Twilio is democratizing voice, messaging, and video communication channels through easy-to-use communications application programming interfaces (APIs). Karyn Smith, Twilio’s Chief Legal Officer, is a key part of that effort. Ms. Smith has been with the company since 2014, five years after the San Francisco-based company was founded. She was Twilio’s first lawyer.
Twilio is a cloud communications platform-as-a-service (CPaaS) company. Its platform is highly customizable and designed to improve the interactions businesses have with their customers. Twilio promotes customer engagement by providing several web service APIs.
Founded in 2008, Twilio has over 4,500 employees today. The company is based in San Francisco and headed by co-founder and CEO Jeff Lawson. Twilio primarily derives revenues from platform usage, and in 2020, it reported full-year revenue of $1.76 billion.
Privacy and cybersecurity legal issues are a substantial area of focus for Twilio’s legal department, and this is a priority for Ms. Smith. Twilio is based in California, which has some of the toughest consumer privacy laws in the United States. The company faced a consumer class action lawsuit recently that claimed Twilio recorded customer phone calls and text messages.
Twilio Culture and the Legal Team
Ms. Smith oversees a global team of over 60 people. She leads the legal department in a manner that reflects the company’s overall organizational culture. The phrase “Twilio Magic” is used define the company’s ten guiding principles: 1) Be an owner, 2) Empower others, 3) No shenanigans, 4) Wear the customer’s shoes, 5) Write it down, 6) Ruthlessly prioritize, 7) Be bold, 8) Be inclusive, 9) Draw the owl, and 10) Don’t settle.
As is the case at many technology startups, in-house lawyers at Twilio play an integral role in important business decisions. As Twilio’s General Counsel, Ms. Smith reports directly to the CEO and is a member of the executive leadership team.
A History of Legal and Regulatory Compliance Experience
Prior to joining Twilio in 2014 to lead its legal, government affairs, and regulatory compliance teams, Ms. Smith worked as Deputy General Counsel at the video gaming company Zynga. In 2011, Ms. Smith helped the company navigate a $1 billion IPO. Before Zynga, Ms. Smith was a partner at Cooley LLP, an international law firm known for representing some of the hottest tech and emerging growth companies.
Plans for Partnership, Expansion, and an Improved Customer Experience
Ms. Smith has also helped Twilio with a $750 million investment to acquire a minority stake in Syniverse Technologies. Syniverse specializes in mobile and cloud connectivity. Mobile phone carriers such as AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon, Vodafone, and China Mobile rely on Syniverse to act as a common exchange hub across networks. Syniverse routes text messages, call records, and other customer data across carrier networks.
Through the Syniverse partnership, Twilio hopes to combine its API services expertise with Syniverse’s mobile carrier contacts in order to make communications more efficient.
“The partnership will provide Syniverse access to Twilio’s extensive enterprise and API services expertise, creating opportunities to continue to build on Syniverse’s highly innovative product portfolio that helps mobile network operators and enterprises make communications better for their customers,” stated James Attwood, Syniverse’s executive chairman.
During the pandemic, Twilio searched for more avenues to serve the digital needs of customers. In October 2020, Twilio acquired Segment, a customer data management platform, for $3.2 billion. Segment’s technology enables organizations to move customer data between different apps using APIs.
Twilio’s CEO noted the importance of the opportunity for the company’s long-term goals. “Data silos destroy great customer experiences,” said Jeff Lawson. “Segment lets developers and companies break down those silos and build a complete picture of their customer. Combined with Twilio’s Customer Engagement Platform, we can create more personalized, timely and impactful engagement across customer service, marketing, analytics, products, and sales.”
Many Milestones Reached, and a Fond Farewell
After a career working with high growth technology companies for 25 years, Karyn Smith recently announced her intention to leave the company. She has agreed to stay until Twilio finds a successor.
Ms. Smith has helped Twilio reach key milestones during her time at Twilio. As Twilio develops partnerships and improves its API technology, the company’s general counsel will continue to play an important role. Ms. Smith has built a solid foundation for Twilio’s legal functions. The next general counsel appointee will have big shoes to fill.