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August 8, 2023 · 35 min read

Season 4, Ep. 23 – Founder to Founder: With Max Howell, CEO & Founder,

This week, Teja sits down with Max Howell, the brain behind Homebrew, about his latest venture, tea. They talk about the growth of the industry, the challenge in paying open source developers, and an unthinkable time in history when being a software developer really wasn’t all that cool.


Read transcript


Teja (00:05):

Yo, what’s up y’all? Today we got Max from tea who is the original founder and maintainer of Homebrew. Awesome conversation. I got to learn a lot. I think you guys will dig this one, so let us know. Thanks y’all. (THE FRONTIER THEME ENDS)

Teja (00:31):

Tell me about like, yourself, like how did you, okay, so like, just tell me about sort of before Apple, before you kind of started your thing, yeah. 

Max (00:41):

It’s fun actually, ’cause I had a Twitter Spaces with someone yesterday who, we got into programming like, very much the same way, and we worked on one of the first projects, for me. For him, turns out he’d been doing open source a lot longer. But, you know, the story goes back to there, ’cause you know when I was a kid, I wasn’t sure what I was gonna do with my life, and my mom had a way of insisting that certain jobs were better than others, you know, (Teja: <Laugh>.) which was very influential to me. I have a kid now, and I’m gonna make sure not to do the same thing at all. Even now, obviously there’s some things I think he do well at, but you know, you learn. So I ended up doing science. I did a chemistry degree, and I thought I was gonna be a scientist, and it was while I did my first year in the industry, I went out for Christmas, had a few days away from the lab, and I realized that I hated it. I dunno why, but it took me to get a step away for me to realize that I was really not enjoying it. And then I pictured like, my career going forward, being this one where I would go to the same lab every day and use the same machine, and I’d measure the same things, and then I’d like, release papers about the most boring things imaginable. And a bunch of other very boring people would pat me on the back and say, “Well done.”

Max (02:17):

“You’ve advanced science by 0.1%.” I’d be like, “Oh.” So I became depressed and didn’t know what to do with myself, and it was in that time that I installed Linux on my computer. It was Windows 2002, 3, or something like that. And yeah, so Windows was huge and Linux wasn’t, and Microsoft hated Linux at the time, and the Mac was like, basically unused, completely. (Teja: Right.) And programming had been a thing that I had been doing as a hobby for years, so I just rediscovered it and discovered open source through Linux. And the guy I was talking about earlier, we worked on this music player together with another person, and I discovered like, how awesome it is to have a bunch of people that are working on something, simply because they love it, not because they’ve been forced to work on it, because their employer is paying their salary, and they go home, and they complain about their work day to their spouse or their family, and they’d look forward to the weekend.

Max (03:23):

We got up, worked until we were dead. I did a few 36 hour days on that project where like, after about 18 hours, I started to feel tired, so I’d have some coffee, and then I’d get a fresh wind, and then I’d stream through to the next morning and then like, just collapse in bed and do like, 12, 14 hours of sleep. So obviously I wasn’t, you know, I didn’t have a real job at this time. I was back there with my parents, but it got me into open source and what, you know, was possible. It just felt like, we were all together trying to build the Internet. We were trying to make a world of software that anyone could hack on any part of it and like, build things together. So it was very addictive. So I kept doing it, to the trepidation of my parents, and eventually they kicked me out. (Teja: <Laugh>.)

Max (04:14):

They were like, “Go and find a real job.” And, fortunately, the music player that me, and this guy, and this other guy were working on was, it had gotten really popular. It got really big, and there was a company in London called that loved it. They were in the music Web2 space. So I managed to get a job there without actually having, you know, any qualifications from the <unintelligible> what we were building, which, you know, got me into the industry, and I was 24, 25 at that point. And yeah, since then, done a lot of open source and worked for a lot of different companies.

Teja (05:00):

At the time when you were like, kind of first working on open source, were you like, aware of like, let’s say, the financial dimension of like, sharpening your skills as a programmer? Or was it purely just the, it was very engaging in your work with people that you like?

Max (05:18):

Yeah, there was no finance thinking to it at all. Honestly, like, then, programming wasn’t a well paid profession, especially in Europe. Especially in the UK. (Teja: Right.) I got a very low salary relative to what I have now for my, (Teja: <Laugh>.) for the first job. But I was happy, you know, I was just very happy that I was working in an industry that I enjoyed, having like, faced that like, nightmare idea of like, hating it. So yeah, it wasn’t financially motivated at all, and, you know, it was a different time back then, 2007. You know, programming was not cool in any fashion. Like, is it cool now? Well, it is to a certain extent, right, because all these apps that have made people famous and everyone has a computer in their pocket, but at the time, computers were like, sad, you know? For geeks. (Teja: Yup.)

