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Your Much Loved macOS Linux Terminal Needs An Upgrade | Zach Lloyd, Warp

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If you are a developer, you probably live in a terminal. This is one of the most powerful and widely used tools. However, when was the last time you saw a new feature or functionality added to the terminal? 600 BC? That’s going to change.

Warp, founded in 2020, focuses on rebuilding products that developers use every day. Their first product to go to market is a reinvention of the terminal, which has not been redesigned much in the past 40 years. The current tool is difficult to learn and use, particularly for new developers. Warp aims to change that, making it more collaborative and boosting developer productivity.

“We see a big opportunity, if we can make a version of the terminal that brings its power to a much wider range of developers to do something that is meaningful and impacts developer productivity,” says Zach Lloyd, Founder and CEO of Warp, on this episode of TFiR Let’s Talk.

Key highlights from this video interview are:

  • Why does Lloyd feel that the terminal is due for an ‘upgrade’ and makeover?
  • Terminal is where all team members work; however, it doesn’t have any collaborative feature. Lloyd wants to change that and enable a much better collaboration within and among team members.
  • Lloyd discusses the key differences between their reinvented terminal and the normal one and what the main features of their product are.
  • He also talks about the business model around Warp.

Connect with Zach Lloyd (LinkedIn, Twitter)

The summary of the show is written by Emily Nicholls.

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Here is the automated and unedited transcript of the recording. Please note that the transcript has not been edited or reviewed. 

Swapnil Bhartiya: Hi, this is your host, Swapnil Bhartiya and welcome to another episode of TFiR Let’s Talk. And today we have with us, Zach Lloyd, founder and CEO of Warp. Zach, it’s great to have you on the show.

Zach Lloyd: Thank you so much for having me. I’m excited to be here.

Swapnil Bhartiya: Zach, since this is the first time we’re talking to each other, I would love to know a bit about the company itself and also, since you’re a founder, tell us what is the company all about and why you created it.

Zach Lloyd: Sure. So basics of the company are we started in June 2020. The company’s name is Warp. The mission of the company is actually pretty broad. So it’s to elevate, develop our productivity. And specifically what we’re focused on are rebuilding products that developers use everyday.

And the product that we’re going to market with is a reinvention of the terminal. So the terminal is, it’s kind of unique. It’s one of the two tools where if you walk by any developer’s desk, they’re going to have a terminal open. They’ll probably also have some sort of code editor open. As a tool, it’s something that is hard to use. It’s hard to learn. It’s intimidating for new developers. It’s something that really hasn’t changed much at all in the last, I don’t know, 40 years. And so we see a big opportunity if we can make a version of the terminal that brings it’s power to a much wider range of developers to do something that meaningful impacts developer productivity. And so that’s the root of the mission.

The other big thing that we’re trying to do with the terminal is to make it collaborative and make it work for teams. And that ties in a bit with my background. So I used to be a Principal Engineer at Google. I used to lead engineering on the Google Docs. And that experience made me just believe very deeply that if you take any kind of application that is local, desktop software and connect it to the Cloud, make it work for teams, there’s going to be a big productivity boost. So those were the main product ideas that we have and what we’re working on building right now.

Swapnil Bhartiya: So when you’re trying to reinvent terminal, what kind of use case are you looking at? What kind of users are you looking at?

Zach Lloyd: Great question. So terminal is … It’s kind of like a Swiss Army Knife for developers. The things that are really powerful about it, why should people even use it, just to be clear. I think it’s an interesting question. So text-based apps are still, and probably always will be, the easiest apps to write. So for instance, it’s just much easier to write an app that has a text-based interface than it is to write one that has a gooey. And so if you look at apps that are created, developers making an app, probably the first thing they’re going to build is a CLI.

If you look at actually what Docker is, for instance, CLI, it’s basically running a bunch of text-based apps packaged into something that can be pushed to a server. And so most of the internet is actually running text-based apps. A lot of debugging activities and activities around configuring clouds if you’re using AWS or G Cloud, are going to be done through their CLIs. If you’re working with any kind of text files or anything like that, the text-based interface is going to be better.

There’s inherent advantages to speed in terms of if you could everything through text, through the keyboard, that is fitting for developers. There’s inherent advantages in terms of programmability. So it’s much easier to script things that are text-based than it is to script something that’s a gooey. If you’re using the Linux Shell or Unix Shell which is the most common one, these apps are all kind of composable. So it’s like you can easily take the output of one app and put it in another.

