$2.4 billion Twilio brings on a Salesforce veteran as its new marketing boss

TwilioSara Varni, Twilio’s new chief marketing officer
  • Twilio has hired Sara Varni as its new chief marketing officer.
  • Previously, Varni spent 10 years at Salesforce, most recently leading marketing for Sales Cloud, the company’s flagship product.
  • Varni’s mission is to balance Twilio’s well-established appeal with software developers with a new effort to reach out to business executives and IT decision makers.

To help spur its next phase of growth, cloud communications company Twilio is bringing in a Salesforce veteran to serve as its chief marketing officer – only its second ever, after going without for the last several years.

Sara Varni was most recently the senior vice president of marketing for Sales Cloud, Salesforce’s biggest and most popular product. She said Twilio reminds her of what the cloud software giant was like when she joined it 10 years ago.

“I really liked being part of Salesforce at that stage of growth,” Varni told Business Insider, adding she relishes the chance to do it all over again as part of Twilio.

Twilio ceo jeff lawsonTwilio/TwitterTwilio CEO Jeff Lawson on the day of the company’s initial public offering.

Varni will be trying to reach out beyond Twilio’s developer base

Varni’s mission will be to refine, not reinvent, Twilio’s image. The company is already widely loved by developers. Customers including Lyft, ING, and Hulu all rely on Twilio’s service to send text messages to their customers or to power their call centres.

The approach has already brought Twilio a certain level of success. The company booked $US277 million in revenue in 2016, but recorded $US100.5 million in the third quarter of last year by itself. After holding blockbuster initial public offering in 2016, its market capitalisation now stands at about $US2.4 billion.

Going forward, Twilio will still sell its service primarily to software developers. But it’s trying to work its way up in corporate hierarchies, building relationships with the vice presidents and other executives who make IT buying decisions. That could help it convince larger teams at larger companies to use it service – and help bring it closer to profitability.

It’s a tricky needle to thread, Varni acknowledged. Twilio has gotten where it is because of its focus on selling primarily to developers. If it pivots too hard into selling straight to executives, it could alienate the very developers who made it a success in the first place. But if the company focuses too narrowly on courting developers, it could lose out on a chance to convince executives that it offers a business-ready service.

101 Highway billboardsBusiness Insider/Eugene KimTwilio has had this billboard, or variations on it, on display in San Francisco for years now.

She’ll be trying to strike the right balance

That’s why Varni isn’t proposing a radical shift for Twilio. For example, the company’s “Ask Your Developer” billboard, displayed prominently off of San Francisco’s Highway 101, isn’t going anywhere, she said. Instead, she’s focusing on trying to find the right way to get both developers and executives feeling positive about Twilio’s service, without either side feeling like they’re an afterthought.

“There’s a fine balance we’ll have to meet,” she said.

In the meantime, she’s enjoying her early days at Twilio. In particular, she loves how developer-friendly it is; you never know what developers are going to cook up next. That too reminds her of her early days at Salesforce when she was working on the enterprise software company’s own developer platform.

“We didn’t know [what developers would do]. We had the seeds planted for them,” Varni said.

Twilio will report its next quarterly earnings on February 13. Analysts are expecting the company to post a loss of 6 cents per share on revenues of $US103.71 million.

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