for good': Silicon Valley's Twilio fights 'bad actors'

The chief executive of multibillion-dollar Silicon Valley startup Twilio has his eye on growing the number of Australian businesses using his technology so they can talk to customers no matter which app they use.

"We are in the middle of a great communications renaissance… there’s certain people you Facetime with, with other people you call. You name it, there are so many ways we communicate with each other now," Jeff Lawson says.

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The $US17 billion ($24.71 billion) cloud communications business lets developers build tools for sending SMS, voice messages and emails to company clients. It recorded $US650 million ($944 million) in revenue globally last year and after opening Sydney and Melbourne offices in 2018, the Nasdaq-listed company says Australia is a key growth market.

"We saw so many that were building amazing companies here. We see innovative companies, [in] the startup sense and the incumbents."


Twilio says it now has thousands of Australian businesses on board, including working with tech darling Atlassian and pizza operation Domino's. The traction has seen it grow from "a handful" of local staff to dozens in the last year, Lawson says.

Trust and blocking 'bad actors'

Twilio's pitch to local businesses is the ability to build personalised messages to customers so they hit the right platform, whether that's a well-timed email about a deal or a text message or automatic voice call to resolve a dispute.

The company promises to make it as easy as possible for developers to build functions so businesses can send widespread communications quickly. The challenge is stopping malicious actors from using the technology to send spam or scamming messages.

"One of our goals has always been to remove friction. With that also comes the risk that bad actors are attracted," Lawson says.

The cloud has well and truly taken hold among Australian businesses, with an expected $16 billion set to be spent on enterprise software and products this year, Gartner predicts.


At the same time, cyber crime costs are jumping and the prevalence of businesses being hit by scam emails is on the rise.

The first 12 months of Australia's notifiable data breaches scheme, which requires businesses to tell customers when they are hacked, revealed phishing attacks were "the most common and highly effective" method of compromising a company's security.

Twilio says it is doubling down on cybersecurity and a top priority is developing methods to "make sure our technology is using it for good", including tracking use of the platform to stop it being used for spam.

"[It's] preventing bots, and preventing account takeovers. Also measuring the effectiveness of communications and preventing people from using communications for things that are bad," Lawson says.

In 2018, Twilio bought email platform Sendgrid for $US2 billion ($2.9 billion). The platform processes around 50 billion emails a month and in a blog post in April it explained how it had used machine learning to block abusive email and phishing content.



The security question is a top priority in the quest to expand Twilio's user base, given business customers only use products where they can be guaranteed of secure communications, Lawson says.

"Information security is a very big area of investment. If you think about it, communications is at the centre of building trust."

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