Founders Talk – Episode #77
From open source to commercially viable
with Asim Aslam, founder of Micro
This week Adam is joined by Asim Aslam, the founder of Micro - a new cloud platform entirely focused on the developer experience of consuming and publishing public APIs. Asim’s journey spans many years of open source work on Micro. His sole focus right now, is evolving that work into a commercially viable business. This episode is jam-packed with stories of great timing, grit, resilence, success and failure, and, of course, lessons learned.
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Notes & Links
- Micro (the platform)
- Micro APIs - Programmable building blocks for everyday use
- Go Micro - a framework for distributed systems development
- Asim and his team build Distributed to demonstrate what Micro is capable of (check it out on Product Hunt)
- OCS 2020 Breakout: Asim Aslam
Click here to listen along while you enjoy the transcript. 🎧
Let’s go way back. Let’s go as far back as it takes to give a frame of reference for you and tech. Getting excited about it, building systems… Where is that beginning for you?
Yeah, sure. This is important, because I think there’s sort of a common thread through everything… I grew up in Edinburgh, Scotland, and I studied computer networks in distributed systems at the university, so I learned all about internet architecture there. So it wasn’t comp sci, it wasn’t theoretical, it was very much grounded in the realities of what had already been built. This was back in 2002… And that set a foundation for what I wanted to do, which I thought was to go into networking.
I finished that, moved to London, went to work for a startup, four years later that startup got acquired by Google. So I went from one interview, one 20-minute interview at this job, to working at one of the best, world-class technology companies in the world, and I was in my mid-20’s, and it was pretty phenomenal to see from the inside what they had built. It was like seeing a decade into the future, quite honestly. When you’re there, you’re literally seeing a decade into the future.
I spent a couple years there, learned as much as I could, but it turns out Google had really built everything, and being someone in your 20’s, you’re looking at all this stuff, you’re not really getting to contribute to that in a meaningful way, especially coming from a startup. At a startup you’re building everything, every day, from scratch. You go to Google, they’ve already built it all. You’re kind of working at the edges.
There’s this joke - how many people are working on Google’s Gmail settings? It’s like a dozen. A team who literally just work on Gmail settings. And it’s true. So I left there, took some time off, and joined a ride hailing company here in London called Hailo. At the time, they had raised 100 million dollars from investors like [unintelligible 00:04:15.05] and they were competing against Uber. This was in 2013. Both companies had raised the same amount of money, which was a lifetime ago… And that’s where I got to build some of those things that I’d seen at Google as a real-world platform, an experience, how to build systems at scale… And it was a phenomenal experience, but in that I saw something that I thought could be a product, and a company… So I left and started to work on that. Six years ago I started this open source thing called Micro, and I’ve never looked back since.
You didn’t say crystal ball, but you said kind of “See into the future.” If I could see ten years into the future, I would call that a crystal ball, right?
I would tell you that’s probably as good as it gets. If you’re at a company like Google, you’re looking ten years into the future. And the thing that you have to remember is that Google in 2011 was open sourcing nothing. Google in 2011 was a secretive company. So when you were there, you saw the future and you were like “Everything that’s here is gonna exist as a product, or in the open source, at some point”, which was amazing.
They built this platform called Borg (that’s Kubernetes), they built this RPC networking kind of framework called Stubby, that’s now called gRPC, as an open source project… And there are just countless others that happened. But that’s what it was.
And once you saw it, it turns out that technology is actually quite boring. The patterns for scale that they had identified meant that it was very boring. As long as you knew the handful of patterns required, it wasn’t very difficult to scale anything. You just needed to have the right people, the right amount of money, all that kind of stuff and you could do it. So to someone who’s in their 20’s, once you see that and you figure out, you’re like “Man, what am I –” Either you’re there for the free food, or you’re like “I’ve gotta get out of here. I’ve gotta go do something, because I can’t sit and stare at my computer and do nothing all day.
Was that the choice you made? Was it to stick around for their free food, or do something different? Was that the choice you were essentially giving yourself?
Yeah, I mean, I was about 18 months into it and I sort of just realized “Yeah, this is not for me.” It was very hard, because all the people I had worked with at the company that got acquired - they were all really happy. That was a great experience for them. It was like the final company that they were gonna work at, they would retire at this company, and I was sitting there kind of like “Man, I’m miserable. This is not what I expected it to be.” I was expecting something more.
I actually see this in a lot of people and a lot of companies, there’s three phases to it. The first six months is a novelty, the second six months is where you really hit your stride and you get something done, and the last six months is this sort of disillusionment, where you’re either truly unhappy or you kind of make it through, but I think a lot of people don’t make it past 18 months, especially those that come in through acquisition. But at that point you either realize “Hey, I wanna be here for a long time, or I don’t wanna be here at all, and I’ve gotta go.” That’s the choice I was faced with.
Well, let’s examine this… Why do you think that was your perspective then? What is it about your personality, your characteristics, your history…? You’re a product of your environment, your experiences in life. What do you think happened to you, what was your upbringing to make you be dissatisfied with Google?
One, I would say we’re all unique, but at the same time we’re not unique. We’re all human and we all have shared experiences, and emotions, and requirements, behaviors, and things that help us… So for me and for a lot of people it’s like you wanna build something, create something, you wanna accomplish something, and usually on a daily basis you want to feel like you accomplish something. You want to be doing something meaningful and you want to have felt like actually yeah, at the end of the day, that day was successful, I did something, I can see the outcome of that… And I didn’t feel that.
The first 12 months this is a process of – your company is acquired, and you’re integrating and you’re building a product for them, and we had a lot of leeway, so we got to build things, and I got to continue to build at my rapid pace, even though we were in this kind of political, big, bureaucratic company that is Google - at the time, 2011, it was still very large - but there’s so many different teams you have to go through to get anything shipped. The first version of the thing that we tried to ship got rejected… Even then, we got to build things very quickly. But then after that, you’re in the system where you’re accomplishing nothing. The things that I did in half a day were now taking 3-4 weeks. I had to write a four-page design document for it. And it’s kind of like “Well, what am I doing? Why am I doing this? I’m accomplishing nothing. This is not what I came here for. I want to build things.”
I’m someone who likes to build very quick, and ship, and all that kind of stuff. And I think a lot of people are like that, even if they’re not developers. In anything that you do in your life, you want to see the results. And it’s not about instant gratification, but it’s the case of like, on a day-to-day basis, it’s like “Did I do something with that day, or was it wasted?” And I felt like I was truly wasting my time.
Here on Changelog we have another podcast called Brain Science, and I actually co-host that podcast with a doctor in clinical psychology… Mireille is the co-host, and she says for satisfaction, essentially, to be satisfied with something, you have to have an emotional payout. You said – not instant gratification. There does have to be some emotional payout from an activity, from a habit, from a loop, from whatever. And for you - you weren’t getting emotionally paid out in the way that you wanted, because you felt like there’s a lot of minutiae in the process and you aren’t getting to where you need to get to quick enough, fast enough, or any enough.
Yeah. I mean, specifically, one of the things that I was working on, I could have done in two hours, and it was just a thing that was taking four weeks, and I was just kind of thinking like “Why am I taking this long to do this kind of thing?” And as you say, that thing that gives you that emotional payoff - if that’s not coming for weeks, and every day is just a case of like just getting nothing…
Some people say “I would love to have a job where I sit around and do nothing”, and the reality is maybe for a few days –
That’d be the worst.
For a few days you’re quite happy, because you’re like “Oh, man, I feel so relaxed.” But then after a while, you’re like, “Man, I’m doing nothing. What am I doing with my life? What am I doing?” It becomes an existential thing. You start to just ponder on the meaning of life. That’s where I say, a man left with his thoughts is a dangerous thing, because there’s nothing to do but pontificate on the meaning of life. I would rather go build things… So I left and I started to build things again.
You know, the one easy test there might be is get a win. Sometimes if you’re not happy with status quo, or where you’re currently at, or you’re just having a bad day - what’s the easiest way to a win? That’s what I ask myself. That’s when Jerod and I will sit down - Jerod is my business partner here at Changelog Media… And if he’s in a rut or I’m in a rut, “Let’s get a win. What can be a win? We’ve gotta find a win.” So your win might have been “Let me go ahead and leave, and do something different”, which was the next startup you worked at, also acquired. Was Hailo acquired? What’s the story of Hailo?
So Hailo was this taxi app…
Great name, by the way, for a ride-sharing service. Phenomenal name.
To the people who branded that, that was pretty phenomenal. I think it was actually a branding agency that did that. But Hailo was a taxi app founded in London in 2010 by a gentleman named Jay Bregman who had come from New York, previously founded a company in London as well that was acquired by Royal Mail; it was called eCourier. So he had this idea around this taxi app… Uber was already around… And he wanted to focus on the regulated market, and kind of said “Hey, there’s already this taxi supply. If we bring them online, then we can service all these consumers.” That was super-interesting, and it scaled phenomenally quickly, to the point of raising venture funding very fast… And they had the breaking point in terms of organizational and technical scale, and that’s why they required this complete replatforming, and that’s where I learned all these insights about the technology…
Eventually, it turned out that business model worked against them as they tried to expand beyond these markets that were not as highly regulated or suffered from problems. One example would be - you know, San Francisco is probably a pretty bad place to try to operate in a taxi market, because the taxis aren’t that great there. New York has this entire medallion system, and… You know, you can already find a cab everywhere. It’s a good thing. But beyond some of these markets it was quite difficult.
Uber had really understood, like “Hey, this isn’t about regulated taxis. This is about getting people a ride, which means we have to move into different vehicle types, which means we have to move them to Uber X, lower the prices, do ride-sharing, all this kind of stuff.” And we were kind of stuck in that model, so the business was going sideways. Eventually, they brought in a different CEO, the business became profitable by removing all those cities that were not doing well, and got sold to Daimler, the company that owns Mercedes, and it merged with another taxi company in Europe called MyTaxi. Now it’s roaming around under the name called FREE NOW.
But this is where you saw essentially where you’re working at now, in terms of technology. This is where you kind of learned microservices, scaling systems… Share some insights there. You mentioned – I think it was in a separate call, I think it was Open Source Core Summit I believe is what it’s called… You’d mentioned that it was built on PHP and on scalable stuff. Help us understand that part of it.
