Twilio's new payments API brings credit to the phone

It's always amazing to me how there's unsolved problems in the most obvious places. Twilio's new service is one of these niches exactly: taking credit cards securely, in a PCI-compliant way, over the phone.

If you've ever booked a hotel over the phone, it probably worked something like this: you gave an actual person your credit card number by reading it out, and they slapped it into a computer somewhere. Not only is that insecure (I mean, they could just write it down), it's technically a major flaw in that company's compliance... but often it's just easier.

Twilio Pay essentially solves this gap by making it simpler to build an automated phone checkout process: it prompts the user to type in their numbers over the phone, bills them via Stripe, and executes it while they're on the line. You get the money, the user gets their card tokenized! 

The tokenization element of this process is important: if you're billing someone over the phone and tokenizing the card, it also allows you to sign people up for subscription services over the phone without storing their card number forever. 

The higher level version of this is even cooler; with additional tooling like Amazon's "Polly" service, the user can actually just dictate it to the Twilio phone bot, which is then transcribed into something usable for the API. 

This is some damn phone innovation, it's wild to think that it wasn't solved yet! There are a few systems out there that can do this, but they're largely huge, PBX-based monstrosities that cost a lot of money. 

Twilio just made it simple for everyone, particularly for those industries that have dragged their heels on resolving this. It's also a huge win for Stripe, which is the first connector actually supporting the service, though more will come in the future.

It's interesting to watch Twilio's rise to be the "API for messaging" in almost every way. The company just announced it would acquire Sendgrid for $2 billion, and it's holding an enormous conference in San Francisco right now to encourage developers to use the platform even more.

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