Episode 64

Travis Oliphant and Russell Pekrul on NumPy, Anaconda, and giving back with FairOSS


January 8th, 2021

39 mins 20 secs

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Special Guests

About this Episode


Eric Berry | Justin Dorfman | Alyssa Wright | Richard Littauer


Travis Oliphant | Russell Pekrul

Show Notes

Hello and welcome to Sustain! Today, we have two guests from OpenTeams in Austin, Travis Oliphant and Russell Pekrul. Travis is the CEO and Russell is the Program Manager and the Founder and Director of FairOSS. We learn all about what OpenTeams and FairOSS are and how they work. Also, Travis tells us about the non-profit he started called NumFOCUS. Other topics discussed are dependencies and how their values are assigned, NumPy and SciPy, and building relationships with companies, which Russell mentions there is a bit of a “chicken and egg” problem here. There is some incredible advice and fascinating stories shared today so go ahead and download this episode now!

  • [00:01:10] We find out what OpenTeams is and how it works. Travis also tells us when he wrote NumPy and SciPy and when he started OpenTeams.
  • [00:07:18] Travis tells us about a non-profit he started with a bunch of people called NumFOCUS so there could be a home for the fiscal sponsor for open source projects.
  • [00:09:24] Russell tells us what FairOSS is and how it works.
  • [00:11:32] Alyssa asks Russell how does he first see the dependencies and then how does he assign that value? He mentions BackYourStack as a starting point.
  • [00:13:00] Eric brings up one of the problems he’s found with trying to fund up open source is that it’s very difficult to solve the problem on more a grand scale. He wonders how Travis and Russell make the impact they want with the magnitude of problems they see. A key piece Travis brings up that they recognize is there’s a data gap and projects have to be participating. Alyssa wonders if projects are aware of their dependencies.
  • [00:17:22] Richard asks about the dependency graph that they are making. He wonders how do you go down the stack and look all the way at the base and how do you judge the usefulness of what dependencies really matter for what code matters for the business proposition? Richard also wonders if anyone has done equity stuff for open source maintainers.
  • [00:23:06] Alyssa is interested in learning more about how Travis and Russell are building the relationships with these companies and what we can do to help.
  • [00:26:35] Alyssa asks Travis and Russell to talk about why this, why now, with this being a time of economic contraction, why is this important? Also, why have they been seeing traction during what can be difficult times for a lot of companies?
  • [00:27:40] Eric asks if Travis can give an example of a project that he feels does that well, that doesn’t have to go through and do it twice, essentially.
  • [00:29:48] Alyssa brings up investments around open source start-ups and how they start with a commitment towards open source and once the investment happens there’s a pivot. She wonders if Travis could talk about how this type of sustainability is shifting that model of these investments. Travis tells a story about speaking to the Founder of SaltStack and how their views matched.
  • [00:34:03] We find out where you can learn more about FairOSS and follow them on this journey, invest, and join in.


  • [00:34:52] Justin’s spotlight is Curiefense, which extends Envoy proxy to protect all forms of web traffic.
  • [00:35:15] Alyssa’s spotlight is Pixel8.earth.
  • [00:36:06] Eric’s spotlight is OctoPrint.
  • [00:36:53] Richard’s spotlight is Michael Oliphant’s work.
  • [00:37:36] Russell’s spotlight is Conda.
  • [00:38:20] Travis’s spotlight is Matplotlib.


  • [00:03:25] “We were connecting and creating a social network long before the social networks started. That was the early days of social networks and it was addicting.”
  • [00:04:14] “New libraries are starting to be written on numarray and we had SciPy written on numeric and there was this fork in this flegging scientific community in Python.”
  • [00:21:18] “So that was a very exciting day. Actually, I remember I told my wife you know the problem I’ve been searching on for twenty years, I finally figured it out. I’ve been trying to figure out twenty years how to make this work, and I finally figured it out. I had to go start several companies and start a venture fund and get involved in finance and cap tables to really pull it off, but that got me excited. Now I also said, but we’re at the base of Mount Everest, like all we’ve got to do is climb to the top of this mountain and we’re there.”
  • [00:22:44] “So you basically have a company and its value is spread to all the values of the projects. You have a bunch of those, have a thousand of those, that each add incrementally the value of a project. Invert the matrix and every project now has a linear dependency on companies that effectively you created an index fund out of every project.”
  • [00:24:52] “The idea is if you can get open source contributors to recognize that they want to work only for companies that are participating people want to hire open source contributors. They’re some of the best people to bring into your company.”
  • [00:25:21] “We found that companies would absolutely sponsor PyData and the reason they would is because they’re trying to hire people. They wanted to hire the best developers and they would. So, they really didn’t care so much about the projects they started, but they wanted the people.”
  • [00:27:10] “Go make an open source project, then get somebody or connect with somebody who’s going to help you build a company that they’ll vest in and build something else. So, you basically have to do it twice.”
  • [00:28:34] “I’ve had the chance to work at companies large and small, go in and see that’s used to do x, and realized it’s added billions of dollars of value to a lot of work for the world. And yet, the same time NumPy struggled, not enough funding to maintain itself.”
  • [00:30:15] “I spoke to the founder of SaltStack that just got acquired by VMware. I spoke to him about his view and it was amazing how much it matched mine, in a sense that he recognized that open source is you build some of the value and you use it. The way you need to make money is to build something that uses it but isn’t the open source.”
  • [00:32:41] “It’s not you’re monetizing open source, you’re empowering, you’re sustaining open source, by selling and connecting the economic value to the functional value that’s there.”
  • [00:33:04] “There will still be challenges. I’m not naïve. Every new thing comes with a whole set of new challenges.”



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