#1 — Justin Kan
Below the Line with James Beshara
Justin Kan is the exceptionally talented Silicon Valley founder and investor that’s co-founded companies like Twitch, SocialCam, Exec, and Atrium (with over $1bn in exits). He is also a former partner of the famed accelerator Y Combinator and a personal investor in dozens more startups.
Today’s conversation covers everything from his near death experience that shaped his life to how to increase your baseline happiness (heads up: it has nothing to do with selling your company).
Email James questions at firstname.lastname@example.org Follow us on Twitter! @gobelowtheline "Below the Line with James Beshara" is brought to you by Straight Up Podcasts LLC
In this episode
- 01:55 - How much is Twitch TV worth?
- 03:09 - What are Justin Kan's favorite things about being a founder?
- 04:48 - What are some of the things Justin Kan learned as a startup founder and investor?
- 06:00 - Should you measure your company by how many employees it has?
- 06:57 - Why is it important to get company alignment right?
- 10:03 - How many companies have started with Justin Kan's involvement?
- 12:13 - What is the emotional toll of constantly trying new projects, creating things for 14 years?
- 13:48 - What are some examples of emotional stress that entrepreneurs go through ?
- 16:53 - What is something Justin Kan thinks a lot about but does not get a chance to talk about?
- 18:30 - What is a gratitude journal?
- 22:07 - What is negative visualization ?
- 25:05 - What would happen if Atrium failed?
- 34:07 - What is a good way to fight phone addiction?
- 35:43 - How do you keep in shape if you have a very low will power?
- 37:42 - How do you consistently eat healthy?
- 40:27 - Should a founder see a therapist?
- 42:58 - Is Justin Kan imperfect in any way?
- 47:32 - Will success at your job make you happy?
- 51:04 - How much does a billion dollars change your life?
- 54:36 - What were a few things that shaped Just Kan's life?
- 01:01:56 - What is the story about Justin Kan drowning in the Pacific Ocean?
Smash Notes summary for this episode
How much is Twitch TV worth?
As of the time of this episode (Spring 2019), Twitch.Tv is rumored to be worth 20 to 25 Billion dollars.
What are Justin Kan's favorite things about being a founder?
By now he's spent 14 years starting companies and being an investor. The best thing about being a founder is that it forces you to grow; good things or bad things, you will have to learn. It will get beaten into you, whether you like it or not. That is a tremendous experience. That's like going to a business schools that gives you money to learn; an opportunity of a lifetime!
What are some of the things Justin Kan learned as a startup founder and investor?
Infinite learning. A lot of self-awareness, the things he is good and bad at. For example, he is very good at pitching, which is a pretty critical skill as an entrepreneur. He has a good strategic mind. Meanwhile, he is also bad at a lot of other things. He thought he was good at some of those things in the past, but has learned that it's better to partner with people who can match you on missing skills and do those really well.
Should you measure your company by how many employees it has?
No. It is like measuring the quality of your airplane in its weight.
Why is it important to get company alignment right?
You have a bunch of people who have never worked together before. How are they supposed to know what you are trying to build, what the purpose of the company is, how cross-functional teams work together...etc? If you are working at another company, someone's probably done it for you, but if this is your first company, then you have to set those things yourself.
How many companies have started with Justin Kan's involvement?
Twitch spun out of Justin.tv and that obviously was a great success. Socialcam was a spin off from Justin.tv. Exec sold to Handy, which was a decent outcome. As far as the other projects, there haven't succeeded in a desired startup way, and there is no sense in counting them. Now Justin is focused on Atrium as his next company.
What is the emotional toll of constantly trying new projects, creating things for 14 years?
Everybody in any situation can feel anxiety and fear and pain, no matter where you are at. Whether it is 1 company or 10 companies, you will experience a lot of unpleasant situations. Every entrepreneur will have to experience and overcome these, and it doesn't really matter what the quantity, breadth or size.
What are some examples of emotional stress that entrepreneurs go through ?
Once you start a company it is easy to get attached to that company, having an idea of what exactly is going to happen to it. You might think you'd change the world, or to solve a problem that you care a lot about..etc. Entrepreneurs generally have a higher degree of confidence and optimism and their ego is tied to those outcomes. It is important to disjoint these outcomes with happiness.
What is something Justin Kan thinks a lot about but does not get a chance to talk about?
You can be successful and have a lot of self-improvement work to do. It has taken Justin a long time to realize that attaching his happiness to external desires was not making him happy.
What is a gratitude journal?
It's a tool that helps you to contextualize what goes on in your life. Every day you get to answer one simple question - what are the three things you are grateful for today, and what are the three things you are going to do to make today great. It helps.
What is negative visualization ?
It's a way to visualize and imagine your life if something bad happens. What if your company failed, or you got cancer, or your family member passed away? You will learn something new about yourself by analysing how you would react in those situations. This would also make you very grateful for your current life, where none of those things are happening.
What would happen if Atrium failed?
Easy. Justing is doing what he can to make it successful, but as a founder there are only so many things you have control over, and sometimes things don't go as planned. You should not attach an ego to the outcome of a company.
If a company fails, you might feel that you've let employees down, but as long as you've hired great talent, and you live in a time and place where they could find a new gig, they will. For investors, this is just one of the many companies and failure is expected. They are not going to be broke because of one company failure. Clients and customers will also find a new home. Overall, life goes on.
What is a good way to fight phone addiction?
Recently Justin did an experiment where he tried to replace his phone with an Apple Watch. That did not work as he still wanted utility apps, like ride sharing or parking, or to read a book on a Kindle. To compromise, he's deleted all the distraction/entertainment apps, turned his phone to black and white, and then locked it so that he would not be able to install more apps. So far it seems to be helping with the phone addiction.
How do you keep in shape if you have a very low will power?
If you have a very low will power it means you have to take decision making out of your control by making a rule about it. For example, decide to exercise every day. It does not matter for how long, could be 5 minutes, but just decide to do it, and stick to it.
How do you consistently eat healthy?
Instead of deciding to eat healthy, figure out what healthy is to you, and agree to do exactly that. For example, if you choose to eat "no carbs," then it's easy, at every meal you will know to eat anything as longs as you are not eating carbs. Making a rule like that will help you to maintain consistency, instead of choosing an abstract concept of "healthy."
Should a founder see a therapist?
Therapy has an unnecessary stigma to it, and seeing a therapist might be really helpful to some people. One way in which seeing a therapist helped Justin was to create some space between his emotions and himself, it allowed him to acknowledge his emotions without reacting to them.
Is Justin Kan imperfect in any way?
You would be surprised to hear this, but Justin Kan has always felt uncomfortable connecting with other people on a deep level. Now he is trying to genuinely express how he feels about people around him in an attempt to establish more genuine connections.
Will success at your job make you happy?
No. You probably want to do your best at whatever you are doing, but that is not what will make you happy.
How much does a billion dollars change your life?
Your life is what you make out of it. Making a lot of money does not change your life in a way that you might think it would. It does not give you joy. You might end up sitting at home and playing video games all day, which is not a very good way to spend a life, and you don't need money to do that either. In fact, when you are working on something, it gives you a direction, a path to follow, but once you don't have to work anymore, you have to figure out a path, which could be very disorienting.
What were a few things that shaped Just Kan's life?
(1) Getting into Y Combinator. (2) Selling Twitch to Amazon.
What is the story about Justin Kan drowning in the Pacific Ocean?
Justin and his wife were spearfishing and diving in the Sonoma County as strong choppy water started to come in. They started trying to get out, but the waves was keeping them in the water to the point of crying for help and getting really tired from staying in the water. Justin thought he was going to die.