20VC: Justin Kan on Why We Have To Normalize Vulnerability in Startups Today, Why Attaching Happiness To Future Outcomes Will Only Lead To Suffering & Why It Is Total BS That You Have To "Suffer" When Doing A Startup
The Twenty Minute VC: Venture Capital | Startup Funding | The Pitch
Justin Kan is the Founder and CEO @ Atrium, the startup providing a full-service corporate law firm that uses modern technology to give startups a legal experience that is fast, transparent, and price-predictable. To date, Justin has raised over $75m in funding from some of the best in the business including Founders Fund, a16z, First Round, General Catalyst, Thrive, Initialized and more. Prior to founding Atrium, Justin was a Partner @ Y Combinator, the globally renowned accelerator and the birthplace of some of today's largest startups. Before that Justin was the Co-Founder @ Twitch, the world’s leading video platform and community for gamers which was acquired by Amazon for $970m. If that was not enough, Justin is also a prolific angel investor with investments in the likes of Cruise Automation, Rippling, Zenefits, Triplebyte and more. In Today’s Episode You Will Learn: 1.) How Justin made his way into the world of startups and YC? How that led to the founding of Justin.TV, later Twitch? What was that a-ha moment for Atrium? 2.) Why did Justin feel that being an investor full time was not for him? How does Justin think about and approach the learning process as a founder? What advice does Justin give to those who want to quit? What was it that made Justin embrace the series of self-improvement habits he now practices? 3.) What does Justin mean when he says, "attaching yourself to outcomes will only cause your own suffering”? How does Justin think about and advise founders when it comes to burnout? How does Justin feel about the "crushing it" culture in tech? What can we do to normalise vulnerability? What were Justin's biggest takeaways from "The Score takes Care of Itself"? 4.) What have been Justin's experiences with therapy? How does he advise founders thinking of engaging with therapists? What have been his biggest lessons that drive success in therapy? How does Justin look to show authenticity through positivity? What does that really mean? 5.) What have been Justin's biggest takeaways from "The 15 Commitments of Conscious Leadership"? What are the core principles? What is required to roll out these values and principles within an organisation? What are the fundamental challenges to successfully roll this out on a large scale within your company? Items Mentioned In Today’s Show: Justin’s Fave Book: The 15 Commitments of Conscious Leadership As always you can follow Harry, Justin and The Twenty Minute VC on Twitter here! Likewise, you can follow Harry on Instagram here for mojito madness and all things 20VC.
In this episode
- 00:00 - How did Justin Kan make is way into the world of startups?
- 05:59 - What is Atrium?
- 06:59 - Is serving startups as your primary customer a good business?
- 07:59 - Why did Justin Kan start forming habits for self improvement?
- 12:29 - Why should start CEOs pay attention to their mental health?
- 14:19 - What is one way for a startup founder to stay happy no matter what?
- 19:30 - What is your advice for someone contemplating therapy?
Smash Notes summary for this episode
How did Justin Kan make is way into the world of startups?
It has been a long road for Justin. He started in 2004 with Kiko, an online calendar, very similar to Google Calendar. The only really notable things about that startup were it was very early on in this online web application world and it got Justin and team into Y Combinator, which set him on the entrepreneurial career.
From there, the team started justin.tv, as an attempt to make their own reality show on the internet. Although that was a terrible idea that mostly failed, it eventually turned into a platform for anyone to live broadcast their own live video, which became Twitch.tv and in 2014 sold to Amazon for a lot of money.
Justin burned out after about 10 years of doing startups and decided to join Y Combinator and be a partner there, but after a few years of investing in YC startups, he realized being an investor full-time wasn't really for him at that point in life. He was not learning anything anymore.
He started thinking of new ideas and eventually settled on Atrium.
What is Atrium?
Atrium.co is a full stack corporate law firm for startups. They help startups with all the legal needs. Right now they work mostly with venture-backed technology companies in the US and specifically in Silicon Valley.
Is serving startups as your primary customer a good business?
Legal services is something that startups need in good time and bad times. Justin himself has been a client of legal services for over 15-year of his entrepreneurial and investor career, and no matter what was happening in the world, and no matter whether the business was thriving or dying, he'd always end up paying attorneys.
Why did Justin Kan start forming habits for self improvement?
Justin's interest in self-improvement and self growth really came from a realization that he needed to make a lot of improvements in himself and in the company culture of Atrium in order to create an environment where he would not feel stressed every day.
Why should start CEOs pay attention to their mental health?
It is easy to burn out no matter how successful you are. You might accept unhappiness in the present, thinking the next milestone or the round of funding will make you happy, but the problem is that that's not a sustainable strategy for actually achieving happiness, and if you're not happy, you will not want to do what you're doing for an extended period of time.
As a CEO of a startup, you are a very important component and if you burn out, you are not doing yourself or your investors, employees or customers any favors, so you need to retain yourself. You need to create a situation inside your company where you are going to be available for a long time. Taking care of yourself is actually your obligation.
What is one way for a startup founder to stay happy no matter what?
As a start-up you want to have a mission you are working towards and trying to accomplish, but you should also remember that achieving the goal is not 100% within your control. You are just one factor, one member of the team, one part of the strategy. You're only a contributor to achieving that goal. And even when you achieve the goal, it is not going to make you happy.
You need to find a way to work without actually wrapping up your entire ego and identity in accomplishing this one goal.
What is your advice for someone contemplating therapy?
Get coaches, join leadership groups, and get a therapist. It can be very cathartic to have someone to talk to. It is effectively a mechanism that we've created in our society to make you feel like you are not alone. It could be very helpful when working through any sort of problems.