Yes. The key thing is Hailo is like any other startup - you MVP your way to something that works as a product and a business. They had a couple engineers there, the founding engineers, who built a Java backend, a PHP API, and then some sort of mobile app on top of that… And they scaled that as far as they could go in terms of both the codebase, and the infrastructure… And at a certain point, they’re just realizing like “Hey, if we want to expand to 100 cities, we’re either gonna pay the cost of trying to copy and clone all of this code and infrastructure, or we need to go do something about it and replatform.”
So that’s when they started to have this idea around that, and they presented that to the board, to build something, and that’s when I came in, a little bit after they had kind of shipped an MVP version of that to help scale that platform. And what I really saw in that - the key thing there was the person who had really envisioned this platform, his name is Dave Gardner, he was the chief architect; he’s now an engineering manager at Apple, on the iCloud team. He got head-hunted by them. The key thing that he saw was, you know, Netflix was blogging about their microservices platform AWS at the time; so they had evangelized microservices as this architecture pattern for scaling… So we had modeled on that. And the idea was that your technical architecture models your organizational structure, where you want your organization to move fast. You have all of these independent teams that want to go out there and build software independently, ship quickly… But it’s all presented as a unified API to your mobile app, to your web frontend, whatever it is. So the technical architecture has to enable that, and that’s what microservices let you do; it lets these teams independently operate, communicate through their separate APIs, and then present it all through a single, unified API to some sort of frontend for presentation.
The experience was, for me, phenomenal. I saw this compounding value and velocity of development that I had never seen before. I hadn’t seen Google in its early days, and I can imagine Google was like that, because there was this pure need to scale. And when there’s this need to scale, you start to see all sorts of interesting things. And for us, when we saw that and we started to build very quickly on this platform, it just enabled something very interesting. It’s a bit like what software is like now with GitHub. Before GitHub, open source - it wasn’t really great. We had SourceForge and all these different sites where we could share code, but mostly, people were maintaining their source code on some server that they were hosting, and it was completely isolated and siloed to that environment. So there was nothing around what we now call social development, or social code-sharing, whatever. And GitHub unlocked that for the world in open source. What that meant was rather than completely rewriting a piece of software from scratch, much like we all did, and thousands of people did, now you would go to GitHub, you’d search for that thing in the language of your choice, you would just download it, use it, and you’re done. And that would increase the velocity of your development, because you didn’t have to write that thing.
It was the same thing for services and APIs at our company, which was to say “If a person had already written it and it was running, you could just reuse it by calling it.” So you didn’t have to run it, you didn’t have to download it; all you had to do was go look to see if it existed, you could call it, and you were done. And that was something like I’d never seen. This is something that I see that’s kind of locked up inside of some of the biggest technology companies today, and I just imagine, what if this could be a product? What if this platform was a product? And that sparked something in me that made me decide to kind of set off and do it.
So democratized microservices, essentially.
So rather than being siloed - which is great; take what you love and know about open source, and take what you love and know about the way companies that are leveraging microservices are building microservices and making them available to their teams - do it for everyone.
Yeah. Do it cross-team, cross-org… And then think about the velocity of development and compounding value for the world, where rather than everything being siloed in a Google, in an Amazon, in a Facebook, in an Uber, actually the next biggest things are built by a small team. There are dozens and dozens if not hundreds of these companies all running on a single platform where they all share that, and they can all go compete against a Google. They can all compete against Facebook, whoever else.
It’s an interesting thought though, because when you look at the companies you named, they in many cases have revenues and cash reserves bigger than most countries’ GDPs. They’re just massive. They have such control, such power… Not that that’s bad. There’s obviously downsides. I’m saying they’ve definitely worked their way to get there. They’ve used the system to get to that point. And we as a society have allowed major corporations to essentially have key control over data flow, privacy, awareness, control of technology etc. And maybe the world that you’re gonna build or trying to build - maybe I’m just seeing more of your vision, but just seeing what that might be like if it was not locked inside of companies and it was available like open source is. If I could just call an API or a microservice that’s built and use it similar to the way I might use it inside of Spotify if I was building a playlist generator or a playlist recommender, or something like that - if I could do that because somebody else already built something like that out there in the world, what that might do for their power, how that might change it.
Honestly, I think the advantages Google has, and one engineer at Google has, is the thousands of services and that shared platform that they all get to build on, that scale. And once you leave those companies, you don’t have any of it. Once you quit a job, you have nothing that you had at that job. It’s all gone. Now you have to rebuild something. So a lot of engineers just work in two-year cycles, from company to company, rebuilding the same things over and over, and it’s maddening. I think the key thought is like “What if it all existed out in the open and you could just use it?”
The other key thing to think about is it’s not that just like “Hey, this API is available, that API is available.” We have lots of APIs. We have API fragmentation. I have to sign up for every single provider, I have to learn their APIs, I have to understand how to use them, they’re all different, it’s a unique snowflake… What I need is a shared platform, a shared model of development, and a way that I just reuse each one with this kind of no one understanding of how they work. That’s why things work inside companies, because you have the shared experience… And you have to bring that to the world. And the only way that really works is when we end up having new platforms, new operating systems, new development models, so desktop, web, mobile… I think cloud is the next one, but we’ve only been focused on hardware and infrastructure in cloud, we haven’t been focused on operating systems, development models… So I think we’re slowly kind of getting our way there.
We’re a little ahead of ourselves though… We’re kind of into the details of what you’re doing now, but we haven’t quite spoken of what you’re really doing now. So what are you really doing now?
Yeah, so as I was saying, I saw this thing at Hailo, and I just felt like it could be a product and a company, and something that could compete against AWS and others at the next level. Do what GitHub did for open source, but for APIs. So I left to found this company called Micro. Micro started out as an open source project which provided a developer framework for microservices development. It’s evolved into being an open source cloud platform for API development, and a couple of years ago I raised some VC funding to build that as an actual hosted platform. So to realize the dream really to create this shared platform on which we could all build APIs using a single development model.
You know open source well, you’ve been involved in open source, but why did you begin at open source, I suppose at a project level, rather than venture capital and creating a company? Why many years later are you at the company creation stage?
You know, I really looked at the way in which technology was adopted and how things grew over time, and I realized that everything started from the smallest kernel of an idea, and it started from putting something in the hands of the developer. So for me it was really about “What is the smallest thing that I could put in the hands of the developer, that they would adopt, would scale, create a community, and then that would actually allow me to go into the next phases?” I think it’s very hard to start with this kind of platform idea and then actually manifest that into something that works. And we’ve seen countless people try. We’ve seen the Herokus of the world who have attempted it; even Docker was dotCloud before it was an open source Docker. So I think those platforms–
They were a whole different company prior to Docker.
Almost on accident.
Yeah, it was a platform as a service company. So I think having seen those thing not really work, I realized “I need to do something a little bit different, and I need to focus on putting out this framework, the smallest component of a thing that people could adopt.” I would say that’s not how it really started, because nothing is ever a straight line to those things. I tried to build some things as a kind of platform thing before that, spent 6 weeks, 8 weeks on it, and I could see that it wasn’t gonna work. But in that were the lines of code of the framework. So I pulled out what I thought was the most valuable bit, and then repackaged it, open sourced it, and that was the thing that was originally called Go Micro, which now has over 15,000 stars on GitHub.
Yeah. Just shy of 16,000. 15,700.
That’s definitely an accomplishment. And you mentioned before in terms of APIs and fragmentation and whatnot that you needed a framework, and that’s what this is. That’s probably why it made the most sense to begin there as a framework if you’re gonna build a platform for microservices, distributed systems - then you need a framework, or some sort of baseline from which to build from.
That’s what I thought. I looked at Rails for Ruby, and I looked at Spring for Java… And I think Spring was very much my model, because I’d seen what it had done for Java and the enterprise and I felt like Go Micro could be this evolution of that.
But my thinking evolved over time… Selling developer tools is actually really hard. Rails was never monetized. Basecamp (37signals before then) built the product Basecamp using Rails, and that’s what their business model was. Rails was just this project that they built. Spring sourced the company, attempted to monetize Spring; very painful experience. They managed to sell it for a lot of money, but at the same time they didn’t actually monetize Spring… So they struggle.
So once I sort of understood that – and I’m prefacing this with, like, I did wanna build a platform, but I didn’t have the opportunity to do that, so I built the smallest thing that I could, which was this framework. And that framework and the success of that framework is what enabled me to go raise funding and go build that platform really.
Do you think you were interested at first – wanting to build a platform and wanting to build the business that makes the platforms and runs the platform is two different things, right? From a technology standpoint being a maker/creator in software is way different than leading and running a business. I’m sure you’ve got some scars you could share in this conversation to that fact, but… Did you wanna run the business? Do you wanna run a business? Did it take you a while to get there, if that’s what your answer is, that you did?
I would say yes… Yes, I do. But also, I knew that – I was not in a place to know how to.
You never are… It’s like kids.
There’s never a good time to have kids. You just have kids. You can’t time children. You just have them.
Having a nine-month-old myself, I understand this experience quite well now.
Yeah. I’ve got a five-year-old and a five-year-old and a 16(ish)-year-old.
I don’t know how you’re juggling it. I don’t know how you do it.
It’s challenging. Conversations like this make it worth it though, so…
It’s good. Yeah. I adore my kid; I love her. But yeah, it’s challenging. For me, I think about it from a life perspective. Life is evolution of oneself. You should never be static or staying the same. You should be different at the end of your life than you were when you started your life; you should have learned a lot of things. And I think for me that is part of my work.
I have been an engineer for a long time. I didn’t want to stay an engineer. I always knew I wanted to run a company as the next thing that I did. So after I’d open sourced that piece of software, I went and tried to raise funding right then and there, and I just couldn’t. For whatever reason, my naivety, my inexperience, lack of product, whatever it was - I just wasn’t able to do it then. It took a lot of years of learning and building and a bit of luck for me to get to that point.
And I would say even then, being able to convince some people to give you money so that you can play CEO doesn’t mean you’re any good at it; it doesn’t mean you’re successful. It doesn’t mean you’re any better at business. There’s still so much to learn.
I think we have a lot of examples out there where maybe there’s some that have gone before us, let’s just say, and they make it seem easy…
…because you kind of know where they’re at, and they still seem like you, up here. Not Elon Musk. Elon Musk is not one of your (or maybe) or my peers. Definitely not my peer. But it’s easy to look at what they have done and where they’re at today, and what they’ve accomplished, and sort of bypass or not even see the struggles they had to go through. Or the millions of dollars they lost.
