Justin Kan is an American Internet entrepreneur and investor. He is the co-founder of live video platforms Justin.tv and TwitchTV, as well as the mobile social video application Socialcam. He is a partner at venture capital firm Y Combinator. His attempt to broadcast his entire life at Justin.tv popularized the term "lifecasting". He also contributes to the technology news site TechCrunch and co-founded Kiko Software, the first ajax based online calendar, with Emmett Shear. Kan graduated from Yale University in 2005 with degrees in physics and philosophy.
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I am Justin Kan, cofounder of Justin.tv and Twitch. I am now a partner at the seed stage venture fund Y Combinator. Recently, I launched a discovery site for electronic music called The Drop (http://thedrop.club). AMA!
I have started multiple startups including Kiko, Justin.tv, Socialcam, Twitch, Exec. I’ve also been a redditor since my friends Steve and Alexis launched the site in 2005 (10 years?!).
My newest project, The Drop, is a reddit-style electronic music discovery platform. Users can post tracks, community sourced moderators approve the songs, and then the community votes the music they like to the top. Come check us out and let us know what you think!
You can also find me on twitter: http://twitter.com/justinkan
Update: Thanks for the questions, Reddit! I had a lot of fun. Have to head out to do a talk at UC Berkeley now. Until next time..
What's your secret?
Stand next to people smarter than you are.
What do you think of the weird phenomenon that is twitch chat?
We've created a monster!
Where do you see the future of livestreaming headed?
More people making a living streaming. I think Twitch is just the start, you'll see other sites pop up serving different categories.
Do you have much say in things Twitch-related these days? And how hard was it to let JustinTV go? (assuming you had a say in that decision?)
Not for a while! I'm no longer involved since the acquisition last fall -- Emmett is running it and continuing to do awesome things.
I actually am not that sentimental and it wasn't that hard when we shuttered Justin.tv (although I wish I'd kept the domain!). I've always been the type to be more excited about what's next up.
I've heard rumours that your sole purpose for spending a decade working in tech was to build a platform for launching a successful voice acting career. Could you confirm if this is true or false?
True, although I've clearly been too distractible. Maybe the next site should be a booking site for voice actors...
What inspired you to create Twitch?
It was all my partner Emmett. We had been building Justin.tv for a few years, which started off as a reality tv show and turned into a general platform for live streaming ("youtube for live video"). Around the end of 2010, we were a small company (around 25 people) that reached a large audience (30m uniques a month) but we weren't growing any longer.
My cofounders Emmett, Kyle, Michael and I got together and brainstormed ideas for things to work on to continue to grow. Emmett's idea was the gaming section of Justin.tv -- Starcraft 2 had just come out and SC2 videos were the only things he wanted to watch. Honestly he had to fight an uphill battle to convince the rest of us. Luckily, he did, and we had a small team led by Emmett and Kevin Lin (our COO) start working on gaming, which in 6 months became a separate site they named Twitch.
After we started working on gaming, I started watching to try to understand what people liked about watching gaming. I am now addicted and watch 2-4 hours of hearthstone a day.
reply to you, apparently
Not sure how much hiring you do yourself, but what do you look for in employees that have just graduated...Would you consider High GPA's or viable work experience to be more important?
Since I'm investing now and not running a company currently, I don't do much hiring any more. However, I think the most important thing is what you've made: I look for engineers and designers who have created awesome stuff, even if they were just side projects while in school. I like working with people who want to build stuff!
Kappa or BibleThump?
Kappa all the way
Were there times when you ever felt that your ventures would fail? As a young business owner trying to expand my business, (currently shifting to selling my product in retail stores) I'm learning a lot yet somedays I find that I'm sinking so much of myself into it that there's not much time for living life..Having said that I love the work..it's just some days the climb seems steep. How did you keep going in these times ?
I've literally wanted to quit my startups every year I was working on them. Every year for 9 years.
This would usually happen during the summer, when most of my friends would be posting the awesome trips they were taking, BBQs they were having, and other fun shit they were doing on Facebook. I remember sitting at my computer in the dark thinking "wtf am I working so hard on this thing that is only kind of working?!"
Life is a trade off and there is no right answer. Lots of people are happy working at a job and living stress-free, and startups are absolutely the opposite of that. If you want to have a successful startup, you have to be willing to grind it out. But you should know that everyone goes through those moments of doubt. There is a light at the end of the tunnel.
Hi Justin, Huge fan. How do you build a network in Silicon Valley? Where do you start? Knowing the right people seems to be key in finding great devs, VCs etc.