Max (06:12):

And I’d go to parties, and I would very much try to avoid saying what I did. (Teja: <Laugh>.) I became very good at like, deflecting and talking around it, ’cause it wasn’t cool, but then like, in 2010 when the iPhone released the App Store, the years after that, suddenly it became cool to be working programming, but you weren’t programming apps, you know? So it was different; it was different times. So, well, I wasn’t doing it for fame, glory, fortune, or to like, you know, pick up partners or anything. So like, yeah, it was very much like, ’cause I enjoyed it.

Teja (06:58):

Right, that’s an interesting observation. Like, at some point, programming or working on products became cool. I don’t know when, yeah. I mean, probably when people realized you can get rich doing it.

Max (07:09):

That was definitely part of it. Like 2010, 2011, when like, people made really terrible iPhone games and then made millions of dollars. Yeah, a lot of people flipped like, to try and do that. Especially, you know, like, the old school Mac devs at that point suddenly found they were sitting on gold mines of knowledge, and they previously had only been making Mac apps, ’cause they loved Apple, they loved Mac, and they loved polishing those apps, and making them beautiful, and trying to make ’em as good as Apple, and probably most of them wanted to maybe get job at Apple at some point. A lot of those devs from that time [are] still around; they’ve made some of the most important apps on the platforms.

Teja (08:02):

So it seems to me like, some of the insane compensation around software engineering, programming is driven in part by like, the greed of the investment class. What’s been the effect, as a programmer, just like, working in the industry and seeing like, the salaries go from, you know, modest, good wages, to just like, insane wages. Do you think that strips out like, some of the craftsmanship of writing good software and some of the passion that existed in the open source community? Or do you think it’s like, generally a positive effect? 

Max (08:42):

That’s really interesting question. I haven’t really thought about it before. So it definitely took something away. (Teja: Mmm <affirmative>.) I’ve been saying this a lot lately, as I’ve gotten into Web3 stuff, because I’ve noticed with Web3 devs, is that they often embody a lot of the values that I appreciated when I got into open source programming, and I hadn’t noticed the transition from when we were just a bunch of scrappy programmers who were like, trying to make cool shit to “Ah, now it’s huge business.” And then the, you know, I remember when Scrum became a thing, and like, the idea like, grated me, and it still does <laugh> in many ways. Like, you know, you mentioned I worked at Apple; I worked at Apple for a year, and I thought I’d be there forever, but could not have it too organized <laugh>. I used to have to fight with my manager to try and just like, try out a feature. (Teja: Right.) “I think this will be good, but I need to put it in the code and try it out.” This is before anyone else outside of Apple knew anything about what I was working on that year. So it was just for me and like, few other people, and it was like, “Oh no. We have to like, have five meetings and plan everything, like, completely understand the feature completely before it’s built.”

Max (10:09):

I’m like, “I can’t work that way.” (Teja: Yeah.) “I need to try the feature out before I know if I’ve designed it right.” So I wasn’t a good candidate for them. They made a mistake hiring me, and I made a mistake going there. (Teja: <Laugh>.) It’s the truth, but, you know, it works for some people, but yeah, it’s not my sort thing, for sure. And like, yeah, salaries going up, and up, and up just leads to more like, investment from these companies in like, yeah, Scrum, these sort of things, to make sure that the money they’re putting in is being utilized correctly. (Teja: Right.) And well, yeah, it did…I hate to say, ’cause I’m sure some people listening to this podcast, you might feel like this is them, but like, it did attract like, “glory hunters”, you know, like, when it became cool, it was just people who just wanted, they enjoyed it. They thought it was fun, and they wanted to hack on these things, and then it was like, “Oh, well this person’s, yeah, here,” ’cause they probably would’ve like, become a lawyer right, (Teja: Right.) in 2009, and then post 2010, they just become a programmer.

Teja (11:21):

I mean, I read some article somewhere, I don’t even remember where, talking about how like, these big banks are having trouble hiring like, the next legion of bankers, because they’re all going to go become engineers at Facebook <laugh>. (Max: <Laugh>. Yeah, yeah.) You know, it’s interesting like, the way that you positioned Homebrew, it’s like, the package manager that Apple didn’t already put in there.

Max (11:46):

<Laugh> Yeah. The missing package manager for Mac, yeah. 