I saw recently Andrew Wilkinson, somebody I totally respect and somebody who’s been on the show before… He shared a story about how he lost ten million dollars with Flow, the task app they built… And he shared this big tweet thread about the stories. But I think it’s easy to look at someone like him and think “Wow, you’ve really got it together. You’ve never messed up. You’ve always been good. You’ve always been the best CEO. You’ve always been the best investor, the best husband/wife/brother/sister, whatever it is… Pick your role in life, you’ve always been the best at it.” But I think it’s easy to look past that, because in so many ways we’re influenced by others. There’s filters available. And we can filter out the bad for the good. I think we wanna see the superhuman, not the flawed person, right?
Of course. Hopefully, we’re all optimistic and we aspire to those things and we like to dream…
I imagine people say the same thing about you, Adam. Changelog is very successful, and they’re probably looking at you and going “Oh man, look at this thing.”
“It just showed up one day, just like that.”
Just like that.
No late nights, no sleepless weekends, no hard work involved, no grey hair…
“But hey, he put in the time, and it just happened. Like, of course it happened. There were no challenges there, no figuring out the strategy, and stuff like that.” I think we [unintelligible 00:31:30.01] Elon Musk - he even started with Zip2, and then X.com, which was the thing that merged with PayPal and everything else like that, and put all of his cash into Tesla to stop it from going bankrupt… We hear all these stories about him and how he sleeps on his factory floor, and whatever… So the guy is – he puts in all the work, he fails constantly, constantly, probably on a day-to-day basis, but all of that adds up to those successes that are asymmetric, that then enable him to go do the next thing and the next thing. So I think it’s perseverance, grit, and sheer force of will that those people have.
If you look at those people who have made it and you look at the things that they have in common, it’s some form of obsession, some sort of grit, resilience, force of will, all this kind of stuff. That’s what it takes.
That’s what I was gonna add, was resilience. Resilience is one of those under-appreciated, under-aware – I don’t know how to describe it. People aren’t very familiar with resilience at its core, what it means. I think I started to examine more so the concept of resilience around the pandemic, to understand “Okay, things are gonna get difficult, life’s gonna change massively”, and I think those who understand and practice the concept of resilience were able to not so much navigate easier or better the pandemic… I think it was super-challenging for pretty much everybody I know. But if you understand the concept, you can – I don’t even know how to describe it, but you just have a certain sort of like cushion or buffer in your psyche, not so much in your body, but in your psyche and in your mental state, your mental frameworks, to take hard blows in life. And that’s what you do as a founder, as an entrepreneur. You said before, playing CEO… Because let’s face it, anybody who’s led, whether it’s a CEO, or an engineering manager, or a team leader, or a product manager, you’re a micro CEO, or a mini CEO, or a mini leader, or a major leader - at some point you’re gonna deal with failure, you’re gonna deal with big hits, and it’s how you respond to those things that sort of enables this concept of resilience and how you bounce back and persevere through those things. And that’s only something that you can get good at by being bad at it for a while. Because failure is gonna teach you.
It’s so true. This is not something that you just have as a skill that you learn over time, or like a thing that develops over time. Much like any kind of muscle, any kind of thing that you do, it’s just hours and hours of it, years and years of it… The things that would make you cry as a five-year-old don’t make you cry when you’re 30, right? You fell over so many times at a certain point you stop crying.
That’s what I think that resilience is a thing in life, in company-building… Even in the pandemic [unintelligible 00:34:42.10] every day we wake up and we do our work, and with startups it’s supposed to be the all-encompassing thing, but you cannot ignore the pandemic, you cannot ignore Covid, and the mental and physical toll that it takes on everyone is very apparent… Because it’s not a month, it’s not two months, it’s not six months, it’s been over a year. That’s a thing – I can take a lot, but that’s a lot. That is something else.
Just as collective, everyone’s experiencing a variation of the same thing. It’s not just you or me experiencing it, and we can be siloed. You can’t avoid it. You can walk away from the day, or the job, or the family for a moment, and you’re gonna know somebody who knows somebody who’s been impacted by it, passed away from it, are still dealing with it, you’ve got long Covid things… You just can’t avoid it. Unlike work, 9 to 5, or if you compartmentalize, whatever your 9 to 5 measures out to, you can’t have isolation and encapsulation. With the pandemic, no one (that I’m aware of) has been able to encapsulate themselves away from it. Maybe the 1%. Maybe. But even them - their businesses were impacted by it, their long views impacted by it, maybe even the extra billions they made this year are impacted by it… I don’t know. Just saying, no one’s safe from it.
Yeah. It’s unavoidable, nobody’s safe from it, we’re all facing it in all different ways… And just when you’ve had enough, it’s still there. It won’t let up, because it doesn’t care. And I think we’re all gonna come out with some sort of new mental toughness from this. Those of us that are fortunate to be healthy enough to still be here, we’ll come out with something from it. But there’s also – we’re all gonna have a lot of scar tissue, and stuff to deal with. But this is part of resilience, right? This is how resilience is built. You have to go through things like this, whether you want to or not… And on the other side of it – I don’t wanna compare things to Covid, but these are the things that you deal with, and eventually, hopefully, something comes of it.
Yeah. Well, I think the struggles we’ve gone through with Covid are immeasurable; to compare them to running a company is probably not a great comparison, but they definitely are parallel. There’s significant challenges that you have to get through. We as a human race have no choice but to get through this. As a leader, sometimes you have no choice but to get through the next round of funding, or potential lay-offs, or hiring, or leading, or admitting failure sometimes, and persevering, and pivoting, or whatever. They’re not directly comparable, but there’s definitely a lot of similarities in terms of just simply struggle that you’ve gotta get through. And that’s what we’ve found as families - we’ve gotta get through some of these things. We have to get through it.
We’re experiencing that all in the same breath, in the same time. There’s no separating it at this point. Everyone’s working from their home. You come at whatever is declared as your office right now into the next room, and your family is there. The context switch is immediate, as opposed to being through a commute, or something else.
Yeah, exactly. So it’s all one and the same at this point. That’s what’s part of it, right? So part of that challenge now in your company is Covid. And as much as people attempted to ignore it before, like “Okay, we’re not gonna be in the office. We’re still gonna try to figure it out and keep working. Alright, everyone’s gonna be on Zoom, forever.” And then you’re like “Okay, maybe this is not working. Maybe my people are totally burned out. Maybe we need to do something that isn’t work. Maybe we all need some time off.” All of us took this week off at my company. It’s like, “Hey, we’re burned out. We need some time off.” Like, one guy is gonna take time off – oh, no, you know what? We’re all gonna take the week off, because we’re all burned out.
We’re doing this thing later in the year, when the pandemic is over, and everything’s reopened - everyone’s gonna get a month off, paid. We’re just gonna take it off, because we can’t ignore this. This is our mental and physical well-being, and we’re all suffering. There’s some sort of expectation that when the world reopens that we’re just gonna go sit in an office or something, and keep working. I’m not doing that. My team is not doing that. We’re gonna all go chill out, that’s what we’re gonna do.
Gosh, yeah. I mean, thinking about later this year, when the things have, I guess, shifted… I’m still waiting for the day it to be declared over. I know vaccines are definitely pushing back on it. I know here in the U.S. there’s been a struggle to get everyone – this isn’t a show for Covid; hang on here for just a minute longer, but… I don’t wanna dwell on this subject, because it’s not the point of it, but I’m happy to talk about it, of course; it’s very serious, but… And I think it’s awesome that you’re giving people that time off, paid too… But I’m so looking forward to when this - not so much normal is back, but when we can sort of just hang out together without the anxiety of “Are you gonna get me sick? Am I gonna get you sick?” I’m not trying to make it normal again, but I would like to be human with other people.
There’s been times when we would not be on the Zoom call, we’d hanging out at the conference, or hanging out together, wherever it is in the world… And that’s just been such a struggle, and I think as a human race – you know, one thing I learned… I mentioned Brain Science earlier, but one thing I learned producing that podcast is as humans, one of the critical things of being a human is connection. You find a person, a human, adult, young, whatever, pick an age - isolated, by themselves… You’re gonna find a human struggling, massively. Not like a little bit. Pretty much struggling. It’s connection. And I’m excited about the day we can be more connected again, like we normally had been. That’s the normal I’m looking forward to. Not so much the normal of doing whatever we want, but being able to connect again. And I think that’s what drives us all, is that human connection. Because the reason – you mentioned this business earlier… The reason we do this business, Changelog Media, and produce these podcasts, and do what we do - we came for the tech, and we stayed for the humans. That’s the point. It’s about the people, and that’s really what matters.
The tech is obviously awesome, and we love talking about technology, and innovation, and the next frontier, and the next ten years, or whatever it might be, but… If it’s for that and not for the humans, then it’s not worth it to me. It needs to be about the humans. So it’s about the human connection more than anything.
Hear, hear, man. I think that’s what companies are all about. That’s what building products are all about. It is about the people, it is about the team that comes together to build it… For me, I was part of that team at Hailo. That’s what I really loved, and I wanted to be able to go with that team, to go build that product and company, that next thing. We just couldn’t get it done, and so I spent the next four years bootstrapping it solo. I would tell you - yeah, that’s super-hard, to go from this team dynamic to doing open source alone for four years… That’s a whole other thing.
I asked some questions as sort of a primer to this conversation… I’m gonna quote something, if you don’t mind, from something you had said. This is to give us some premise to talk around… In regards to lessons learned, you said “The journey from an open source project to a commercially-viable business is also one littered with a lot of dead bodies. I’m six years into the journey and still here. I have stories to tell.” So let’s crack that nut.
Oh yeah, that’s from that blog post, isn’t it? Yeah, when I started this, I really felt like “Hey, I’m gonna go raise a bunch of money, I’m gonna take this team, we’re gonna go build a product and we’re gonna win. In five years we’re gonna be doing a hundred million dollars ARR and it’s gonna be phenomenal… Because I’m Asim Aslan and I know what I’m doing.”
