Twilio Co-Founder Acquires The Onion

The former CEO is swapping customer engagement for satire in a shock move.

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Twilio Co-Founder Acquires The Onion
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Published: May 1, 2024

Rhys Fisher Fisher

The Co-Founder and former CEO of Twilio, Jeff Lawson, has purchased the satirical news publication The Onion.

Given The Onion’s style of content, it is important to clarify that this isn’t a joke.

Lawson announced the acquisition in a thread on X, where he praised the rich history of the publication and lambasted the fact that it had been “stifled” in recent times:

“The Onion is an institution, a national treasure, and we need it. But its success is based on something different than most media companies.

The Onion has been stifled, along with most of the Internet, by byzantine cookie dialogs, paywalls, bizarro belly fat ads, and clickbait content. And we’ve had enough.

“The internet sucks, and it’s time we made it better. It’s time to focus on customers – end users – again.”

Despite not providing any specific details on how The Onion will change under his ownership, Lawson did mention that the company will be launching new products and considering new mediums.

Having risen to fame in the early days of the web, The Onion’s renowned style of presenting satirical takes on current affairs in a straightlaced manner continues to attract millions of viewers each month.

However, the publication appears to be struggling somewhat, having launched an appeal on its website last week – in true Onion style – for readers to contribute “$1 immediately or The Onion will disappear forever.”

This plea was echoed by Lawson in his X thread, where the new owner commented:

“If you care about The Onion, if The Onion ever made you laugh – give us a buck. For that dollar, you get… absolutely nothing. Just a smug sense that you’ve once again spent less on The Onion than it’s worth in your life.”

So, why exactly has Lawson decided to swap web communications tools for satire? We take a closer look at what prompted the former CEO to step down from Twilio.

Turmoil at Twilio?

Having co-founded the company in 2008, it was reported at the beginning of the year that Lawson had resigned, with Khozema Shipchandler – the firm’s president – announced as his replacement.

Speaking at the time of his resignation, Lawson commented on the success that the company had achieved during his tenure and was full of praise for Shipchandler and the rest of the team:

“Building Twilio over the past 15 years has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.

I’m proud to have led the company from zero to over $4 billion in annualized revenue, and now generating a 19% free cash flow margin as of our last earnings.

“I leave Twilio in the hands of a capable and talented management team who have my full support and respect. Khozema is a great leader, and I am confident he will lead the company well. Thank you to every Twilio customer, employee and developer I’ve had the privilege of building with. I can’t wait to see what you build next.”

However, despite the apparent amicable departure, Lawson’s exit coincided with Twilio’s confrontation with activist investors pushing for either the divestiture of specific assets or a total sale of the company.

Indeed, Twilio reportedly went as far as seeking advice from Qatalyst Partners to defend itself against these investors, particularly Anson Funds, who hold a $50 million stake in the company.

But what has caused this apparent rift between Twilio and its investors?

Despite experiencing a significant stock increase this year, Twilio is still rebounding from a major loss in 2022, with its annual revenue growth slowing to 5%.

Moreover, in December the customer engagement firm also revealed its third round of job cuts within 15 months, impacting roughly 295 employees, mainly within the Flex and Segment go-to-market departments.

These layoffs come after previous cuts in February (17% of the workforce) and September 2022 (11%). At the time, Lawson linked the decision to streamline operations to an unproductive investment in Segment’s go-to-market approach, resulting in overspending.

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