Teja (11:49):

Yeah, yeah, exactly. So I mean, that’s the like, an awesome way to kind of encapsulate like, all the stuff that Homebrew puts on like, your computer. Like, did you, okay, did you come up with that? Like, and I should have already figured this out before you came on, I apologize for not knowing, (Max: Oh, no worries.) but like, did you figure this out before you joined Apple? Like, did Apple hire you, because you devised…

Max (12:13):

Yeah, Homebrew was before Apple. (Teja: Okay.) And, well, I gotta say, the “missing package manager for Mac”, I copied that from TextMate, which used to bill itself as the “missing text editor for Mac”, (Teja: Interesting.) ’cause Mac does come with the text servicer, but it’s terrible. (Teja: <Laugh>.) The Mac really <emphasis> doesn’t come with a package manager. Now, you know, honestly, by now, it probably would have if I hadn’t built Homebrew, I should think. But at the time, it was basically true. Like, there was a little bit of competition that was MacPorts, which was the main reason I built Homebrew, because I just found it to be not great, not good at least, anyway.

Max (12:52):

It was adequate <laugh>. And there was another one called Think, which was less popular, you know, and I just built the right things with Brew, so it bridged for cost popularity, sure, but yeah. Homebrew was before Apple, quite a bit before Apple. Apple happened, because I applied for Google and didn’t get the job. That was a famous tweet that you could easily find. It’s basically, you type in my name, it’s the top result. Almost deleted that thing many times. But yeah, they didn’t give me a job, so I tweeted out,  “90% of our engineers use the software you wrote (Homebrew), but you can’t invert a binary tree on the whiteboard, so ‘f’ off,” which was a very spontaneous tweet I sent when I got the phone call about not getting the job, which I did not intend to go viral and cause Google so much embarrassment.

Max (13:48):

But well, it went very viral. Hacker News was all over it for (Teja: Right.) a long time, and I got a lot of invitations to interview with interesting companies as a result. You know, with Apple, I was super fan boy. It would be a great job, so I went there.

Teja (14:08):

Did they ever send you like, a cease-and-desist or like, “You’re using our brand inappropriately,” like, given your tagline? I’m so curious, like, how does that company operate? Or were they like, “This is a cool like, program as well,”?

Max (14:23):

No, I don’t think, well, I never heard of anyone <inaudible>, (Teja: <Laugh>.) but one of my coworkers, Carly, said that he thinks that Homebrew was part of the reason the Mac became a popular, you know, ‘cause basically like, devs use Macs nowadays, but when I started in this industry, devs used Windows, and it was the one that, you know, it was like, you were more of a “neck-beardy” developer if you used Linux. It wasn’t cool to use Linux. It was like, impressive. But, well, the reason I switched to Mac is because Apple switched to Intel, and then OSX was Unix, and I can see how like, I was frustrated with Linux in many ways. I remember there was this one week where I could, I upgraded the kernel, and then my WiFi stopped working, and then I couldn’t fix it, ’cause I didn’t have the Internet, and I had to like, figure it out manually for days, just, what broke, and like, try to downgrade my trailer, without the Internet to help you, and things like that. And after that I was like, “God, [I] do not want this platform anymore,” <laugh>. I want a platform which you know, some of these details are taken care of, so I can get on with the stuff I want to get on with.

Max (15:51):

So I bought a Mac for my girlfriend at the time and then tried it out, and I was like, “This is nice,” and I started seeing all the little details that Apple put into OSX at the time, that went all the way down, even to the Unix layer, and the way they named their files, and their directories, and how they lead everything out, and I saw the beauty and careful decisions, all the attention to detail that went into that. And yeah, I was a convert after that. But then like, yeah, I came from Linux. I was used to like, decent package managers, and there wasn’t one <laugh>.

Teja (16:28):

I agree with your friend’s take on Homebrew probably increased the adoption of Mac as the programming, sort of, I guess, I don’t know, what is a platform? I don’t know. It’s like, that word is used in a lot of different contexts, but maybe the platform of choice? I don’t know.

Max (16:43):

I think depends who you’re talking to on platform meanings, ’cause, yeah. It could be used all over the place, but you can’t really go on using it <unintelligible>.

Teja (16:56):

<Laugh>. It’s a safe choice, and people get Yeah, totally. They derive their own meaning. Okay. So Homebrew was like, an open source project. Tea, now, is a company, both package managers. Like, can you maybe walk through, I mean, there’s so many questions, like, how is running one versus running the other different? Like, why the decision to kind of make one a company?