And it turns out the world is gonna kick you in the butt and say otherwise… So I learned a lot in the last six years. I learned a lot about how to build something that’s maybe a successful open source project, and I learned a lot about what is not a commercial business, and the path through that to try to build something that potentially is. And we’ve talked about this, which is like there’s all these things that you look to, and you just see the successes. You see the headlines of them raising funding, and doing really well, and all this kind of stuff, and you’re looking at yourself like “Hey, I’m not doing well. This is not going well. What’s going on?” There’s a lot I have learned in that journey, which is to say - the 99% of people are not on that journey that’s in the headlines. They’re in a different journey. They’re on this journey. And maybe not even this; they might not even get to the point of having something like this. It’s hard.
Yeah. I learned, I would say more so in the last two years, this concept of “What am I optimizing for?” Because I think you have to have – you’d mentioned other people and their success, and comparing yours versus theirs, or what they’ve got in terms of funding, and it doesn’t match up to your reality… And I think it comes down to understanding what you’re trying to do. What are you trying to optimize for, what am I trying to optimize for? And I’ve read this book, and I’m almost tired of mentioning it, because I feel like I mention it too much, but it’s Essentialism… But understanding the difference between the vital few versus the trivial many.
To be able to focus, which is a sheer skill, but then also to really just understand what’s essential to you. And what’s essential to you is different than what’s essential to me. But what’s essential to me helps me understand what I’m optimizing for, and helps guide my choices, and helps me understand what my success is… Because we’re not – I have a bad time saying absolutes… We probably won’t take venture capital to run our business. That’s not the kind of business we’re in. We probably won’t have a downtown New York headquarter office, because we’re in media. We probably won’t even collocate our team because we both value family life. So because of these just a few for sures for us - these are facts about the way we decided to live our lives - there’s some things we probably won’t be as a business. So that helps us guide ourselves.
But not everybody goes through the process to understand that about themselves, and they end up taking the wrong roads in their lives, thinking that “Oh, I’m trying to measure up to this person, to that person, or to this fundraise, or to these dreams”, because that was their dreams, and you forget to examine really what you want.
I’ll mention Mireille one more time - she said “Try clothes on.” You go to a store, you try clothes on before you’re buying. Not all the time, but most times. Try on a decision before you make the decision. It’s something that she had said before. So sometimes try on this choice before you make this choice, because it may not be what you really wanna make.
That’s some wise words. I think a lot of people rarely self-reflect on what they actually need, or what they want… And usually, it’s outward-focused. You see somebody and you’re like “I want what that person has.” And a lot of what we come to expect of ourselves is based on a comparison of what we see out there. We look at maybe what we want, where we want to be, and we look at the person who’s there, or the company who’s there, and we’re like “Oh yeah, I could get there… So what do I need to do to get there? I need to do whatever they did.” And they try to map your path. And then if you’re not meeting those expectations, you’re like “Well, why am I not meeting these expectations? I’m really unhappy now, because I’m not doing that.” And constantly measuring yourself to something else. So you’re right, what you do for yourself should be different than what others are doing for themselves. Everyone’s journey is unique.
For me, when I was not able to raise venture funding in the beginning and I just had to do this – you know, initially there’s this kind of phase where you’re like “Well, I don’t know what I’m doing. I don’t know what I’m doing. I wasn’t able to accomplish that thing. That’s the thing that I set out to do, and I couldn’t do it. I don’t know what I’m doing.” That went on for a while, and then I got a job for a short period of time… I think it was all of eight weeks… I sort of instantly knew that it was not the right thing. You know, that moment where you just instantly know something is wrong. I knew that instantly when I had started. I’m not someone who is just gonna walk out the door… So I got back to a place where I thought I was helpful.
But the thing that made me leave that and regain some confidence in myself was I actually saw people using my software. A friend of mine started to use it at one of his companies, and another friend had started to inquire about it, and that gave me this confidence. I think people produce open source software and they put it out there, and a lot of stuff just doesn’t get touched or used. Developers are super-happy if anyone even gives them a GitHub star… And if someone creates an issue, and is like “Oh, hey, I’m trying to use this”, they’re super-happy.
When someone I knew started to use it, I was like “Oh… Actually – okay, you know what? This might be real, because someone I know is actually using it.” And that’s when I decided to quit and just say “Okay, I could raise funding… Nobody’s gonna do this with me… You know, I’m just gonna do it. I’m just gonna try to figure it out.” So I just started hacking, day and night, for months. I burned my own savings for about ten months, and somewhere along the way I ended up getting a corporate sponsorship through another friend who had gone to this German car rental enterprise called Sixt, and that enabled me to then keep going, and keep building. And I kept building as one person.
The self-belief that I was gonna build something that would get adoption and scale, and then eventually turn into a company, and then become something successful in the way that I had dreamed… Maybe not in the short timeline that I at first expected to, but you know, when I was able to reassess my expectations and my goals and everything like that, I could then figure out something that worked. And I just kept working. And here I am, six years later, still working. And I cannot say whether or not I’m successful, because it’s based on what measure are you defining that by, right? In some sense, I’m successful by the measure of some sort of open source project that has succeeded, some sort of community that has been built, the fact that I’m able to pay myself and pay my bills, which is very rare in open source… You know, the fact that I was able to build open source and pay myself and pay my bills - that is something that’s very rare, and I would say I was successful in that. But in terms of company building, and products, and businesses - that’s yet to be seen.
Yeah. I agree, there’s stages to success, and while your company is on a trajectory to success, it’s not quite there to be measured quite yet. Maybe even more so by your standards, not my standards; I’m only saying what you’ve said… But there’s other variations of success in your path. I mean, going from one person to more than one person is a feat in and of itself. Getting somebody else to believe in your ideas - incredibly hard. Getting somebody else to believe in what you think should be built, and they’re willing to build it with you, and forego their own opportunity (opportunity cost), I mean, that in and of itself is a struggle. That’s where I’m – if Jerod’s listening to this (Jerod is my partner), I’m super-thankful, because he believes in what we’re believing. He either believes in me or believes in it, I’m not really sure which he believes in; I think he believes in me too, but you know, I’m really thankful, because - gosh, to do this alone would be so terrible. It wouldn’t be as much fun. And some people learn that lesson earlier…
There’s a lot of debate about co-founders, and whether they’re required. And you often hear the argument - or the question, really - from a venture perspective, like “Will I invest in a business that doesn’t have a co-founder?” Well, I think as an individual, unless you just super-thrive as an individual and you’ve got a proven track record and you don’t get lonely, and you don’t get bored, and you don’t get side-tracked just by your own admission, then a co-founder is for sure for you. Maybe not so much a co-founder, but just a co-pilot, somebody to go along with you, to not do the road alone, is a big deal.
I mean, look - there’s something to be said about having a partner in crime, in your mission, and whatever… We have partners in life, you know? It’s important. We need that companionship, and we need it in business as well. There are a lot of lows in doing this thing alone. And coming back to that whole resilience thing, you’ve gotta have a lot of that. You’ve gotta have a lot of grit, you’ve gotta have a lot of self-belief, because there’s gonna be so many moments where you’re just like “Why am I doing this? Why? I should just stop. I should just go do something else. What’s the point? Why does it even matter?” So if you have people you’re doing it with - there are the ebbs and flows, and everyone goes through it, but each person can pick up the other person at that time. They’re together to do it.
I had to do it alone for a long time, but then eventually when I raised funding I was able to go convince some people to come join me, and those people worked at Hailo, and so we had this mindshare of what can be built, what should be built… And you’re right, it’s hard to convince people to come join you. For me to convince the guy that I wanted to join me, the first one - six months. The second one took a year. But yeah, they have opportunity cost. The best people are not free. The best people are always working, they’re always doing something, and they can work on anything, so why should they work with you? So you have to convince them of that.
And sometimes it’s not just about the idea or the mission, or whatever. I was very mission-driven, very focused on nothing but work for a very long time. And I think as I got married, and I had a kid, and mellowed out, I think that’s helped and made people want to work with me, because I became more of a human, I became more of a person that understood the needs of other people… And that is not just all about the work, but it’s all about the other parts of work that make you wanna be there. And that’s why it really works for me now, which is like - yeah, we all took the week off. It’s time to take some time off, it’s important. We’re very family-friendly because I have a family; the founding team, one of the others has a son as well… And it’s important to us that we have the flexibility to spend the time with our kids, or go do the things that we need to do… It’s important that we take the time off when we need to.
So I think - yeah, convincing those people is not just about the mission, but it’s about some sort of shared understanding of what it means to be human, and if you understand that, then you will all do great work together, because we can’t all work 100% of the time.
Yeah. Empathy, compassion are two under-understood and under-utilized concepts. Empathy is super-hard, because it takes an awareness that not everybody has that isn’t themselves; it’s other people. And compassion - I mean, those two… You can’t actually give compassion if you don’t have empathy. Empathy is a requirement of compassion. Compassion is an action. You’ve gotta give it, you’ve gotta somehow dole it out. And empathy is a critical piece of that. You can’t be a compassionate person if you don’t have empathy. And empathy is a tough thing, just period. It’s a tough concept.
I mean, in the world that we live in now, empathy is an even harder thing than it was before. We all sit there on Slack, and people don’t have empathy for other people on Slack. People don’t have empathy for people they can’t see, for emotions they can’t see, things that they can’t feel, all this kind of stuff… So it’s very hard. And even before in life, it was also very hard for people to feel for other people. Again, as you said, it’s self-awareness. but I’m not one to preach about like “Hey, I have high EQ. I have empathy”, all this kind of stuff. I don’t like that. I think the people who preach about it don’t have it. The self-awareness is to say nothing. As you say, it’s the actions. I think that’s what’s important.
I think the great awareness that I had was that I knew that at points in time I didn’t have empathy. I knew it. I could say “Hey, I understand empathy”, but I didn’t have it, because I was a 20-something person who was just obsessed with working, and I could not understand anything or anyone other than that. And as intelligent as I may think I am or was, I didn’t understand a thing. And it’s only through life experiences that I started to understand and learn, and mellow out… You know, getting into your 30s, and all that kind of stuff. But yeah, it’s all so important, it’s all missing from the world now, for some reason. I wish there was more of it. I wish there was.
Yeah, that’s why every chance I get – not that I’m by any means an expert. I’m just simply a curious person willing to and curious enough to examine what those things mean, and I think shared empathy or empathy in general, and compassion, can go a long way in uniting disparate fronts. And it’s a challenge, period. But I love sharing that message about empathy, because I think almost – I can’t say nobody thinks about it, but it’s just such an undercurrent. It’s not in the purview for people; they’re just maybe (I guess) a little selfish… But I don’t know. I don’t wanna say anything negative about people, I’m just saying – I just see how people are less aware of what the impact of empathy is, and really what it truly is in execution… Not just simply an idea or this concept, but in execution, what empathy looks like in real life.