When we got here, we knew no one. I suggest just coming out here and introducing yourself to people. We went to meetups, made friends with other entrepreneurs who were at our stage, and generally tried to be sociable and helpful. One thing we did was host a weekly dinner where we invited random people in the tech scene at our shitty apartment; one of the attendees one week ended up introducing us to the VC that led our series A investment of $2m!
More an observation than a question...
Theres too much junk. Burger King has a mobile app. McDonalds has a twitter account. The accountant office down the street has a facebook page. I get linkedin requests from people in India (I live in Kansas).
None of this is necessary to the core of any of these businesses. Its fluff, its complete crap. It adds to the overhead and subtracts from resources. That, and theres a huge number of 20-somethings that think they want to get a job related to building sites / apps like those. I think its because, like the businesses above, they think thats what theyre supposed to do.
Where are the industrial jobs? For example, one of my favorite clients needed a web based inventory tracking / ordering system for multiple warehouses. I made BANK on that. And it was far simpler than any social media shenanigans. Another was a medium sized university that just needed a course catalog scraped and made interactive.
Wonder what your thoughts on this are.
Building non-sexy software is a HUGE opportunity. I'm thinking software in construction, b2b, oil and gas, etc. Solve problems 20 something year old programmers don't even know exist.
I want to fund these companies
How did you feel about Twitch plays Pokemon?
What's not to love? I watched a lot of it.
Do you use an attorney to do your incorporation and operating agreement? Do you fuss over those details when you're starting up or do you primarily leave them for an attorney to hash out?
How did your licensing end up working for your new project for music? I think turntable.fm and piki.fm went belly up due to royalties despite being awesome projects.
I dig your shades.
You can incorporate your business easily and at low cost using a tool like Clerky (https://www.clerky.com/ disclosure: these guys were funded by Y Combinator).
Right now The Drop uses Soundcloud's API for streaming only.
Thanks! Just got the shades (they are Bathing Apes). http://imgur.com/tNezwZX
thedrop looks really cool, except for that colour scheme!
I wanted colors that looked turnt
What is your favorite band to listen to while gaming on Twitch?
What do you look for in a startup when you are considering investing?
I've invested in some great startups like Tilt, Zenefits and Bellabeat. To me, it's all about finding founders who have a relentless drive to create something and refuse to give up. Most startups are a 7 year+ journey (Justin.tv -> Twitch -> selling to Amazon took 8 years). You want to find people who are in it for the long haul.
Also being in a really big market helps ensure that when you do win, you win big.
That's what I've heard. It's less about the idea and more about the team.
A lot of people come to me with their ideas and want me to build them in exchange for a minority share in the equity. What would you say to those people?
Thoughts on the viability of websites using the new top level domains (like .club)? (Given that many others are using them for generating tons of spam -- many businesses I interact with have already blackholed all emails coming from those domains.)
How was justin.tv not sued out of existence? (Did the numerous streams of broadcast/cable network cause issues/lawsuits?)
When we launched Justin.tv, everyone we would tell about it would say "justin.tv? what's the url, justin.tv.com?". I promised myself I'd never launch another site that wasn't a .com again. Clearly that lesson didn't stick!
Justin.tv was DMCA compliant; any content rights holder could take down streams from the site.
Hey Justin, I met you last year while hacking at YHack at Yale and really enjoyed hearing you speak! Two questions:
1) Did you enjoy the hackathon?
2) What's your favorite part of going to/speaking at events like these?
I enjoyed it! I wasn't able to be there for too long unfortunately due to other commitments.
My goal in going to events is always just to share my experiences with startups, in the hopes that I can help convince someone else to start something.
Yay philosophy majors!
we are useful after all!
Hey Justin, I am cofounder of a new livestreaming company focused on coding (livecoding.tv)
What would you say was the biggest mistake you made when starting up Justin.tv/Twitch?
Mistakes were too numerous to count, however, among the big ones: hiring the wrong people (some times), spending too much money, not focusing enough, not getting feedback from customers.
Although you have had an affinity for business and operating startups since your college days, you were (I believe) a physics & philosophy major in college. When you got yourself into the internet startup scene, how steep was the learning curve? (i.e., what coding experience did you have; what were your expectations and how did they contrast with the reality of it?)
I'm pretty interested in cutting my teeth in the tech startup game, and I figured you're perfect to get insight from.
I was a physics and philosophy major in college.
The key is just to get started. If you have an idea, just start hacking it up. Eventually, if you keep working on it, you'll make something useful.
Hey Justin, if you're looking for trap, you might wanna check http://trapped.io ☺
On topic: great job with The Drop!
that's a cool site, thanks!
