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Video Streaming For and By the Users: Justin Kan, Founder of justin.tv Speaks about the Progression from the Aha-moment

Justin admits that without co-founders Emmett Shear, Michael Seibel and Kyle Vogt, he doesn’t think he would have had the willpower to start such a company. Having a team that gets along so well and shares the same vision represent tangible success factors for which Justin is thankful. They step up and share the work with comforting reliability, even in the down-cycles of the company.

Justin and Emmett grew up together in Seattle and maintained friendship through their college years at Yale. Upon graduation they started Kiko, a web calendar, working on it for about a year and receiving roughly $50,000 in investment capital when Google Calendar was released and took over the market. To exit that project, they did what most companies would never consider: putting it up for sale on eBay. “We had no idea at the time what would happen,” Justin admitted. While expecting to receive little more than the amount invested, they had $258,000 upon the auction’s end, and were ecstatic and surprised.

Justin’s interest in technology is a stretch from his education. He and Emmett had thought their web-calendar idea had potential as a company, but he admitted that they “had no idea how that process would even work.” An email from Y-Combinator-a current investor in justin.tv-about a boot camp-style program that taught techies about creating businesses online around technology found its way to Justin. “That experience was what enabled us to know that you could even have a start-up, and that we could do it.” Little did Justin know, that brief email would eventually change his career direction.

Justin.tv evolved from what started as an online reality-TV show they called a ‘lifecast,’ that consisted of Justin with a live broadcast camera strapped to his head. They started filming in October 2006 and launched the first version of their concept by March of 2007. Viewers flocked to this ‘lifecast’ and some even called it addictive. The website’s most prominent feedback was from viewers asking how to create their own shows and post live video content online. That is when the team decided they weren’t going to be as successful as producers of different shows as they would be as technologists. They went from content producers to creating a website that fosters a community with user contributions.

Live video streaming doesn’t literally mean ‘live,’ but refers to broadcasts that occur synchronously so that viewers are watching the same content at the same time. This creates interconnectivity that leads to a strong feeling of community with the use of a chat feature. The team created a platform to make live streaming of personal content available and easy to use, which the company continues to focus upon.

The funding for justin.tv came from three rounds, with seed money mostly from Y-Combinator, who was fairly easy to work with as they were already familiar with the team as they invested in Kiko. During the angel round, they had the advantage of a demo of Justin walking around the city, which stimulated investors’ interest. Venture capitalists came after they launched the justin.tv website while working on creating the platform. Their success in that round was partially due to the collaborative buzz about Justin-TV from the Today Show, MTV and countless written articles. The founders consider Paul Graham-among those initial investors and founder of Y-Combinator-an influential role model. Justin explains that every time they go to him for advice, they come away inspired to keep building the company and working hard to reach their goals. 

Justin clearly recalls the exact moment he realized that the website might truly be successful: a Saturday in March of 2008 when the website received a million page-views. It wasn’t until then that they felt, “Wow, this is actually a significant amount of people on the site.” Justin.tv now receives over 25 million daily views and growing, yet the founders still worry that those numbers will start to plateau. They have gained significant experience and insight, such as discovering that they wasted much money on consultants. They also learned the hard way how to negotiate contracts successfully, and are still figuring out how to better work with people off-site; they find it difficult to communicate exactly what they want and need.

Justin is proud of the website’s breadth, sometimes pushing 177 gigabytes of video bandwidth. To put that into perspective, a single gigabyte can be compared to almost 900,000 pages of text. It’s extremely impressive to know that their team started just a few years out of college without much experience. Justin explains that the key was continually learning and having each member grow into their roles within the company. For any entrepreneur, he stresses, “Don’t give up. If you’re smart enough and keep trying things, eventually you’re going to make something work.” This is especially difficult for web-based companies because of the bipolar nature of the industry. Page hits often get an initial spike of traffic and then die down for a period, followed by unpredictable success or failure. Listening to users is critical for Internet success; Justin shares that they “just tried to figure out what people like and support it.”

Justin.tv is now one of the largest online video sites, with over 40 million unique visitors per month and more than 40,000 different broadcasts every day. Despite those numbers, the company is still fairly small, with only 16 people gradually added to the team. Justin’s ultimate vision for the company is to be “synonymous with live video online.”

This young Physics and Philosophy major is well on his way to achieving such a goal, with a simple email and a key website milestone served as aha moments that have changed his life.

 

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Written by: JaennaeK (for uwemp.com)

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