Justin Kan made 5 switches from his first business idea with Emmett Shear before the final result – Twitch – sold to Amazon for $970 million this week. What did he do and what can we learn from it?
Each switch Justin made came from listening to the market, and then changing direction – like the switch on a railway line flips the train onto new tracks. Here are Justin’s 5 switches:
2005 – Start!
18 year old Justin Kan and Emmett Shear start “Kiko” at Yale: A web calendar startup. But within a month Google Calendar launches. Within a year they bailed out, selling their code on eBay.
2006 – Switch!
Needing mentorship, the two joined the incubator Y Combinator to start ‘Justin.TV’ which would livestream Justin’s life 24/7. They raised $50,000 seed money with one seed investor saying “I’ll fund that just to see you make a fool of yourself.”
2007 – Switch!
Within the first year of 24/7 filming, viewers started complaining there wasn’t enough action and asked for the tools to start their own channels. So the two let others set their own livestreams up. Until then, it hadn’t occured to the two that this was how they would make money. As Justin recalls: “The honest truth is, we weren’t that smart. It was only later on that the lightbulb went off.”
2011 – Switch!
The two noticed that online gamers who livestreamed their games was gaining popularity the fastest. So they spun the gamers off into their own branded site: Twitch.
2014 – Switch!
By early 2014 Twitch had 45 million users, compared to 25 million a year earlier. Justin and Emmett decided to go all in and closed Justin.tv in early August, focusing 100% on Twitch as a livestreaming gaming site.
Today – Switch!
As online gaming increasingly becomes a spectator sport (32 million watched the finals of the online game, League of Legends – more than the series finales of “Breaking Bad”, “24” and “The Sopranos” put together), Twitch became the leading site in gaming livestreams. The founders sold the site to Amazon this week for $970 million.
At each switch, the end result wasn’t obvious. But by continuing to iterate based on what the market told them it wanted, success was inevitable. How are you listening to your customers, and switching to what they want?
Remember the goal isn’t to fulfil on the original mission if that mission becomes outdated. It’s to fulfil on whatever mission the journey brings. As Justin says, “Every day we’ve continued to win the most important battle for any company: existence.”
All the most successful entrepreneurial journeys are best summed up by Douglas Adams: “I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I needed to be.”
Are you ready to switch?