A young startup plans to transform the command line interface (CLI) into something a little more suited to the modern age – something a little more glamorous.
Charm is a company founded four years ago by a former engineer from Apple, Last.fm and TweetDeck Toby Padillanext to Christian Rocha who was previously head of voice at Instant acquisition Zenly. The duo formed Charm to power next-generation CLIs with tools to improve their visual appearance, while adding features like the ability to display text from documents and even store data like user profiles. And all this with an underlying open source philosophy.
Charm had previously raised around $4 million in funding spread across various angel and seed funding rounds, and now the company is adding another $6 million to its coffers with Google’s venture capital fund, Gradient Ventures, in head, backed by Cavalry Ventures, Fuel Capital, Firestreak, and a host of angel backers.
Chain of command
The command line has long served as a powerful way for developers to interact with the operating system using simple text commands. Although the graphical user interface (GUI) has grown in popularity, CLIs remain popular because they provide more flexibility and speed to developers, while consuming fewer system resources than GUIs.
“Most developers will use a combination of CLI and GUI tools – the CLI gives developers the ability to compose commands and quickly create solutions to complex problems, where GUIs are limited to solving the small set of cases of use for which they have been specially designed.” Padilla explained to TechCrunch.
“GUIs can be useful for initial feature discovery,” Padilla continued. “When you have a toolbar with icons, it’s easier to see how a program works compared to something like a large set of command line indicators.”
So while CLIs provide power and flexibility, GUIs provide usability – and Charm strives to bring the best of these worlds together. For example, Charm developed the Go framework Bubble tea for creating terminal applications with some built-in GUI goodness, as well as support for mouse control.
“We see TUIs (text-based user interfaces) powered by Bubble Tea as a good way to bring GUI discoverability to the command line,” Padilla said.
But the company has developed all kinds of tools to bring more functionality to the command line, including VHS to help developers record screencasts of command-line applications for demos and README files; And Popularwhich involves sending emails (filled with attachments) from the command line.
For Pop, Charm partnered with another Gradient Ventures portfolio company called Resend, a developer-focused messaging platform. And by the way, Zeno Rocha, CEO of Resend, also invested in Charm.
Then there is Modsbilled as “AI for the command line,” which supports large language models (LLMs) like OpenAI and the open source alternative LocalAI.
For example, a developer could pipe the contents of a code file to Mods and ask it to “refactor” the code and save the output to a new file.
“We found that LLM-based AI models produced very good markdown, so we wanted to create a simple tool that worked with OpenAI and LocalAI models for use in order pipelines,” Padilla said.
Show me the money
In terms of business model, Charm is working on a business plan which is currently in something close to private beta, although Padilla notes that it’s already being adopted by developers at some fairly large companies, including Amazon’s AWS, Shopify, Nvidia, GitHub, and others.
Today, Charm boasts some eight full-time employees spread across the United States, Canada, Brazil, and Germany, and with an additional $6 million in the bank, the startup is well-funded to double its recent adoption and add new features to “customize, augment and improve the CLI experience for thousands of developers.
Charm isn’t the only company looking to boost the command line – in 2019, Microsoft launched a new terminal with support for emojis, Unicode and East Asian fonts. And then there’s the former Y Combinator (YC) figwho developed an autocomplete feature for the command line, leading the powerful Amazon will intervene to buy the startup.
So it’s clear that there are attempts from multiple angles to bring the humble CLI into the modern era.
“The command-line interface is the gateway for all builders, but the shell and shell scripts haven’t been improved much since their introduction in the 1970s,” Padilla said. “We will be rolling out the next generation of our platform on both the frontend and backend. We will also work on sustainable development of open source software and ethical monetization.