I think people have to be taught it. It should be a curriculum at school. It’s a thing that you should learn.
It’s definitely learned, yeah. It’s a skill. You have to try it. You have to try to do it.
I think when you get to a place when you want to help people, that’s when you start to develop empathy. When you want to help people. Not “I’m helping someone because…” “I haven’t helped anyone lately. I should help someone.” No. It’s because you want to help people, and you feel like you get something from that - that’s part of what it is, I think. You wanna understand what that person is experiencing, know how they feel, and then obviously act on that, whatever that is, in a way that you could help them. Sometimes maybe that means doing nothing. Sometimes maybe you can, or maybe it means doing nothing. There’s all sorts of scenarios that we could talk about where that exists… And it’s a tough one.
It feels like technology has taken some of that away from us, especially things like Twitter. I used to use Twitter in a professional context, and at a certain point I just found that it was amplifying the negative parts of my personality that I wanted to get rid of, and I deleted it. I deleted my account, I deleted Twitter… Which I never thought I would do. I hear a lot of people saying “Oh, I’m gonna delete Facebook, I’m gonna delete Twitter”, whatever. I’m like “Okay, fair enough. You’re excluding yourself from an experience that the world is having.” But at a certain point I realized that is not an experience that I want to have. Not anymore.
Is that true today? You still don’t have a Twitter account?
I don’t have a Twitter account. Not anymore. That is not an experience I want to have. As much as there’s a certain professional value – I got great professional value out of that from my company, for Micro, for everything… But beyond that, I just found that it did amplify parts of my behavior that I didn’t like, and I was like “I don’t wanna be here anymore.” If something like this doesn’t allow me to filter my words, if it just lets me put that out into the world, that’s not a place that I wanna be. I wanna remove that from my life and try to be a more positive person. That, and whatever other social media I could get off of, I start to get off of. I’ve felt better about myself, I felt like I was a better person for it.
But you lose certain connections there, and you’re trying to figure out, how do you rebuild those connections in a healthier way? Why is technology not helping me do this? Even in open source, there’s this constant talk about the maintainer’s dilemma, and how they’re faced with just this wall of complaints in things, where it’s very much like a system of usury. You’re being used and abused, and you’re getting nothing for it, and you’re kind of like “Why are there not things here to help you–” I sort of ignore a lot of what goes on in open source. Quoting Salvatore Sanfilippo, the creator of Redis - if there’s an issue that he doesn’t want to respond to, he says “I will close it in my mind.” And that’s it. That’s the best that you can do now on a platform like that. It’s very hard to engage in places like that. Going back to what you said, because no one has empathy for anyone else… Like, “Hey, this thing doesn’t solve my problem. Fix my problem right now; I don’t care who you are, fix it.” That’s the kind of experiences that you have building open source.
The not being on Twitter - the thing is a conundrum to me, because I think being a founder in today’s world of leading and running a company, especially a technology company, a startup, to not have a Twitter account and to not be outward-focused about your roadmap, and what you’re doing, and “working in public” seems to me the expected norm. And maybe that’s just me collecting a few names, assuming what they do as truth and what everyone should do… But it feels like to participate in the “startup world” today, “Must have Twitter account. Must show up in these ways.” Or should, to benefit from network effects. Sharing your message. People desiring to drink your Kool-Aid, use your platform, adopt your technology. What do you think about that?
Your previous guest did not have a Twitter account.
I know. [unintelligible 01:04:36.00] didn’t have a Twitter account… Which I was surprised by. Touché, touché!
Look, I think you’re right, it’s become a thing. It’s become like a de facto thing that you do. You have a Twitter account, it’s a channel on which you advertise both yourself and what you’re doing, and share every random thought that you could be possibly having at any given moment.
I don’t think that’s necessary. I disagree with that one. I don’t think you should have to share every random thought.
You shouldn’t, but it seems to happen.
It does. It depends if you don’t have self-control though. I think the people that feel that way either haven’t learned or think they need to let go of their self-control. You don’t need to be unfettered and unfiltered to participate in social media. I say this as someone who is with you. I am on Instagram, I used to post a lot to Instagram. I haven’t posted in many years, because I showed up for the wrong reasons. I still have my Twitter account, but I don’t exercise the outwards focus of it. I generally just respond to other people, and like their things… I don’t show up in the way of sharing my feelings.
So I come from where you have been, which is cancel social media for me, because it brought me to negative places, didn’t give me the emotional payout we talked about earlier, so it led me down roads I didn’t wanna go down, and bogged my mind with things I didn’t want it to be bogged down with. Now I’m seeing it as a different way, as a different utility, if used wisely.
I agree with that. If you understand how to use it effectively, then it’s a good tool. If you don’t, then it can work itself against you. I think it worked against me, to a point where – I don’t like crowds. When I see people running in one direction, I tend to stop and walk the other way, just to make a point… But it’s been like that my whole life. Something goes off in my head and I’m just kind of like “I need to get away from this, for some reason. There’s something not quite right about this.” So when I look at it now, it’s a herd mentality. Something about it speaks to me about a herd mentality and a type of behavior that I don’t like. This self-promotion. I don’t want it to be a part of my being.
And as a startup founder, I think it’s one channel that we’re now missing because I’m no longer there tweeting, but at the same time I think we can fix that with developer marketing and other things where you find someone who does have that channel for that purpose, or whatever else. Just because I’m not on it doesn’t mean the company doesn’t need to be on it.
You’re keying on something that was not intended to be the topic of this conversation, but very much something I’ve been thinking about a lot… I feel like to be a leader of a company or to have an idea and bring it into the world and serve people in whatever way makes sense, you have to schlep your wares. Look at somebody on Instagram - it feels like they have to live, eat and breathe their company. If you’ve written a book, you must pimp the crap out of that book. You must schlep it to the N-th degree. You must go and live this thing. And I think that’s terrible. It sucks. It makes you not wanna be a founder or a leader or a starter or a finisher, an executer, whatever you wanna call the person or people who make and lead and build… Because you feel like you can’t have family, and life balance, and friends, and time off, and separation from who I am as an individual, who I am with my friends and family… Not that I’m a different person, but that you’ve got to know all the parts about me. To buy my thing, you must have access to all the things in my life. I must have zero secrets. I must share all my thoughts, and must lay it all out there for you. And maybe I’m overstepping or oversaying exactly how it is, but that’s kind of like a version of that. I think that’s kind of nasty. It kind of sucks that that’s the way the world is. I don’t think it should have to be that way.
I agree with you. I think the world has lost itself. Social media started out as something – well, it didn’t start as social media. It was initially social networks. They started out as something quite interesting, as a way to bring your friends online and have some sort of new experiences online, which was interesting… Because we’re also disconnected, right? Before cell phones, before we could do anything, you’d have to literally see someone in person, or call them; they would have to be at home, and it became a way for us all to share experiences asynchronously, or online, whatever it was. But then it became something else, and now it’s something – I think a lot of people are seeing that it’s not healthy, it’s maybe not the right thing for everyone… And those things are rightfully so being called social media now. It’s media, where you follow people with millions of followers, prominent accounts, for whatever reason… And it’s not really where you’re having your interactions with your friends, or your family. Those things are now again happening offline, or in WhatsApp, in some sort of private messaging system, whatever it is. There’s become this kind of bifurcation of how those experiences are lived in the real world, and that is part of what has kind of just pushed me away from it as well. It’s just no longer a thing.
I was on Twitter for a decade… A decade - I mean, that’s a long time. And I’m no longer on it. The same with Facebook. I was on Facebook for a long time. Eventually, it stopped being valuable to me, and I’m sure other platforms will emerge where we will try to use them and the same thing will happen… But I don’t think I will ever be part of another public one. Like you’re saying, people are put in this position where they feel like they have to promote all of their work and live and breathe it 100% of the time.
Yeah. Schlep - I didn’t wanna use the word, but you used the word…
Is schlep a bad word? I think it’s–
It’s fine. I mean –
It’s a somewhat negative way to – it just feels like that. It may not really be that in execution, but it feels like you’re just schlepping your wares.
Yeah, exactly. And I did live and breathe my work and my company and everything, and even now to an extent I do, but I don’t need to do it like that. I don’t want to do it like that. I wanna be the person who seeds this thing, who creates this thing, we start some sort of movement because I create something of value and people want to talk to other people about it, or use it, or whatever else… And if that works and turns into something and we build a great business out of it - fair enough. If we don’t, then I’m okay with that, because I didn’t compromise on my beliefs or the way in which I wanted to build something. I think throughout this whole thing that’s maybe one thing that’s held me back, is that I wasn’t willing to compromise on a lot of the ways in which I wanted to build my company or what I believed… And that’s okay. I’m willing to accept that. Because a lot of people have a lot of money thrown at them, and then they do whatever they have to, or they compromise on whatever… The way people are able to bend their belief system, their morals, their values, whatever it is, to make it okay to do certain things, whatever it is - I’m not that person. I’m just not that person. I won’t do that. I don’t really care. Because I have something else to answer to, I have something else to think about, and I’m not gonna talk about it, because I don’t think it’s the point of this… But sometimes else drives me, and it’s not money, and it’s not greed…
Yeah. We all need a compass, and we all are driven by whatever that compass is for us. And I think it’s good to have lines in the sand for yourself of what you will and will not do to reach whatever success becomes or is to you. And that’s the necessary rudder to guide you.
Yeah. The other thing is like as you do this stuff, what you value and what you think you want is not the same thing as what you thought you wanted, which is – you see these things like “Oh, I wanna build this massive company. I wanna build this really successful billion-dollar company”, whatever it is, and over time you realize maybe that’s not the thing that you really value. Maybe that’s not the thing that you really care about. And actually, it’s the thing that you want to get the furthest away from.
When I started this, I still believed that building this massive monopoly of a business would be an amazing thing. But over time I’ve witnessed what these monopolies have done in the world, and I actually think that’s the complete opposite of what I want to do. And I realized that if I build a massive corporate entity, I just end up in the same place that they are. Even if I’m trying to democratize development through APIs and things like that, if I have a platform, it’s the same thing… That makes me no better than them, right?