Max (17:24):

When, you know, I made Homebrew, the idea of making a company out of it was like, completely <inaudible>, right? There was some open source organizations that like, there was GNU <pronounced phonetically>, which was kind of a bunch of weirdos, and they still are. (Teja: Totally.) And, you know, Mozilla was obviously a huge one at the time, and then like, some of the more significant languages like, PHP had formed into charities. Some slight organization under there, but “money” was a dirty word in open source, and that’s, I think partly the GNU <pronounced phonetically>, because slightly, the GNU <pronounced phonetically>, I dunno how much you know about GNU <pronounced phonetically>, but the main guy, Richard Stallman, is famous for being strange and not wearing shoes, and he genuinely believes that if you charge money for your software, it’s like, a crime. It’s morally like, bankrupt. (Teja: Wow.) And so that was a fairly pervasive attitude when I got into open source, and so in 2009, when I made Homebrew, it was still basically the case, so it never even occurred to me. And I remember a few years afterwards, MPM was first, like, what we now call “commercial open source software”. (Teja: Right.)

Max (18:40):

[It was] the first project I knew of that had formed a company with the pursuit of trying to like, build a revenue model on top of the open source, and almost immediately after that happened, I got a random cold call from some BC in San Francisco. I was like, “Can we make Homebrew into a company?” And at the time, the idea hadn’t really gone around my head at all, so I just said, I didn’t see how we could do that, ’cause it was interesting to me, the idea that I wanted to work open source full time, right? That’s, and a lot of the reason that I founded tea is ’cause that’s tea’s primary goal is to try and fix open source funding. So I’d spent, you know, I enjoyed working at, but when I quit to work at Homebrew, since then, I’ve been trying to figure out how I can work on open source full time.

Max (19:30):

So I told him I didn’t see how, and that’s partly true, right? I didn’t really see how we could do that, because even at that point, a few years in the community was so important to the project, and if I tried to like, build a company at that point, even though the community had become so key to its success, I think that it would’ve just led to like, massive rejection (Teja: Right.) from that community, and so the project would’ve died. I think nowadays you’d get away with it. People are a lot more amenable to it, but then, no. And so yeah, like, today 18, 20 months ago or so, when I founded tea, from the word “go”, I knew I wanted to try and get all the VC in that I could, and that it would just enable it. You know, in open source, you typically don’t have any marketing, ’cause you haven’t got any money to do any marketing with.

Max (20:28):

It enables so much more, if you have somebody <laugh>. Like, hiring some people who you don’t have a choice, they’re not gonna be able to work on open source full-time, free. Like, the only times I’ve been able to do it were that time in between giving up on chemistry and getting into the industry, myself. I lived with my parents. I was 20 something, right? So that was easy. And in between jobs, where I just saved up money, and worked on stuff. Like, I worked on Homebrew six months or seven, and then I ran out of money, and then had to get a job. And (Teja: Yeah <laugh>.) then I, you know, I worked a whole bunch on Homebrew while I should’ve been doing that job. Like, I felt bad for the guy who was paying me, but I also gave him a great thing, you know? 

Max (21:21):

I worked at TweetDeck, and Twitter acquired it. This is a long time ago, of course, and, you know, I made the Android, the iPhone apps, and the Android apps, actually was like, a really big deal. I think I must have helped with the acquisition side steps. Like, TweetDeck was a good thing. Like, a lot of people really liked it. (Teja: Totally.) Nowadays is, yeah.

Teja (21:39):

I didn’t know you worked on that. That’s cool. (Max: Yeah, yeah.) That’s cool

Max (21:42):

It was a little scene in London where I was at, Shoreditch, and so there was some cool projects stacked around, so it was easy enough to meet each of them, and yeah. It was one of the ones that was there, but it was all fun actually, that. But yeah, I did a lot of apps in between open source and did a lot of that open source for iPhone an Android in the years. So yeah, like, it just made sense this time. Get some backing, like, the mission that we have at tea, which is to fix open source funding, it’s just too important. Well, I say to people, if tea existed, I wouldn’t be creating tea, right? Obviously, but I would be working on open source, using tea as funding mechanism, (Teja: Mmm <affirmative>.) and maybe that’s exactly what I’m gonna do once this is all done, you know? I have five, six years, once I have a successful protocol running by itself on the Internet, I can step back and start working on open source, and they get paid for the system. (Teja: Yeah.)

