Twilio raises $17M to expand communications platform worldwide

Twilio, a cloud communication platform powering a wide array of apps, is capping off a huge year of growth with $17 million in Series C funding from existing investors Union Square Ventures and Bessemer Venture Partners. The new money will be used to continue Twilio’s worldwide expansion, as it moves beyond its recent foray into the UK to the rest of Europe and beyond.

The San Francisco company has grown its customer base by about 400 percent this year to 75,000 developers, who build everything from group messaging and conferencing solutions to voice and text message notification apps and web-based distributed call centers. The Twilio platform lets developers plug in the basic communications components that used to come from traditional telecom vendors. Now, developers just pay for what they need and easily integrate a host of services without needing a strong telecom background.

Hulu, for example, was able to set up call centers on multiple continents within one month using Twilio. Twilio’s API is now the fifth most popular for developers, said Jeff Lawson, CEO and co-founder of Twilio, and half of all American households are now touched by apps using Twilio.

“We believe in opening up the black box of communication for developers,” Lawson told me. “People who wouldn’t have participated in communication because of steep technological or economic barriers are building things now.”

Twilio has been evolving the platform beyond SMS and voice services that hooked into old copper-based phone systems and this summer began offering VoIP services. It’s showing that it can grow even as old phone systems fade away and developers rely less on integrating text messaging and move to more app-to-app messages. The company got help from Dave McClure’s 500 Startups, which established a dedicated $250,000 Twilio micro fund last year and has committed to a second round, this time with matching funding for developers provided by Ron Conway.

Twilio, which is up to about 85 employees, previously raised $15.7 million including a $12 million round last year. Lawson said the company is looking to hire more engineers and more sales and marketing people. He declined to talk about the financial details but said Twilio has been growing revenues substantially over the last two years.

As the app boom grows, it’s back-end infrastructure providers like Twilio that continue to thrive as they help enable more and more of the mobile apps flooding the market.