I don’t think so.
And someone will be sitting here, listening to this conversation and being like “And that’s exactly why you won’t be successful.” They’ll be sitting here and saying that, and… Yeah, that’s not the point. The point is to reimagine what it means to build something, to reach that scale, that doesn’t compromise on that. To say that, like, something’s wrong with these monopolies, and that the thing that we build in the future will look very different and it will not be another monopoly. The next super-successful, trillion-dollar thing will not look the same as what these things are, right? So that’s what it’s really about, to think about it differently; to not have that herd mentality, to not just see all these things and go after that, but to try to do something different.
Are you a fan of Silicon Valley, the TV show, by any chance?
Did you watch every season?
I did, yeah.
You remind me a lot of – not so much in reality, but some of the things you’re saying are similar to the struggles that Richard Hendrix dealt with as a character. He spent the whole character arc attempting to, trying very hard not to, and sometimes compromising on his beliefs. Bending, as you said. And in many ways, not wanting to be what his nemeses were - there were a couple throughout the show - and in some cases he actually was very much like them.
Yeah. I feel like I’m gonna come out as a parody of myself in this conversation.
Don’t we all though, to some degree?
Yeah. You’ve gotta be able to laugh at yourself. But look, I think a lot of what’s in Silicon Valley is true. And we make jokes out of it, but that’s true of most founders - they have this dream, or belief, or this idea, and to achieve something, they end up having to compromise on a lot of that, because people have given them a lot of money, and now they have to go build a business, and it turns out that to make money, you have to sell it to the people that you didn’t think you were gonna sell it to. The people who are exactly trying to target the opposite of. And people don’t see that, because they’re just kind of like “Well, if I just get my opportunity, I can do it differently.” And that’s where you have to really think very deeply upfront, and that’s where you lose a lot of your opportunity. That’s why I’m not the guy with 20 million dollars on TechCrunch, or whatever, because I don’t wanna compromise on what I wanna build or how I wanna build it.
Look at GitHub. GitHub bootstrapped their business to phenomenal success. Then they took significant venture funding. Then it all start to go very wrong. They had to go build a business, they had to go build a real, commercial, viable business. And the people that had all the money are enterprises, Fortune 1000 companies, whoever else… And - oh, okay, you’ve gotta hire a sales team. You’ve gotta build the Salesforce and you’ve gotta build this enterprise product, and that’s completely the opposite of what the culture of the company was. I mean, that company almost died.
Yeah, they struggled with the enterprise for a while there.
They almost died. And as much as we think Microsoft – whatever we think of Microsoft, Microsoft was all about developers for a very long time, and they revived that thing by… I mean, I don’t really know what GitHub’s commercially-viable model is, but at the same time, whatever it was… It was like oil and water to whatever the company was. And if you don’t find the thing that fits with your business - and this is incredibly hard in open source, to find that - then you’re just gonna be this enterprise software company that has cannibalized your open source offering, or whatever else. You’re gonna cannibalize your community to build this thing because you wanna make a lot of money.
You’ve gotta scale, you’ve gotta hire…
Yeah, GitHub is an interesting example, because – I’ve actually had a conversation with Chris Wanstrath and Tom Preston-Werner three months after they kicked off GitHub. Literally, three months. I have to look at the date on the podcast episode. It was February 2008 when we talked to them. I was in San Francisco for a Web 2.0 Conference from O’Reilly, or something like that… And we met at Pivotal Labs, and we were in an obscure office they had just sitting there, and we had these old-school [unintelligible 01:18:33.20] I say that to say I remember the beginnings, when it was just literally three people who met at a bar, had a similar idea of how to use this new, cool version control system called GitWeb and how to social-code, what you said earlier. Their original tagline was “GitHub. Social coding.” That was what they were all about.
And I think along the way of building that company, you definitely are met with roads where they cross to make you compromise what you thought you would never choose that direction.
That’s the thing with resilience, too. It’s not just in getting through, it’s resilience with yourself, because you’re gonna have to change your mind to succeed, and compromise in thoughts you had, or choices wanted to make. Now, I’d say from a moral perspective never cross those; don’t compromise on those. But from an ideological perspective, then I think that those things can be malleable to new shared experiences or new perspectives in life. Every new road gives you a new perspective, so use that to the wiser to find new paths in life. But GitHub is super-unique because that acquisition with Microsoft definitely took the company in a different direction. It had issues at the leadership level, and I respect and love the people that began that company, but at some point – what’s the saying…? You die a hero, you live enough [unintelligible 01:20:03.02] Somebody listening to this will point it out in the comments, or something like that… But it’s either you die a hero, you live to tell, something or other… But it’s essentially that – or you die a villain. I have to look it up, I’m butchering it up terribly… But it’s like that - these people began what is now GitHub, and along the way they made mistakes and did things wrong in some cases, and way wrong in other cases… But the platform I think is what – interestingly enough, the word “platform” was said about a thousand times in Silicon Valley. The platform however is super-useful to society, as we said before. And you had this belief about open source that it’s the trust factory. If software – I heard you say this in your breakout at Open Source Core Summit, that the trust factor in software today is if it’s not open source, there’s an inherent trust with being open source. So as a societal utility, GitHub has played a pivotal, major role. Thank you to Microsoft for stepping in and doing that, and thank you to Microsoft for changing your frequent ways, because as a company, you were really weird back in the day. You had some real issues, but thankfully, you’ve turned around and understand… Hopefully, they always stay this way, but they seem like a good company now.
Actually, I can go back potentially to a podcast I was on forever ago - and I know I’m going on and on about GitHub, but… I remember it was probably I wanna say in like 2012, 2013. It was when Microsoft was showing signs of being trustable again as a business for the people; that wasn’t always the case. And I can remember saying, on a different podcast called The Industry Radio Show with Drew Wilson and Jared Erondu, we were saying “I’m rooting for Microsoft to turn the boat around. To change for the good for the people.” And I think as people who both live and breathe and eat and open source can appreciate what has happened with GitHub and with Microsoft over these years - they’re not the perfect, best company all the time, we all make poor choices as individuals and companies, but I think what they’ve done with GitHub is remarkable for where we need open source to go. And there’s still a long road, and I think they’re a company that’s listening to what developers need and want, and what we as a society need and want from open source, from licenses, to platform, to whatever.
I think you’re absolutely right. I think the key thing to remember is like - Microsoft was all about developers. It was started by developers and it was all about developers. And the way they served developers changed over time. And some of that just meant evolution of thinking. There was a period of time at which open source was not a big thing. That company has been around for like four decades. There was a period of time when open source was just not a thing. And Microsoft had to learn that “Hey, open source is real. It’s all about developers, and you need to champion this thing.” And once they understood that, they got on board and they did the right thing, which is they acquired GitHub, and they started to make lots and lots of things free. To me, that is a phenomenal thing. This should be a God-given right to people; they should be able to use that platform. I understand that that’s not a real business model, but at the same time, they’re making their money elsewhere, and that’s fine for them. This is like a huge marketing channel. But it really works.
So I think GitHub is the place where some of the most important source code of our lifetimes live, and will live forever. The Linux Kernel is there. Kubernetes is there. Docker is there. And countless other projects are there. So I think for the next decade that will continue to be true. And then we have to really see, what is the next thing to be on that? Where is the next place where we all congregate as developers, and share and reuse? What becomes that thing? Is it another platform? Is it a thing that will be owned by a large entity like a Microsoft, or will it be something different? That I think is a complete unknown. I can’t really name that next platform at the moment… I mean, Adam, can you? Do you have any thoughts on what that next big thing is?
I would probably say I don’t have a clue… I don’t have a clue what the next big thing might be. There’s indicators of what’s big, of what’s shaking out there… I know there’s a lot of attention around cryptocurrency, there’s a lot of attention around Web 3, and decentralized web, but they’re waiting for the killer app/apps to really break it open… I think it’s very focused on – the same with Bitcoin or cryptocurrencies, it’s very focused on the tech… And you can’t reach mainstream really if you’re just so focused on the tech. I think that’s the hard thing happening there. I think that’s the bigger things really taking place currently. Well, those are unproven grounds. That’s where the pioneers are kind of hanging out; that’s where the proverbial gold is being mined, because that’s where the rush might take place, is in this new thing.
Oddly enough, Silicon Valley - again, they were building the web we deserved, right? They were building a decentralized web, built upon an algorithm that was all about compression… And that’s what it was about. And I think in many ways decentralized is becoming a more prominent thing, and I think that’s where you’ll see a lot of new and exciting things happen.
Spencer Kimball said it really good on the last episode, “There’s nothing new under the sun in terms of tech. It’s just reuse and redo’s.” That’s kind of where we’re at.
He’s right, there’s no new idea. It’s just about the timing. Usually, things show up a decade too early, and then they get tried again, and then something works. To me it’s sort of desktop, web, mobile, cloud, and then there’s some next piece, which is like edge, or networks, or something like that… And it keeps going, where we get to this ambient computing model where technology is everywhere and you actually no longer even carry around devices. It’s just like always on, it’s everywhere, it’s embedded in the world.
But networks - networks is a thing for me that exist beyond cloud. Some of that infrastructure is being done in this kind of blockchain, peer-to-peer cryptocurrency stuff… But you’re right, it’s like early internet, where they were defining the protocols, they were figuring out the use cases, there was no clear – once we started to develop the browser, that’s where the web really took off, and then the use case took off for the internet. But crypto doesn’t have that thing yet. I mean, people think it’s money, like banking and infrastructure, but… Right now, I’m more focused on this kind of cloud thing, which - a lot of it has been driven around centralized platforms, which is fair enough…
I just think GitHub really works for source code at rest, and you know, all these companies – and what you find is these things that exist inside of companies come out of the companies and become a social platform. Not just in terms of public social networks, but developer tools. So you’re looking at it as like “Okay, we have a public Git server that everyone can share code on.” The next - it’s quite possibly gonna be some sort of platform on which you host that code, that’s an entirely public and shared experience. Right now we look at cloud providers as that, but that’s not really that. That’s not social. Cloud providers is a personal [unintelligible 01:27:42.25]
Yeah, exactly. It’s a black box on which you deploy infrastructure and your code. That’s for you. It’s not a shared experience. So I think the cloud is really – the cloud is a multiplayer experience, and I think we’re missing our multiplayer experience for these kind of services and things. It’ll be interesting to see. But at the same time, it’s like a means to an end. It’s a small piece of the puzzle, because the end thing that you have to think about is the consumption of those things, that software, those services, what is it used for, what do we end up building… GitHub, for all that it does in terms of storing source code, how does it integrate with the rest of our experience in all that we do? I think that’s the more important part… More so than just being this big, massive, blob storage of a platform. Because that’s what it is, right? You might as well shove everything in S3 on AWS. It could be a shared bucket for everyone, and everyone could just shove their code in that. Beyond that, it’s integrated into everything - GitHub is integrated into the workflow of everything, and I think whatever the next platform is will become integrated into everything. Not just in terms of like the workflow, but actually literally everything that we consume… Because my whole thought is everything will be an API in the cloud. That’s what’s happening. Everything is becoming an API. And the end consumers of that are desktop, web, mobile, and whatever the next platforms are - AR, VR, everything else. So those things will literally be embedded in everything.
