At TextNow, we’re all about offering exceptional phone service to everyone for free, or as close to free as possible. Providing reliable, high-quality calling and texting requires robust, leading-edge technology. To ensure that our platform continues to exceed our customers’ expectations as we rapidly scale our user base, we recently welcomed Andy Shin to TextNow as Senior Vice President of Engineering to lead our technical team. Andy has worked at startups and as a tech consultant, but he’s most well-known from his time as Chief Technology Officer at the sneaker marketplace site GOAT, the newest member of the unicorn club (Note to self, ask him where I can get some mint Nike Air Yeezy 2s). We’re thrilled to have him on our team, and we recently sat him down with him for a few Qs, to get his thoughts on leadership, the tech challenges he’s excited about, and why he thinks the telecom space is ripe for disruption.
Hi, Andy! Let’s get right to the nitty gritty — what responsibilities will you have as the new Senior VP of all things engineering at TextNow?
I’ll be responsible for all the technology at TextNow. I’ve been brought on to get the team to execute at a high level — to build, grow, and mature our platform at a time when we’re getting ready for rapid user growth. That means maintaining the high quality of our service, making sure it’s reliable, and adding new features for our customers.
Ultimately, we’re an engineering company. We build communication products, and my job here is to make sure we’re delivering happiness to our customers.
Why did you decide to join TextNow?
First of all, it was the team and the culture here. I’ve been super impressed by Derek and what he’s been able to build over the past 11 years — without needing to take much outside funding. Everyone has bought into the mission of providing phone service to people who need it, for free.
I’ve also been really inspired by how much our customers love our product and how much they use it. A lot of our users rely on us as their main form of communication, whether that’s talking to family and friends, finding a job, or running a small business. It’s a big responsibility to make sure we’re doing our jobs and providing a reliable service.
And finally, I’m excited about disrupting the carrier market. We’re on the cusp of a massive disruption and I see so much opportunity to change the way people think about wireless telecommunications. If you think about it, the prices and product offerings of the big players haven’t changed much over the past several years, even with the massive changes in technology we’ve witnessed. Mobile phone service has become so essential to our life — I can’t imagine even going to the supermarket without my phone. If we can deliver that same value for much less, that’s a big win for consumers, and it offers a huge addressable market for us as a company.
What’s your philosophy for leading an engineering team?
I like to motivate through autonomy. I think it’s my job to provide the North Star that the team can march towards, but not tell them how to get things done.
I like to give this analogy: I might say that we need to cross a river, but I’m going to leave it up to the experience and expertise of my team members to decide whether the best course of action is to build a bridge, buy a canoe, or swim.
I want to provide a structure where people can be their best selves and challenge themselves. I want our engineers to be excited to solve problems in the best way possible, and where autonomy and free-thinking is encouraged.
Tell us about some of the technical challenges at TextNow you’re excited about.
First, of course, is creating a quality experience for our customers. When they touch and feel and use our app, I want that experience to feel great. I want TextNow to offer the best quality of service and most reliable network in all of telecom — including the big carriers.
I’m also really excited for to grow our Free Nationwide Talk & Text offering, with T-Mobile specifically.
Right now, we’re partnered with Sprint, which means we are only compatible on 10–15% of devices because they use CDMA SIM cards. But with the T-Mobile merger, we’ll be moving to GSM SIM cards, which means we jump to 75–80%. Obviously, that’s a huge opportunity, as most people will have a compatible phone in their pockets already.
I’m also very excited for eSIM to come online. Right now, SIM cards create a lot of friction for our users. The move to eSIM will remove all that friction. You’ll be able to download our app and be making free calls on a cellular network within 2 minutes.
And finally, there’s our scale: our users send 1 billion text messages a month, and our monthly and daily active users are growing. People rely on us, we’re scaling rapidly, and our systems need to be prepared for that. So we’ll continue to implement redundancy, reliability, and quality initiatives, which are already underway.
What’s the most important thing you’ve learned during your 20 years in tech?
We scaled the engineering team from four people to over one hundred while I was at GOAT Group. Through that process, I learned what it takes to build a team. It’s not just about hiring people. You need to hire the right people, and then support those people in their careers and help them grow through autonomy.
I’ve also learned the importance of continuing to communicate as an organization grows. With more people, more departments, more managers, it becomes more difficult to keep touch-points throughout the organization. It’s important that everyone understands what the priorities are to keep everyone rowing in the same direction, and that means you need to communicate more often and more clearly as an organization grows.