Teja (22:47):

That’s cool. Have you been able to kind of rally like, your friends and kind of, you know, collaborators from Homebrew into tea? Has that been like a…

Max (23:02):

No. (Teja: No <laugh>?) Yeah, it’s been odd, honestly. Like, obviously crypto has a huge like, skepticism associated with it, (Teja: Yeah.) and, you know, I get it, because I was pretty skeptical about it. I had very little interest in crypto until I had this idea. (Teja: Mmm <affirmative>.) I had the idea, ’cause I had a friend who was always trying to get me into crypto since like…and I wish I had, honestly, ’cause it was so long ago. Like, I managed the Bitcoin formula into Homebrew and never ran it, and like, you know, this is very early, ’cause Bitcoin came out the same year as Homebrew, I think in 2010. (Teja: Mmm <affirmative>.) But yeah, I never really got into it. It was only when I was like, I was in between things again. Like, I was doing open source, and I was like, just annoyed that I was gonna have to stop for the umpteenth time, because I needed to go and get a bloody wake.

Max (24:08):

And, you know, I was like, “Can I figure out how to solve this problem this time?” So I explored stuff that was new to me, and I went down the rabbit hole, and I discovered like, smart contracts as something that was just so much more capable than I realized, and I saw how it was automating entire classes of things that usually you’d need like, an entire business operations department and a bunch of lawyers in order to achieve. And how that could be applied, like, I had a moment of inspiration, so like, the package graph and then automatically distributing value all the way through it, not just like, the bits that stand out like the Reacts and the Sveltes of the world that don’t really need funding a lot of the time, at least relatively. You know, like, everything needs funding. Like, these things shouldn’t, you know, like React’s Facebook project, right?


They’re like the Facebook, and Microsoft, and Google are starting to be the sponsors, in terms of like, they actually, the people who build these things are on staff, ’cause I don’t trust them, and like, open source is about building things that benefit everybody and not just what it is Facebook or Google or Microsoft think is important. Yeah, I think they’ve done a reasonable job of being unbiased and keeping the technology pure, but yeah. It’s not the same as when it’s a bunch of people who just intrinsically know what their little corner of the world needs. (Teja: Right.) They needed this tool, they built this tool, and they understand their community, and that, with tea, that community is directly engaged in continuing to fund those projects. Now, you know, like, people have tried lots of things like charity basically for open source for a while, so like, tea is different, that it’s not charity.

Max (26:10):

Kind of like, putting your money where your mouth is, in terms of like, what you consider the true value of open source to be. And you know, it’s probably at least half the value of the software industry, right? Like, everything nowadays is built on open source. That was a surprise, I think, to all of us who were in open source earlier. There was many people who were in it much earlier than me. How, you know, we were always saying that Linux, this year is the “year of the Linux desktop” and stuff like that, and we believed like, adamantly that these were the best talks, and the best utilities, and the best libraries, and then suddenly over the last 10, 15 years, it really became the case <laugh>. And that transition was both gradual, but also very fast, and so nothing changed.

Max (27:04):

All the enterprise software that used to take the place of that open source software used to make billions and billions of dollars a year, and in those 10 to 15 years, none of those billions of dollars were transferred to the people making the new things that replaced all this open source infrastructure all turning up, (Teja: Right.) and instead, Web2 companies came in and scooped it all up. And you know, this, it’s one of our things, it’s like, all these Web2 companies have made enormous amounts of money, and they give a little bit back, a little bit here and there. And to some extent, I get the complexity with that, ’cause like, you need basically a whole department of people in order to figure out how to actually, you know, give these donations to these different projects. So another aspect why I believe what we’re doing at tea will work is that it’s basically automating that. We understand the entire open source graph.

Max (28:00):

Use the tea tooling, and it’ll tell you which packages you should be “steeping” against, as we call it, and then like, Microsoft can like, put, you know a reasonable amount of money there. The steeping, the rewards are distributed to the projects that are steeped against, but then their dependencies and their dependencies, like, it takes a small piece of each time. I was using the smart contracts correctly, right? It’s just impossible for that to be prevented. Like, if money ends up going into one of these projects, it will always go to its dependencies. That project can’t stop it. They can’t try and hack it so that their dependencies don’t get it, and they keep that little extra percentage or something. And we can’t either, right, because as the people building this protocol, you can look at it, it’s open source on the blockchain, it will run how that code tells it to run.

Max (28:55):

You can’t stop it once it’s running. So you can tell that we are not taking any of that money as a company, and that it’s all going into open source, right? We’re building it, and then we’re setting it free, right, and then it’ll be controlled by Dow. Now, initially, that Dow will be composed of the majority people at the company, but over time, that will be transferred to the community once it’s running correctly, and then like, we’re hands off, you know? I only want to govern as long as it makes sense, and then I want, you know, the people that are part of that value system that, the whole point is that they’ve done it, they decide how it works.

Teja (29:32):

Do you ever find like, you know, so there are certain like, incentives or a vision that is like, pulling you forward as the like, let’s say, the founding team. As the founder, do you ever feel like, now that you’re venture backed, that that vision is maybe in conflict with some of the incentives that are driving, maybe, the need for a return? And like, how are you able to maybe balance like, those competing interests?

