Was Starting Twitch a Mistake?

Everything you missed from the Twitch co-founders reunion

Missed this week’s episode? It’s a banger - join Justin, Michael Seibel, Emmett Shear and Kyle Vogt (the Twitch founders) as they reflect on the early days of Twitch, reminisce about the old days of Justin.tv, their greatest challenges, fears, and how they learned to value each other as team members.

Here are some of our favorite moments:

Untold Stories: Unbanning a Justin.tv user

One Saturday afternoon in 2010, the Justin.tv co-founders were congregated in Michael’s apartment, desperately brainstorming how to sell their company to Google. The meeting was lined up- the only thing left to do was prepare adequately and sound smart at the meeting.

In the midst of the session, Justin received a phone call from an unlisted number. The caller turned out to be a Justin.tv user, who had recently been banned.

His username? anal_lube_invader

“I remember putting him on speakerphone at that point…and I remember saying, ‘you sound like a thirty-year old man…Your name on the site is anal_lube_invader and you’re calling me on Saturday afternoon to get unbanned.

‘If you just say that out loud, I’ll actually unban you.’ - Justin

And so the legend of anal_lube_invader lived to see another day.

Emmett’s advice for founders: ‘Build bad things quickly and frequently’

In the early days of Twitch, the team was obsessed with funnel analysis. From the beginning, they measured a combination of unique daily visitors with hours of video watched. The only problem was that there was no reliable or accurate way to measure either of those numbers.

Watch-time metrics were skewed by page refreshes, which in turn, were consequences of server issues. When the team fixed those issues, views from page refreshes went down. This highlighted a glaring incompetence in usage measuring.

Emmett learned a vital lesson: build things quickly and frequently, even if they are bad. Doing so will clearly highlight weaknesses and guide you towards the things you need to be working on.

“If you just keep moving, just keep doing dumb things, then doing another dumb thing, and then another dumb thing fast, it can actually work.” - Emmett

Don’t call it a comeback

In the 2016 NBA Finals, Lebron James led the Cleveland Cavaliers to the greatest comeback of all time. They won the title by erasing a 3-1 deficit (for the first time in NBA history) to the Golden State Warriors, who themselves had just broken the record for most wins in a regular season (73-9).

The second greatest comeback of all time occurred in 2009. Twitch went from burning $250,000/month and deeply in debt, to generating over $1 million in profit in 10 months.

In their desperation, they quickly implemented any method of monetization they could get their hands on. They managed this by cramming ads into every available corner of the site, including inventing those pesky auto-play ads before every video (so you can thank them for that).

“It’s amazing where scarcity will lead you” - Kyle

Team Dynamics

It might be surprising to hear that the Twitch founding team was highly dysfunctional as decision makers. As a four person leadership team, they managed to get through running the company despite the dysfunction in interpersonal dynamics and practices.

Despite these differences, they were united by respect and trust within each other. There was also an element of united competitiveness, in which they had set themselves up in a position where they were unwilling to admit defeat. This was the common ground that kept them going through even the toughest times together.

“I'm not going to argue that we were anything but massively dysfunctional, but at no point was I afraid that I would lose my friendship over any of that dysfunction…we all respected each other and all had our own areas of ownership.” - Emmett

The Why

One of the biggest learnings Justin got from the process of building Twitch was the realization that he had constructed a rigid identity for himself as a leader and entrepreneur.

With this identity, he imposed expectations of himself to become a successful founder and CEO of a large company - a role which he felt little to no true passion for. Instead, he discovered the joys of evangelizing people, new ideas, creating, and getting people excited. This is where he discovered his true fulfillment in seed investing and creating content.

Twitter avatar for @justinkanJustin Kan @justinkan
When we started
justin.tv back in 2007, I had no idea what it would evolve into. Nearly 15 years later, I sat down with the OG @Twitch founders for a special reunion. Here are some of my favorite moments:

Let us know your favorite parts from the conversation!