And that’s your mission, is to build this cloud operating system, essentially.
Yeah, I have this grand vision - delusions of grandeur, whatever you wanna call it… This thing that I see, this feature that I think exists. And I always knew that I would regret if I didn’t attempt to build it… Because I knew someone else would. Eventually, someone else will build it, and if I didn’t attempt to build it, I would always live to regret that. You always live to regret the things that you didn’t do, not the things that you did do. You learn from the things that you do. Those are the experiences you learn from. But if you never did it, you will always regret it; you will always wonder, “What if I did that?” So we’ll see…
Right now I’m just working on not dying, make sure the company doesn’t die. That’s the constant existential crisis of any startup, which is like running out of money. And luckily, I’m good with money, so I don’t think I’ll run out of money any time soon… But at the same time, that works against you; you’ve gotta spend it as well to actually accomplish anything… So yeah, we’re trying to figure it out.
Yeah. You can’t just keep your money and not use it. You’ve gotta use it as a resource… And that’s the hard part too, is how do you take – and that’s what I think people who have… What’s a good way to say it…? They use their any wealth – and this isn’t a blanket case, but they’re able to use their wealth as a way to have it work for them, as a resource. Not so much that they have so much they can just be always investing or whatever, but understand that principle. As a matter of fact, going back to Cornelius Vanderbilt - at the suggestion of a past guest on Founders Talk, John-Daniel Trask from Raygun… He was sharing with me different biographies he’s read, and that was a principle that Cornelius Vanderbilt and all they had built - this is like the first entrepreneur, essentially… Or at least in late history record. They had this idea that their money was always at work for them. And that’s something I think is an interesting [unintelligible 01:31:45.24] especially as someone who has a runway, maybe a limited bank account… It may be big, but it’s limited, unless you can raise series B, or series A, or series C, wherever you’re at… You know, to use and be able to know not just to keep it, but to use it as a resource for growth, as a growth mechanism. Because whomever gave you that money didn’t give it to you just to let it sit there idle. They said “Take this and use this to build, and sometimes build means marketing, sometimes build means hiring, sometimes build means letting it sit there for the right time, or for the right investment, or for the right maneuver.
It’s exactly that. I used to basically say this quite a lot, which is like if I don’t write the code, the code doesn’t get written. And it was because I was the only one doing the work, and I needed help from others to also do that work. And the only way to do that was to get money to pay these people to do that work, and then that kind of compounds what you can actually build, and it increases that velocity.
You have to be able to spend the money effectively, and sometimes being too efficient can be a bad thing. Order comes from chaos, so you end up having to spend a certain amount to actually create that chaos, to then find that order. So I think one of my weaknesses is that I’m pretty capital-efficient… But at the same time - look, if you take money from investors, investors have portfolio theory. They’re not making one bet, they’re making ten, or they’re making 20, or they’re making 100. You’re just one of many. As much as this is your only thing, you’re one of many, so they want you to run as fast as you can… And if you fall off the cliff, it doesn’t matter. You’re one of many in the portfolio, and they understand that one is gonna be a hit, four or five will make our money back or maybe will do well, and then the rest of them fail.
I don’t wanna be the one who fails, so a lot of the advice that I get is quite counter-intuitive, and I have to ignore some of it. I was given advice to hire very quickly before the recession, before Covid, before any of that was coming up… But I was kind of like, “Look, I’m gonna take my time. I’m gonna hire the right people, I’m gonna take my time, I’m gonna figure this out… Because I don’t know what I’m doing yet, I don’t know what I don’t know, and I know that something is gonna happen, I just don’t know when.” Then Covid happened, then the recession happened, and then you’re getting calls like “Hey, we just wanna check that you’re spending the money wisely”, and it’s like “Well, yeah… I mean, that’s what I always do.” [unintelligible 01:34:17.17]
It’s just the way the game works… They’re not giving you the money to sit on it or not spend it… The whole point is that you try to create the anomaly. They want you to create the outcome that cannot be created by building a regular kind of business. And if you’re playing that game, you have to be on board with playing that game. But I also understand that you can’t force certain things in the very beginning of building a product in the company. There’s this term that people love, product-market fit… I mean, it’s very hard to gain product-market fit or to spend a ton of money to figure out product-market fit. Sometimes it’s a walk in the woods, sometimes it’s a process of discovery… And for me, especially with open source, the thing that I really understood very well about open source is it’s 3-4 years of R&D to organically build your community and the foundations of your project, regardless of how much money you throw at it.
I had done the hard work upfront, and everyone else who was burning capital, it didn’t matter how much they were burning on marketing; it grows just as fast, at the same rate. And then the next phases of trying to actually build a business on top of that - like, if you’re really smart and you’ve done this multiple times, you might have a better idea of how to do it… But otherwise, investors are giving you the money to build your team and to create – they’re basically trying to get you to build this thing that looks like it’s successful, but isn’t actually yet successful, because you’re just burning the capital, trying to figure it out.
So you accumulate enough of the talent, and enough of the people, and enough of an outward success that something comes of it. And there’s plenty of cases like that. But that’s not what I’m about… For me it’s just a totally different game. And lots of people - you know, the early phases of it is just like “I’m trying to figure out what’s gonna work”, and I need to have a few people in the room. Not lots of people, but a few people in the room, who are gonna help figure that out. And once we’ve figured it out, then we’ll go scale. Then we’ll go figure it out, because that’s what makes sense. So we’re figuring it out.
Would you say that you’re at or nearing product-market fit then? Because figuring it out is kind of like alluding to not product-market fit.
I would say we’re figuring it out. I’m not gonna sit here and be like “Oh, we’ve got it all figured out. It’s all amazing, and working.” This entire journey for me has been a very hard, grueling journey. All of it. I don’t feel that there’s – I don’t think there’s been a moment where I felt like a sense of relief that it was just like “Oh yeah, this is working.” Not at all. Even when fundraising, and getting the funding. No. That didn’t even feel like a relief or success, or anything like that. I’m like “Oh, I’ve got so much more work to do now.” And even that was so much work.
So I think the key insights into open source is the user who uses the open source software is not gonna be your buyer. That’s something that people say a lot… But when you actually in reality experience that, you start to understand like “Oh yeah, that person sitting there is quite happy using that piece of software.” That person is not gonna pay for anything that I’ve built, and their company is not gonna pay for anything that I’ve built.”
So your buyer, and your market, and everything else changes when you’re trying to build a business, and I can understand a lot of why people cannibalize their community at that point… Because they’re trying to build a real business. So what do investors know? Enterprise software. What do you do? You go build your Salesforce, go build enterprise features, go sell to them, all that kind of stuff.
So I’m trying to figure out, if I don’t wanna build that kind of company, and I know that this platform has value, who am I selling to? What am I selling them, and how do I do that? And it comes down to the Why. And we’ve talked about this in the past, which is “Why are you building this? Why does it matter? What can I do with it? Why does it matter? Why do I need this?” And I think when you start to talk about that, that’s when things start to make sense.
For us, once we understood our positioning in the market, of saying like “Hey, there’s Netlify for the frontend, and there’s Micro for the backend”, that landed so strong. People totally understood that. Like, “Oh, yeah, Netlify for the frontend, building the JAMstack over here… And wait - if I’m supposed to consume APIs on the backend, where is that? Where is that platform? That doesn’t exist. How do I build these things?” And we understand that that’s our place. Now we’ve gotta just figure out the next phases, which is “Are we trying to serve the person who’s trying to build the API? Are we trying to serve the person who wants to consume the API?” Who’s the user?”, all this kind of stuff. And that’s a process of discovery which is tough, and yet at the same time rewarding, because you’re having to learn these things. It’s a challenge. This is a day-to-day thing where you feel challenged by the work that you’re doing, and it’s not just about writing more code, but actually like “I’m trying to build a business, I’m trying to build something real.” And I enjoy that, as much as I say it’s a hard time. I truly enjoyed my opportunity to attempt to build a business. I don’t know if I’ll get there, but at the same time, I’m trying.
Well, I think you’re doing. And I think what you’re doing is pretty cool. We talked earlier about the monopolies - I suppose that’s the word you said. You mentioned some of the big names, they’re all well-known, I don’t need to say them again… But this idea of a decentralized, democratized way – or not decentralized, but more like democratized way of offering these services, not so much inside of an organization, but having them hosted. I think your question though of who you’re serving I think is actually both.
So I think you can serve the people out there that want to adopt that vision, the Why, as you mentioned… And host their own Hello Worlds, their own posts, their own comments, which are all features of Micro… I think if they wanna have that and see out this world where it’s a democratized platform to build a microservice and offer that as an API as the builder, it should be a thing. And then as a consumer, your job can be to offer up as a menu what you can build with these various things, and say “You know what - you can come on this platform as a consumer, not a builder, and consume these different services and use these different services to build out what you want to build.” And in some cases, you can even look at the platforms that have succeeded and say “What’s working there? What do we need to have here?” Because whatever’s out there that’s privatized and black-boxed behind a platform that is not open to everyone to sign up and used can be proving ground for what Micro can produce or have produced.
I think you’re at an interesting and crucial point in your journey. I think a year from down the road, or how many ever necessary more, we’re gonna see a unique perspective on builders leveraging Micro to host and serve publicly-accessible services that are not behind black boxes and consumers of that, and a unique blend in between there that can really be fun.