Max (29:56):

Yeah. Well it’s true, right? And like, I’d say the part which I like least about the catalyst aspect of our software world, but (Teja: Right.) fortunately, all the interest is very much concerned with token performance, and if we build this right, then they’re convinced everything’s gonna go well for them. So it’s quite aligned, fortunately, for the open source community and for investors of tea.

Teja (30:34):

Mmm <affirmative>. You know, so, okay. This is like, sort of a, maybe a broad question, but how does like, the capitalist model of like, incentives and stuff like this, like, how does it explain the open source movement? Or can you explain the desire to work on open source projects through a capitalist model? I’m a greedy capitalist, but like, it’s something that I wonder like, it’s hard to explain why people do it, especially before there was an insane financial incentive to become a good programmer.

Max (31:07):

I think the projects start because of need from the person who starts it, (Teja: Mmm <affirmative>.) but I needed Homebrew, so I built it. I was trying to do other stuff, and <laugh> it really did start as a, “Oh, I’ll just make a few scripts to help me out,” and then it turned into something bigger and bigger, and so I was like, “Hmm, I should open source this. It’s actually pretty good,” and I think it almost always is like that. So, you know, we’ve been interviewing source maintainers for a few weeks, and the thread that goes through conversations with them is like, the sense of obligation they feel once they’ve made something that actually makes a difference. It’s like, these people are turning up to their project, and they’re like, holding it down. Like, they decided to use this thing I built for some reason, but, you know, I want them to get the value that they’ve committed to, you know, ’cause (Teja: Right.) tool fatigue, right? Like we all feel a bit of tool fatigue nowadays, I think, where trying something new out is, even the trying it out part is like, tedious. Like, you’re like, “Well, maybe I can do it Saturday morning,” and then Saturday morning comes around, and you’re like, “I just don’t wanna touch the computer today.” Like, so you never get around to it. So certainly, I’ve always felt that if someone’s chosen to use my project, I do kind of owe them something, which really (Teja: Mmm <affirmative>.) is very different to the current core maintainer of Homebrew’s philosophy, who’s Mike McQuaid, who’s someone I worked on with Linux software like, years ago, and that’s how we knew each other. 

Max (32:43):

He’s still a friend, but he has the attitude that open source owes you nothing <laugh>. And yeah, so like, people differ on it. I’ve always felt that, you know, you chose to use my project, so I at least owe you a reasonably fast response to your bug report. And like, people adding bug reports, even, people don’t often do it, so when they do, you should be grateful, really. (Teja: Yeah.) It’s like, “Hey, thanks.” I always say that if you get one bug report, it’s been a thousand people who also experience the bug but didn’t report it, and I think, (Teja: For sure.) you know, it’s usually the case.

Teja (33:22):

For sure. Can you steelman the current maintainer of Homebrew’s position? Or do you not see any validity in his position

Max (33:31):

Oh, I totally get it, ’cause a lot of people turn off and have this sort of attitude of entitlements, (Teja: Right. That’s true.) when they write their bug reports or their tickets. They’re angry at you, because it broke, (Teja: Yes.) and you know, like, you don’t have any entitlement to that. Like you didn’t pay for the software, you’re getting it for free. Homebrew is almost entirely free, volunteer labor still. You know, even though it’s an enormous project, the level of donations they get is very poor. They need tea, as well, honestly. Which is why, you know, I wish they were a bit more into what we are doing, but like, the crypto side of things, it just rubs a lot of people the wrong way. I get it. Like, there’s been a lot of scams. (Teja: Yes.) It’s like, it’s ludicrous really. But it’s like, we couldn’t do it with regular money. (Teja: Right.) <Unintelligible> building, so I’m hoping that tea will show people that there is genuinely good utility that can be built on top of this technology. It’s just unfortunate that there’s been so much bad and dishonorable stuff that’s been done with it.

Teja (34:50):

It’s true. I mean, I don’t know. I’m sure there’s a ton of scams when like, the Internet was first commercialized, too, right?

Max (34:59): 

Yeah <laugh>. Well there still are, right? Just check your junk folder.

Teja (35:01):

<Laugh>. Oh yeah. Totally. I love when I get like…

Max (35:06):

You know, email is 95% scams, but people don’t like, just discount it completely as a useless technology.

Teja (35:12):

Totally. And people kind of learn like, what the right kind of, I don’t know, heuristics are to quickly determine what’s a scam and what’s not, you know? (Max: <Laugh>.) Right? Especially with email. 

