Guest Post: Albert Wenger on the Union Square Ventures Contest

We’ve partnered with Union Square Ventures, who are investors in Twilio, to give one developer the opportunity to travel to New York City to meet with Fred Wilson, Albert Wenger, and Brad Burnham.  The three partners of Union Square Ventures will help us decide who should win this contest, and submissions are due by 11:59pm Pacific Time on Monday, September 27th.  Learn more and submit your Twilio-powered startup on the Twilio contests page.

USV Twilio Contest – by Albert Wenger

We are excited to be investors in Twilio as they transform telephony from cumbersome, proprietary and expensive into an easy-to-use web service.  We also love the team’s creativity in promoting Twilio to developers, including the idea for this week’s contest: lunch with the USV team.  We will be working with the Twilio team to pick the winner from this week’s entrants.

As such, I thought it would be helpful to point to some of the criteria that we look for in evaluating innovation on the web.  Fortunately, this is an easy task for me as we have written about it extensively on the USV blog.  Since much of these points were written some time ago, I was pleased to see that we still believe in them as much if not more so than when originally posted.

Two points that are conspicuously absent from our list are the technology itself and features.  And that’s with good reason.  We believe that on the web technology provides little or no sustainable competitive advantage.  First, when something is delivered over the web, endusers tend not to care about how it’s done (which is different from installed software, which had to fit into someone’s existing environment).  Second, your competitors can generally see what you are doing in terms of features.  So if you are competing on features, they can add similar features quickly.  So as we look at projects for this contest we will not care about whether you wrote it in Java, PHP, Python, Perl, Ruby or something else altogether (Scala? Clojure?).  We will also not look for whether you have more features than another project.

Instead, we will look at how you have leveraged Twilio to create something that could have a network effect or result in accumulating a data asset.  We are looking forward to see what folks come up with!