You’re doing a better job at selling it than I ever could…
No, I think it’s – your Why is exactly right. Pursuing the Why is exactly right. Pursuing the Why is the hard part. And you have to say – if you’re out there and you’re on either side of that fence, if you wanna live in that world, then that’s how it’s gonna be. But if you wanna live in this other world - and I think this other world is this idea of this democratized way to build services that are accessible to everyone - then you’ve got to buy into your Why.
For me, there’s some key points in there. Yes, it is about the developer of the APIs, but it’s also about the consumption of those APIs. A lot of the times we talk about this one side of like “Hey, this developer wants to build something” and we don’t talk about the Why. Why do they wanna build that thing? Who are they building it for? What are they doing it with?
Some of the key questions that we came up with - what if we helped that developer and then sell it? If it’s supposed to be a platform for APIs and you’re trying to build the next Stripe or Twilio, what if we can help you charge for your API? I think some of what we’re attempting to do next in our business model, rather than just charge you for the platform itself - what if we charge you for the consumption of the APIs? What if we enable you to take payments? What if we actually enable you? What if we actually capture the value of what we’re enabling, and we help you make money or help you build your business?
I think that’s when there’s some sort of real win/win situation, where just like Stripe is trying to help you take payments and they take a cut of it, if you’re trying to build an API, it’s most likely that you’re trying to sell that API, or it’s trying to be consumed somewhere else, and we can probably help with that… In the same way as like the App Store – you know, as much as we talk about these monopolies, you can create an app, you can put it in the App Store, you can put it in the Play Store, and you can charge for it. And they make it really simple for you to do that. I think that just hasn’t happened in software.
GitHub had this real opportunity. If GitHub had just put a button on your repository so that you could charge for it, every developer would be making money. Instead, what we have is the tip jar. Sponsor Me. Sponsor my Account. I tried to do the sponsor thing. I made very little money doing that. That doesn’t work. But if you enable that person to actually build a real business, if you enable them to be a creator and make money - that’s what will work. If GitHub just enabled payments, that would be a phenomenal thing. Open source developers would be making millions as solo developers.
We had a similar conversation recently with Ben Johnson. You probably know Ben in the Go world. He’s known for BoltDB that’s inside of Kubernetes, and his recent project Lightstream, and we had a conversation about that. I don’t know how to describe his struggle, but his struggle is “How can I provide value to the community that needs value provided?” And one of the parts of the conversation was - well, obviously there’s gonna be some companies out there who view SQLite as a toy database, or not quite as sturdy as say Postgres or similar, because it’s embedded and it has its flaws, and whatever other reasons… And Lightstream solved that super-quickly saying “Lightstream real-time streams via the built-in API to SQLite and externally to S3 a backup or a copy of the database.” So it can be more of a sturdy database.
And one of the conversations we had on there was being able to offer products, but really be support of some type to companies and to enterprises. If instead Ben has to take that idea and kind of recreate it externally from GitHub, meanwhile Lightstream is hosted on GitHub, he’s got discussions on GitHub, he’s got issues on GitHub, he’s got his source code obviously on GitHub… And if there’s any sort of service that’s built around it, GitHub is a launch point for which the CI or CD is launched upon. So the epicenter is GitHub, but he can’t offer “products” to consumers via GitHub because that doesn’t exist.
I think you’re keying on something like that. If they can enable a developer like Ben to be able to create a software like that and offer products/support in ways that make sense, that are right then and there - gosh… I mean, he’d light up immediately, for him to find a viable business model to build and create and not have to create some sort of crazy other site, other system; like, it can be all-in-one. Plus you’ve already got the credit card inside of GitHub, you’ve already got procurement systems, and teams that are already leveraging it up for other reasons… So it’d be a no-brainer to turn on things like that. But I’ve gotta imagine somewhere along the way, someone behind GitHub has these big ideas and dreams, and would love to do that ASAP. Yesterday. But for some reason, they’re doling these things out slowly, potentially to ensure the platform makes sense for that, and not just to turn it into this commercialized platform for payments and everything else… Because if you just throw all that to the On button tomorrow, it can get to be an antiquated, nasty GitHub. It could be so much good, but then also so much to support, potentially. So maybe they’re taking the slow road to some of these processes.
I’m with you there. I think it’s one of those things where you can kind of talk about one side of the equation and not the other… It would be great if that was an option, that was available. At the same time, who knows what would happen if it did exist, and all the different things that would occur?
When you do have a brand like GitHub you can’t just launch something as a test anymore. It has to really be a real thing. I remember before they started doing sponsorships they had some people reaching out to some of us in the open source community, those of us who had prominent projects, to have these kinds of conversations, like “Hey, what are your struggles? What do you need? How could we help? What do you think should exist?” And sponsorship was one of those things that I mentioned, like “Hey, I’m having to use Patreon, I’m having to use separate things from a corporate sponsorship. If you just made it really simple for people to be able to sponsor, that’d be a great way to get donations, and that would work.”
To their credit, they eventually ended up rolling that out. That’s working for some people, and that’s phenomenal. They rolled out Discussions in the same way, and various kind of new features… And I wouldn’t be surprised if they were working on it. I just have this feeling – you know, I’m always early to things, and then I feel like I miss out… So I feel like I was early to this solo open source thing, and I feel like in 4-5 years you’re gonna be able to charge for your software on GitHub, and people are gonna make real money. And it’s not gonna be like “Hey, please sponsor me.” It’s like “I’m producing a piece of value-add software, and you want my support, or you want these additional features”, and GitHub has enabled a way to make that seamless, to provide people purchasing power in such a simple way. And that will happen. Then there will be someone who is making a million dollars a year from being a solo open source creator. That’s something I truly believe will happen in the next decade.
Yeah, I think it’s possible. I mean, if you can do it on YouTube, why can’t you do it on GitHub?
Exactly. Exactly. Why are developers not getting paid? That’s the real key question.
Yeah. You have to have a high-paying salary job, and there’s a lot of scrutiny here in the U.S. too with taxes these days, in terms of – this is not a political show, but it’s just not often you have somebody who has a high-paying salary job; it’s usually turned into something at a certain salary point. You become an owner and you get paid differently. And now with changes in different ways to consider high earners and taxes - it’s challenging, I think, especially when you have massive companies who pay zero in tax, and they have way more millions than I have… Because I don’t have millions, you know what I mean? It’s unfortunate.
Yeah, we can talk about all those tax loopholes… It’s a whole thing.
Geez, that’s true. Well, it’s been awesome, this long conversation. We’re 44 minutes past my anticipated end time, which means it’s over two hours, which might be the first two-hour show on Founders Talk… But what I love about this show and its format is that it lets us meander, and hopefully we have an audience who enjoys the meandering through someone’s story, and their perspective, and their thoughts, and we can sort of dovetail into certain things… We talked about empathy and compassion for a while there, we talked about other things that aren’t really on the purview or the direct hit of what you’re building with Micro, but I think a democratized way to host microservices, and if that’s attached as the backend to Netlify or JAMstack, then cool; if it’s this future where anyone can build a microservice and an API and charge for it, a metered service - that’s cool, too. I think the road you’re going down is – I agree, you would have regretted it, because somebody else would have built it, and I’m glad that someone like you, who’s been in the trenches for as long as you have been, building what you’ve been building… You’re at the right place, at the right time, right now to be building it, and in time I think more people are looking towards this… And potentially, similar to what you said before - I think you said it about GitHub, or was it Stripe - this economy. It’s an economy enabled by what you’re gonna build, and I think that’s something you should look at; not just simply the money you can make, but the money that you can enable others to make as well, potentially…
Thanks for sharing your story. Is there anything that we didn’t talk about that’s like we had to close off on? In an earlier call you mentioned you’re loathing of AWS, or something you said about AWS, or something like that… I don’t know if you wanna throw that in here or not, but I hate to leave the floor without giving you a chance to share anything else that I may not have asked you or we may not have gotten to. So feel free. If you wanna go there, go there.
Well, I’m glad you threw that in there, Adam. First I wanna say I appreciate you having me on the show; it’s been a blast, and I’m not surprised we went over. This has been a hell of a time. And yeah, I think it just speaks to the fact that we’re not one-dimensional. We all think about different things and cover broad ranges of topics; we have all sorts of interests, and that’s just the same with me…
On AWS - I think what AWS has done to open source is… I don’t think there are words really to describe it. Let’s just say it’s unsportsmanlike conduct, and I think something has to kind of happen there. So I’m not really a big fan of theirs. I’m a fan of what they’ve done in terms of the business that they build and the types of technologies that they build, but the [unintelligible 01:55:38.16] open source I don’t really like.
From my standpoint, what I’m trying to build is a next-generation AWS that focuses entirely on the developer, as opposed to the infrastructure and the operator. I think that was built for a different era, for a different type of personality; it now caters to a different type of entity. But I think developers who wanna focus on building APIs, who don’t wanna manage infrastructure, should look to something like Micro and the platform that we’re building. I’m thrilled for that kind of experience. So I think we are the anti-AWS and that’s where I’ll probably leave it.
There you go. That’s also part of your Why then.
That is, yeah.
You mentioned Basecamp/37signals earlier, and I think the way they built Basecamp, their direction forward was less about what they wanted to build and more about what they didn’t wanna build. And that’s kind of what you mean by anti-AWS. It’s not so much what you’re trying to build, but what you’re definitely not trying to build.
I think that’s a good way of putting it. The only way I can really describe this is - look, I spent more than a decade managing infrastructure and platforms, and in that time I just thought “Why am I still doing this? Why do I keep doing this? Why am I touching infrastructure? Why do I have to keep doing all these things? Why has it not gone away yet?” And nobody built that platform, so that’s the thing that I’m effectively trying to build, which is a platform that has no infrastructure. I mean, you could go so far as to call it serverless, but it’s maybe not that. It’s just a platform that focuses on API development, that does it in an opinionated way for the cloud, and tries to be really, really simple. You can sign up, log in, create a new API, and call it, all within tend commands, in the space of minutes, all through the CLI; you don’t have to context switch. And that’s the experience I wanted, so I built it for myself, and I removed everything else from it. Hopefully, others feel like that offers them some value as well.
Very cool. Thank you so much for your time, it’s been awesome. I appreciate you sharing your wisdom, your journey, your thoughts, your perspectives, and… I’m a fan. I’m a fan of what you’re doing, and I appreciate you.
I appreciate that, Adam, and thank you very much for the time. I enjoyed the conversation.
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