Max (35:24):

That’s getting harder, right? AI generates the emails here. (Teja: Yeah.) I got one the other day that, it took me a while to figure out that it was a scam, ’cause it was just so personal, and it knew stuff that, you know, it combined details from different places. Very clever.

Teja (35:45):

That’s insane. I got a Facebook message once from somebody that clearly was a robot, but it like, knew that like, my mom was on Facebook, for example, and it was like, you could tell that the profile was fake, but it was like, located near where I live, and it was like, a nurse and it was like, “Do you know this person?” I’m like, god, this is insane. So (Max: <Laugh>.) I mean, yeah, they’re getting complicated, for sure. Why do you think that there is like, okay, so why is there so much skepticism around crypto, and I noticed this from like, really sharp and almost sharp-edged engineers. Like, I don’t notice it from like, business people. Like, I don’t know why. They’re like, “Oh yeah, maybe we could do something there,” but I noticed it from like, very talented software people, you know, and programmers. Why?

Max (36:37):

Yeah. Well, it’s deserved. (Teja: Yeah <laugh>.) I didn’t even truly appreciate how much it’s deserved until I got into the sector, and like, you know, if I’d known more, maybe I’d not done this, but I’m glad that we’re doing it, ’cause I really do think it’s gonna work. But, you know, as an aside…

Teja (36:58):

It’s like, you got, you know, people making millions of dollars and, you know, showing pictures of Lambos and jets. (Max: <Laugh>.) You know, there’s like…

Max (37:08):

Some of the profits are obscene and not really deserved. But I think a lot of the people who made the really huge money didn’t realize they were gonna, so it’s not so bad. (Teja: Yeah.) It’s the people who came after that sort of thing started happening that, you know, they were a little more, you know, if there was a way to like, sell their mothers into slavery for like, a few million dollars, they’d be doing it. Those sort of people. (Teja: Oh, for sure.) And no one’s, you know, made money digital before, and it’s brought some less scrupulous people into the industry.

Teja (37:51):

Yeah, it’s true. I mean, but that’s not a fault of, I think, this industry. It’s just like, I don’t know. There’s people with a certain rare mix of like, sociopathy and like, competence that can go and, you know, convince people to give them $20 million and then be like, “All right, guys. See ya.” You know? So, I dunno.

Max (38:17):

Yeah. Well, <unintelligible> at times.

Teja (38:24):

I mean, onto a lighter subject, so like <laugh>, tell us kind of what, you know, you guys…okay, by the way, on tea, are all of like, the product metaphors, like, are they tea related? You mentioned “steeping”.

Max (38:39):

There’s a few. (Teja: Okay.) I didn’t do it as much as I did it with Homebrew. With Homebrew, I looked at the general terminology people used in packaging, and it was terrible. (Teja: <Laugh>.) So I decided I needed to make a theme in order to just help people to understand. I wanted people to be able to very easily get into the project and like, I achieved it. So I used a lot of the same terminology with tea, because I’m not gonna make up new words just for the sake of it. So there is some; there is some. That was part of the reason for picking it. I was like, “Oh yeah, great.” Like, there’s a “brew” connection that we can name things off,  types of tea, and the methodology used for preparing it, so instruments and names for the process. I was like, “Oh, that’s great,” and then I haven’t used it <laugh>, but we use “steeping” in the protocol as the act of staking, ’cause we’re not a layer one chain, which means that really we shouldn’t call it “staking” with our chain. Staking happens at base, like Ethereum is now. It’s proof-of-stake system. So with us, it’s more like, positioning a token into a place, and then the contracts decide what happens once you put it there. So yeah, we’ve got our own words for it, but yeah, like, not too much this time.

Max (40:10):

Like, I think honestly, I’m a little guilty with how a lot of open source is always named so cutesy nowadays, ’cause part of the reason I picked the theme and a cute name like Homebrew is ’cause everything in open source at the time was named like, what it does. (Teja: Yeah <laugh>.) Everything was just so engineer-y? You know, there was no lightheartedness there. (Teja: Yeah.) And so I was like, “I’m gonna name it something completely different,” <laugh>. (Teja: Wow.) And then after that, people were a bit carried away I think, ’cause they saw what I did and they were like, “That’s fun.” Like, nowadays you go got things called completely ridiculous things, and so I feel kind of partly responsible for that. Right, sorry <laugh>.

Teja (40:57):

Well no, totally. My co-founder named like, this thing that he built “Zappa” after Frank Zappa. So it’s (Max: <Laugh>.) <laugh>, yeah. He loves Frank Zappa. So it just, you know, and the competitor to this product was called like, “Microservices”. That was just the name, so it’s like, you know <laugh>.