What do you feel about the controversies about streamers and partial nudity? i.e. Cleavage and bare chested guys. Also do you have a system in place to promote smaller streams? I see a lot of the same "top" streamers and I was curious.
I no longer have anything to do with policy on twitch. However, I can attest that I like partial nudity. But I understand why those policies exist: lots of kids use the site all the time.
+1, would watch.
There are lots of awesome alternatives popping up. I've been checking out Meerkat (it's an iphone app on the app store). Check it out (I have no involvement other than as a user).
Who is your favorite streamer?
Trump, Kripp, Kolento
When looking for startups to invest in do you look more favorably on projects grounded in catering to existing markets or something unique and original? For instance, would medical office software be a better candidate than a new social media experience?
I think it is hard to judge whether new social media experiences will work. For example: a few years ago, one of my friends showed me a new bookmarking site he had been working on. I thought it was stupid and wouldn't work. It was Pinterest.
That taught me you should invest in people first and foremost, and not ideas.
How did the name twitch come about?
Emmett thought of it; he named it after Twitch game play: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Twitch_gameplay
I'm sure you have been around many many high level CEO's, entrepreneurs, and all-around successful people in your life, not to mention being one yourself. What is one trait they all have in common?
relentless drive to blow down barriers
Do you look at Meerkat and think "been there, done that?"
And do you get a cut of all of iJustine's work, since you helped make her when you took your vacation?
I don't get royalties from iJustine, sadly. We should have made a contract!
I've tweeted a bit about meerkat; we had lots of problems making that model work (since most people don't have enough followers to get live viewers in the window that want to be live), but they seem to be making it work -- maybe they will figure out what we couldn't...
trumpW. But no seriously, do you play Hearthstone a lot as well? And what do you think about the fact that a lot of streamers are promoting some shady websites that are also sponsoring them (G2A.com, Ebettle, etc.)?
I guess streamers gotta eat :/
I play HS but not as much since my decks blowz. I usually just watch now.
What is your view on bitcoin and cryptocurrency. Do you see it gaining mainstream adoption?
How many crypto related startups are there in YCombinator?
Edit: spelling. F**cking autocorrect.
At YC we've invested in a lot of btc startups, including Coinbase. I think there is high potential but we're still moving to see what the killer use cases are outside of speculation.
Would you say you have a kan do attitude?
i would say that.
Twitch is such a hugely growing medium on the Internet. Is it where you ever thought it could be?
It's way beyond where we thought it could be in the beginning! I remember we set an initial goal of 15% monthly growth for the first year, and 10% / month for the second year. If we accomplished that, we would be the biggest gaming video site online (bigger than gametrailer!). I think that was around 20m monthly uniques. Most of the debate around whether we should pursue Twitch was around whether it was a big enough opportunity to pursue.
Twitch just hit 100m viewers / month...
Wars or Trek?
What are your long-term plans for The Drop?
Find dope music :D
Haha seriously I just wanted to make something I used myself every day. The Drop sits somewhere between Soundcloud (where all the new EDM exists but I can't easily discover new tracks from DJs I don't already know about) and a more general music discovery service like Pandora. I originally created it because I wanted to discover more trap, but unfortunately the front page is constantly flooded with Tropical House (the tyranny of the majority at work).
Obviously you made it big with Twitch / Justin.tv (and others), on top of that you were already friends with the people who founded reddit. How do you determine which ideas are likely to be successful?.
Are there a lot of ideas out there that people simply aren't taking advantage of?
There are infinite ideas that can be big startups. Well, maybe not infinity but lots and lots.
The best way to find them is to build something that you yourself want and care about. That's how you will know if you are making a good product: if you use it and it solves your own problem.
If I was a new entrepreneur and I wanted to make lots of money and ride a big wave, I might move to SE Asia or India (places where there's a large middle class wealth creation happening, and a huge smart phone adoption), and build an online service there.
As someone who has idea, but no money or means to do anything by myself, what should I do? It seems easy to try ideas when you have money, or friends that like to help, but when you're alone it is difficult.
we had no money when we started kiko. we raised 12k from YC in the beginning in 05. if you dont have money, make something that makes money. Sophia Amoruso started nasty gal selling clothing on ebay: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nasty_Gal
Evening. Thanks for including Grime on The Drop. I was surprised to see it since it's generally left out. Are you a fan of Grime?
...I keep getting badges :-)
What are your favorite subreddits and which is the most niche you use on a regular basis?
How did you convince and gain the first users for your startups?
mostly its begging friends and family to try it out