And so what you see is the terminal is very horizontal and used for all sorts of things. It’s used for building code. It’s used for debugging code, [inaudible 00:04:08] code, configuring the Cloud. In all of those use cases, it has real advantages over other interfaces. So that’s why I think the terminal is still important.

Who’s going to be using it the most is an interesting question. I would say probably the heaviest terminal users of people who interact with a lot of back-end services and Cloud services and things that have a lot of CLIs, people who do DevOps, people who do incident response like SREs, are typically using a lot of command-line tools. But even people who do web development are probably still building and running their code through the terminal and they’re probably running their tests through the terminal. And so it’s pretty ubiquitous. Yeah, does that make sense? It’s like what I think the general use cases are.

Swapnil Bhartiya: What kind of adoption, what kind of usage you have seen of your technologies and products?

Zach Lloyd: Yeah. In the private beta, we were having thousands of users using it every day. We’re now well-exceeded that in the public beta. And so we have, basically where I would say we’re at with the product lifecycle is we have a lot of developers who use it as their daily driver. It’s mostly suited right now for individual use cases. Like we haven’t build out much of the team and collaboration portion of the roadmap yet. And the value prop to a user today is something like, “Hey, you can download Warp. You can use it and immediately be more productive for your current workflows because a bunch of the way that the app works is, it really streamlines the way input works and the way output works in the terminal.”

And sort of the next phase of product development for us is there’s two parts. One part is fixing … I’ve said making the product high-quality enough that we feel comfortable exiting the beta and just making it generally available. And the second part is really extending the product features into things that are more around leveraging the Cloud and making it work for teams. And so that’s the focus right now.

Swapnil Bhartiya: And initially when we started talking about, you were looking at solving your two, that’s what I gathered, when we [inaudible 00:06:27] to make terminal, refine it. And second was collaborating feature. Talk about the collaboration part. First of all, what is missing? Why you felt that it was missing? And then how you want to pack that gap.

Zach Lloyd: So the collaboration part is really interesting. So I think the obvious way that people think about collaboration a lot is you have something like Google Doc style where you have multiple people in one thing at the same time. And I do think that’s a use case for the terminal, specifically like, “Hey …” People are working more and more remotely. So it’s very hard to look over someone’s shoulder these days. A lot of the way that terminal knowledge has been passed on in the past, you go sit next to some more advanced developer and he or she shows you how to do something.

So there is a use case for, hey, let’s have one person in a terminal session share a link to another, have them join, have them have a native view, have them be able to actually guide you through doing things, whether it’s onboarding or you about to run some command that’s dangerous. Can they review it or check it off. So that’s one use case.

The other use case is what I think is really interesting for the terminal is a more asynchronous type of collaboration. And so this is can you, for instance, share commands amongst a team? So it’s like if you’re running some commands in the terminal, it’s pretty likely that other people on your team, at some point at least, are going to want to have access to those. Can you document those commands better? So things that typically live in Wikis or Confluence or Notion, can you bring that directly into the terminal so that it stays live and it’s more easily sharable? Can you share settings so that when someone new joins your team and they’re running a project through the terminal, they have all the environment variables set and they have all of the accounts they need to be logged into?

So those are the two main flavors of collaboration and teamwork that I think are missing right now because the app is just a piece of local, desktop software that doesn’t … You can work around this stuff and have hacks and people do try to share and collaborate outside of the tool. I just think the tool will be much more powerful when it natively supports these collaboration features.

Swapnil Bhartiya: Since terminal runs locally, of course, you can also run it on the Cloud even [inaudible 00:08:49] there locally. Is there any specific platform or environment that you’re targeting with [inaudible 00:08:54] or it doesn’t matter?

Zach Lloyd: So we’ve started with Mac, primarily because we all use Mac. The next platform that we’re going to support is probably the web, actually. And the use case there is something like a Cloud Shell. Meaning if you look at how do you connect to a machine that’s running in production or how do you connect to a remote development environment, having Warp be able to do that through a web browser. And so if G Cloud or AWS and [inaudible 00:09:25] all have some version of this but it’s not great. I think we can have a much better version without Shell. The platform that our users actually want most is Linux. So we will build that and probably the final thing that we’ll build is Windows which … I think is interesting use case but most of the server infrastructure for the biggest internet sites are all serve Linux-based at this point. So we’re prioritizing those types of terminal environments first.