Max (41:17):

<Laugh>. One or the other. Yeah.

Teja (41:19):

Yeah, no, I mean, at our company, we love like, obviously the space cowboy, the western theme, bounties, shit like that. Like, we love, I mean like, that whole cowboy metaphor, it’s all <inaudible> so, yeah.

Max (41:33):

Well, you know, it’s good to do at a company. Like, [it] helps people understand what you’re doing, you know? It’s like, you’re drilling into their previous knowledge with the metaphors so they have an understanding about what to expect. Like, it doesn’t work at all if you bugger up the metaphors, so sometimes people do that.

Teja (41:56):

<Laugh>. That’s true. It just makes it more confusing. And I mean, honestly, I have found that it’s hard to maintain consistency, and alignment, and metaphor as you’re scaling a company, ’cause people like, wanna call things different shit, and it feels almost ridiculous to be like, “No, we call this a “bounty” in this company,” and they’re like, “Okay, fine.” So it’s just, it’s a weird thing to draw your line in the sand on.

Max (42:20):

No, it’s totally necessary. Like, you kind of have people talking about the same thing with different words, and (Teja: Yeah.) most people don’t wanna admit they don’t know what a word means, so they’ll just stay there quietly, not understanding, and then eventually you discover that they’re the same thing. I’ve had to do it at tea a few times. Like, “Hey, we already called this ‘this’. Don’t call…and I know it’s just a variable in this piece of code, but we’re calling it ‘that’.” So you stick with it. Like, don’t confuse things.

Teja (42:48):

Yeah. How much, so like, these days, are you spending a good amount of time programming or are…(Max: Yeah.) Okay.

Max (42:57):

Yep, yep. Still am, but I also have to be CEO, so like, my life’s kind of like, all work, no play, really. And that becomes stressful. I wouldn’t recommend it, but you know, like, I’m the visionary, basically. The company was my idea, so I need to build those fundamental pieces of what it is, and then I can step back, and getting there. The package manager, “tea cli”, we call it, it’s almost done, but I’ve been saying that for six months <laugh>. (Teja: <Laugh>.)But it really is almost done. You know, I do a lot less work on it now, and there’s not often very many back pulls, so it’s nice. We just recently realized that we’ve been talking about it wrong. Messaging wasn’t right, so I’ll be redoing all the docs, and all the ReadMe, and all the other stuff over the next few weeks. But the GUI <pronounced phonetically>, which is the compliment to the fee, right, for a long time after I quit working on hardware, I was like, “An app would be really nice.” So I always wanted do one. Super cool how we’ve integrated some of these web-only open source projects that usually don’t get any visibility, because there’s no way to really use them in a convenient fashion. Like, most of the ReadMe is like, seven instructions on how to get it running and like, some people do it, but not many, and then no one packages it. So we have this opportunity, and so we have. And in the next version like, Stable Diffusion web UI is like, the best stable future tool that there is, because the community, because of open source. Like, it’s the great shining example of what Open source can produce, but getting it installed like, there’s three hour YouTube videos about this, because people really want to use it, especially on Windows.

Max (44:47):

So we patched it up, and there’s one click install and use it in the app, just like an app store. It’s great. And once we’re working on Windows, which I keep saying it’s coming soon, and I’ve been saying for like, 10 months now, it’ll be great for all those, you know, like, there’s tons of people on Windows [who] use open source, but they don’t know it, because it’s all underneath. They’ve never used it like, front, and I love our graphical, the GUI <pronounced phonetically> app, because it’s making it possible for people who’ve never even really realized that there was all these treasures in open source that it’s right there and easy for them to get. (THE FRONTIER THEME FADES IN) 

Teja (45:29):

Awesome. Yeah, that’s sweet, man. Well, where can people find tea on the interwebs or find you personally? Do you want them to find you personally, or do you just want…?

Max (45:38):

<Laugh> I don’t really like being a personality anymore, but then like, I started this company where I am the figurehead of it. So, yeah. Find me personally, sure. I’m @mxcl on Twitter, and is our website.

Teja (45:54):

Cool. Awesome, man. Appreciate your time, Max. Thank you so much.

Max (45:58):

Thank you.

Faith, via previous recording (45:58):

Thanks for listening to the Frontier Podcast, powered by We drop two episodes per week, so if you like this episode, be sure to subscribe on your platform of choice, and come hang out with us again next week, and bring all your internet friends. If you have questions or recommendations, just shoot us a Twitter DM @theFrontierPod, and we’ll see you next week.