GitHub CEO: We're helping software eat the world

CEO Tom Preston-Werner explains the appeal of his cloud-based code repository, why Andreessen Horowitz invested $100 million, and what 'optimizing for happiness' really means

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One of the big reasons that we took the investment from Andreessen Horowitz is its belief in software as the future of the world. You've probably seen Marc Andreessen's article, "Why software is eating the world." That was really big for us. We're a company that allows software to be written more efficiently with greater developer happiness. And they believe that so much, and we believe our side so much, that you look and you say: What if we were to combine our forces, where we're building the software that's going to allow software to eat the world even more voraciously, more quickly, by being able to put more resources into things?

Knorr: I know Andreessen believes software is eating everything. I want to hear more of how you see the future.

Preston-Werner: The future of software?

Knorr: Yeah.

Preston-Werner: The future of the world?

Knorr: Yeah, right. Because you're talking about laying out what is potentially a huge infrastructure, an accelerator for the software-defined world.

Preston-Werner: The reason that people write software is to make a difference in the world, to change something, hopefully for the better. If we provide tools for people to create software better, faster, and with greater happiness, then we can hasten the arrival of the future, and that is essentially what the "software is eating the world" thing is saying.

Software is infiltrating basically everything that is done. You can point at anything in this room, and I can trace back how technology and software specifically allowed that thing to come into existence. If that's true and we can make it easier to write that software and make the future happen faster, then we've done something really powerful for the world. And people will pay because the future is going to be about who can write the best software first, essentially, to get that business advantage. So companies have a huge incentive to use the best tools. It's like -- are you going to use a power saw or are you going to use a hand saw? Well, if you have a power saw available to you and the pricing is reasonable, then you're going to buy the power saw. We want to be the power saw.

Knorr: The investment was characterized as a partnership. Would you agree with that?

Preston-Werner: Yeah, absolutely.

Knorr: What do the two partners do? It's an unusual sort of partnership, isn't it?

Preston-Werner: We didn't need money. We didn't have to raise money, so automatically you set the stage for it being more of a partnership than early-stage companies that raise money because it's the only way they can exist. What we did was grow the company to a place where we would only take money from an outside investor if they were going to be truly a partner and help us succeed. They want to help us succeed because it's in their best interest. We want to help them succeed because it's in our best interest. We both benefit from that relationship.

When Andreessen Horowitz came in to GitHub, it was to help us succeed in the direction that we're already going. That was the understanding. And you can see from their writing and their commitment to charity and just through their service-oriented package that they deliver, they have a bunch of people within Andreessen Horowitz that can help you do various things. They're building a different kind of venture firm, just like we're building a different kind of company. They're not just investment bankers.

Knorr: It seems like there's a kind of an underlying philosophy at work here that ties in to GitHub's company culture, which is kind of unique. Would you like to describe that a little bit? I mean you're CEO, yet not really CEO...

Preston-Werner: There are very few titles. CEO is one title we have because it's useful for communicating with the external world.

Knorr: Certainly with enterprises.

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