Remembering a Friend – Jeffrey McManus

When we were starting Twilio in 2008, the notion of a developer platform business was pretty far out there. When we were looking for advice, there weren’t very many who had meaningful insights into the challenges that lay ahead of us. In fact, most people just thought the idea was pretty foolish. That’s when our friend and advisor Dave Schappell recommended that we meet this guy — Jeffrey McManus.

“Jeff — meet Jeffrey McManus — he’s the ‘evangelists’ evangelist’ :-)”

That’s how I was introduced to Jeffrey — and, what an apt introduction it was.

I first met Jeffrey in person during the summer of 2008. He was taking courses at UCSB. I was in southern California and drove up to Santa Barbara for a first face to face chat about developers, platforms, and evangelism. I found him warm, welcoming, a geek at heart, and just loved what he did — helping developers. As a company, we were about to enter his arena of expertise, and I knew immediately he was genuinely excited for us. In particular, Jeffrey was a consummate teacher — he loved sharing the wisdom he’d accumulated, and we loved being students of it.

I wrote back that night to Dave Schappell, who had introduced us:

“I really like him, and he’s the perfect person to assist us with our developer marketing plan. Thanks again for the introduction.”

He became an advisor that summer and looking back today, I’m so grateful that he took a bet on working with us — because we got to know such a great human being in the process — and because he had such an impact on where we are today. A few (of his many) bits of his wisdom come to mind:

In September of 2008, two months before we launched Twilio, the founders were contemplating how to build the best documentation and content experience for developers. I pinged Jeffrey for his advice figuring if anybody in the world had given this a lot of thought — it was Jeffrey. How much we had underestimated how much thought he’d given it — he pointed me toward a blog post he had written. What? Yes, that’s correct. He had already thought through the upsides and downsides of many developer websites — and had written quite possibly the only known dissertation on the concept of developer documentation CMSes at the time. Yes, “he’s the perfect guy” was the right sentiment — and only the beginning.

One of my favorite lessons came that same summer of 2008. We were raising our seed round and were about to walk into a full partner meeting at a prominent VC firm — optimistic that they’d be funding us prior to our launch. The team there was great; they had been very interested in Twilio — thanks to an introduction from Jeffrey. But the morning of our big meeting, GigaOm published an article: Is there money in Voice APIs?  Hrm, maybe that would be relevant to our conversation – indeed it was, and for that reason and probably a few more — they didn’t invest.

But Jeffrey’s advice hung with me:

“Anytime a blogger starts making crystal ball statements, I try my best to tune it out — I assume that if they were really clairvoyant they’d be doing something for a living other than blogging.”

Yes, Jeffrey taught us to keep our heads up, ignore the naysayers, and keep on building — and that’s spot on what an advisor should say. But that’s not all — at that moment, he helped frame our business in a way that shaped many subsequent decisions we would make:

“Saying that “APIs don’t make money” misses the point — it’s like faulting a supermarket for the fact that its automatically-opening electric doors don’t make money.“

API’s aren’t the product — but the means of delivering the product. How many people in the Universe understood that in 2008? Jeffrey helped us understand our business early on — and was probably one of the few people on the planet who could have done so.

Early on, Jeffrey helped to develop our Go To Market plan, and helped us understand the role of community in reaching developers — through evangelism, through content, and just by being genuine. Beyond Twilio, this model of developer evangelism that Jeffrey helped us define has since helped birth an entire industry of developer-focused companies.

Jeffrey came to our office warming party last month — he was so full of pride to see how we’d grown since the early days of meeting in the UCSB cafeteria or Crepes on Cole. And we were so happy to see Jeffrey — a familiar face who’s been there all along for us. Thank you Jeffrey — in your wisdom, your warmth, your friendship — you had an impact on Twilio and on us personally as entrepreneurs, developers, and people — far beyond what you can imagine. Our thoughts and prayers go out to Jeffrey’s friends and his family — he will be missed here and by all who were blessed to know him.

Jeff, Evan & John

Twilio Founders