Swapnil Bhartiya: How much of your technologies are open source? Do you folks do any open source at all?

Zach Lloyd: So it’s a great question. Right now, we have a few extension points to Warp that are open source repos. So for instance, if you want to write something, we have this feature called Workflows where it’s like you can write a commonly used command and document it and submit it to our Workflows repo and then it will actually shift in Warp. So it’s like one of our first extension points.

We have Beaming is an extension point that’s open source. The core client code is not open source right now. I think it’s … I don’t want to publicly commit to it but it’s probable, I would say, that we will fully open source it. We will at least open source further parts of it. I think it … Probably being open source for us is aligns with our actual business goals where companies will probably feel more comfortable if they can see and audit code. We’re interested in what sort of community contributions could we get if people are building on top of our ecosystem. I think there’s advantages for us to be open source.

The code base though is not ready for it and there’s also a cost, I think, to us, to maintain and open source repo and community [inaudible 00:11:10] for the core thing and so we haven’t done it yet. I think it’s likely that we’ll do it. I don’t know the exact timing.

Swapnil Bhartiya: Can you also tell how old the company is?

Zach Lloyd: Yeah. So the company’s a little less than two years old. Started in June 2020. We raised the seed round then and then we raised a series A in 2021. And so, yeah, we’ve been growing and building our initial product over the past two years. And we’ve moved from a private beta phase to a public beta, actually just a couple of weeks ago.

Swapnil Bhartiya: Talk about the business around Warp? What kind of business you’re building around the company work and the product you have.

Zach Lloyd: Business that we’re trying to build is an enterprise business where companies are buying Warp for their developers because we’ve proven to those companies that development teams that use Warp are more productive, they’re more collaborative. It’s easier to onboard engineers. There’s also, I think, a value prop around incident management. And so making the terminal a very good tool for teams that are doing firefighting or managing outages.

And there’s also a value prop around securing the terminal. So it’s like right now, people will have all sorts of very sensitive information flowing through it. They’ll be pasting API keys. And so what we want to do is build something where not individuals pay for it, so it’s much more of a strategy of let’s build something that developers love individually that they can use for free. And then layer on features that are around collaboration that companies would pay for. Kind of similar to Figma or Notion or even if you’re using GitHub as a base user, you use it for free. So it’s a bottom-up product like work strategy.

Swapnil Bhartiya: If I ask you now that you talked about the company, what does your product look like?

Zach Lloyd: Yeah. So the product today is a terminal. So it’s something that you would use in place of the native terminal app that ships with your computer or if you’re using iTerm of different terminal, use it in place of that.

The big differences in the product right now are the way that input and output work in terminal. So for output, you can imagine it working much more like a notebook, so like a data notebook. Where basically, when you run Warp and you run a command, we group the output of the command with it’s input and you get a sequence of commands in the terminal. And the nice thing about that is anything you do in the terminal is sharable. Like basic things like copy-paste work out of the box. You can search just within the output of one command. You can rerun it. So that’s one big difference.

The other big difference is the way that input works in Warp compared to a normal terminal. So in a normal terminal, input’s very weird. Things like clicking to put the cursor some place and typing don’t work. If you highlight text and hit delete it doesn’t work. In Warp though, it works just like you’re using the S-CODE or something like that. So it’s a very intuitive, normal editing experience. We make it super easy to enter commands. So we give you like … We ship with command completions. We ship with autosuggestions. We ship with a feature that actually will use AI to help you generate commands as you type so you don’t have to leave the terminal to figure out how to do something. We make it easy to save a command and share it with your team. So those today are the basic differentiating features of Warp.

Swapnil Bhartiya: Zach, thank you so much for taking time out today and of course talk about Warp and also talk about a problem that most of us don’t even think about and we just take it for granted, right? It’s a terminal. It does what I want it to do and that’s it. But the way you look at it or way you explain how it can be improved, especially that collaborative feature, those are incredible. So thanks for sharing those insights and I would love to have you back on the show. Maybe we can do demos at some point, features or … So thanks for time today.

Zach Lloyd: That would be awesome, I’d love to do that. Thank you so much for having me. I really appreciate you taking the time.

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