The great digital acceleration

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Good morning.

I talked earlier this week with Jeff Lawson, co-founder and CEO of Twilio, the cloud communication platform that has seen its stock soar 5X since the pandemic and is now worth a whopping $59 billion dollars. Lawson has a new book out called Ask Your Developer, which argues that today, every company must be a software company. The choice is no longer “build or buy,” he writes, “it’s build or die.”

The book was largely written before the virus but perfectly captures the technology ethic unleashed by the virus. “I would consider 2020 to be the great digital acceleration,” he told me. Twilio asked various corporate leaders how much the pandemic had accelerated their digital strategy, and “the average response was six years. Telemedicine got accelerated by a decade.”

The big lesson of the pandemic, Lawson writes in his epilogue, “is that great things can happen when people stop worrying about making mistakes or not getting everything perfect the first time around. During the COVID-19 crisis, change was free. There were no alternatives, no office politics and no fear of mistakes—because the alternatives were far worse. It’s what happens when management doesn’t have time to hold a bunch of meetings, to send requests and approvals up and down the chain of command, or to insist on huge master plans that never end up being what you build.”

Lawson was among the tech companies—along with Amazon, Apple and Google—that recently cut off Parler, the social media company spreading the conspiracy theories that fueled the Capitol attack. “Words matter and they have real life implications as we saw last week on Capitol Hill,” Lawson told me. “Twilio’s AUP (Acceptable Use Policy) prohibits the spread of disinformation, encouraging violence, the destructions of property and other illegal activity and threatening public safety. We determined that Parler was in violation.” The controversy over that decision is certain to reverberate for some time to come.

Separately, the Conference Board’s global CEO Survey is out this morning, and the accelerated pace of digital transformation ranked as the top internal challenge facing CEOs around the world. The top external challenge, of course, was COVID-19.  And the top long-term impact of COVID-19: reduced business travel. You can find the full survey here.

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Alan Murray

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