Right now I’m neck deep in product launch mode, putting the finishing touches on our new mobile video application—Socialcam. Of course, I’ve been here before . . .
Years ago when we launched the Justin.tv show we had no idea what we were doing. This much was obvious to anyone who watched. Outsiders attribute far more strategic thought to the venture than we gave it. Some think that we planned all along to start a live platform, and that the Justin.tv show itself was a way of promoting that platform. While this ended up happening, none of it had crossed our minds at the time.
Then Google Calendar was released—boom—absorbing most of our nascent user base and capturing most of the early adopter mindshare. But to be perfectly honest, Kiko would have failed regardless. We were too easily distracted and hadn’t really thought through the strategic implications of owning a standalone calendaring property (hint: no one wants a calendar without email). A short time later we were burned out and spending most of our time playing Xbox with the Reddit guys in Davis Square—hardly a startup success story.
Emmett and I started thinking about possible ways to get out of the calendar business. At the same time, I was startup fatigued. We had spent over a year paying ourselves nothing. The seed and angel investment market conditions were the polar opposite of what they are today. It had been a struggle to even raise a paltry $70,000, and we had failed to build a product with real traction. I was starting to think about moving back to Seattle to try something new, maybe in a different industry.
Still, we learned a ton and it was fun to be part of the early Y Combinator startup community (then largely in Boston). We became friends with Matt Brezina and Adam Smith (of Xobni), Trip Adler, Tikhon Bernstam and Jared Friedman (of Scribd), and many others. It’s amazing to see how many of those friendships persist today, and even more amazing how well many of those companies are doing.
Coming back from one particular YC dinner, Emmett and I were discussing strategic ideas for Kiko, and I remember telling Emmett an idea that popped into my head: what if you could hear an audio feed on the web of our discussion? Wouldn’t that be interesting to other like-minded entrepreneurial types? We kept going, and eventually the idea morphed into a video feed. Then it became a live video feed. Then it became a continuous live video feed that followed someone around 24/7. Then it had chat, and a community built around watching this live show, which was now a new form of entertainment. I was hooked.
I couldn’t stop talking about the idea. I mentioned it at YC dinners and to other friends. I even came up with a perfect name for it: Justin.tv. On one trip to DC, I told my Dad and my college friend Michael Seibel what I was thinking. Eventually, in-between drinking sessions, we thought of a brilliant idea for divesting ourselves of Kiko, which is a story for another day. After that, Emmett and I were coming up with other startup ideas (I guess we got excited about staying in the industry after all). One particular favorite was the idea of a web app that would ingest your blog’s RSS feed and then allow you to layout and print physical magazines from it. Excitedly, we drove one afternoon to Paul Graham’s house to pitch it.
We explained the idea to Paul and Robert Morris, who just happened to be at the house visiting. I vaguely recall there also being a “this will kill academic publishing” angle, although I can’t figure out how that sensibly fits in now. Paul didn’t particularly like the idea: he didn’t think people would use it. “Well,” he said, “what else do you have?”
I said the only thing I could think of: “Justin.tv.”
Because it was something I was clearly passionate about, and because creating a new form of entertainment was clearly a big market (if you could invent one!), Paul was actually into it. Robert’s addition to the conversation was “I’ll fund that just to see you make a fool of yourself.” Emmett and I walked out of there with a check for $50,000.
Six months later, we’d recruited two other cofounders (Kyle Vogt, our hardware hacker, who we convinced to drop out of MIT on a temporary leave of absence, and Michael Seibel, my college friend from DC, who became our “producer”). We built a site with a video player and chat and two prototype cameras that captured, encoded and streamed live video over cell data networks, negotiated with a CDN to carry our live video traffic, and raised an additional couple hundred thousand dollars. Our plan? Launch the show and see what happens.
Now, let me just tell you why this was a bad idea:
How did we get as far as we did?
Ultimately, the show failed. But all told, I’m thankful every day that things went the way they did. Why?
Today, I’m more excited about Justin.tv than I’ve been at any time since we launched the initial platform. Why? We’re taking everything we’ve gathered and learned over the past four and half years building the largest live video platform on the Web (17 million monthly unique visitors in Dec according to comScore’s MediaMetrix), and applying it to tackle a new generation of problems in mobile video. Our world class web and mobile engineering team, all of our product development knowledge, our substantial, scaled video infrastructure, and everything we’ve learned about building engineering teams has all been put to work on a new app that we think is going to change everything.
Our new app is called Socialcam, but that’s another story.
Photo by Terry Chay
Founded in October 2006, Justin.tv is the largest online community to live streaming service , look andcommunication around broadcast. Using only a laptop, you can share your event, class, party, idea, to anyone in over 250 countries while they chat in real-broadcast with you and with other people. With more than 41 million unique visitors per month and 428,000 channels broadcasting live video, Justin.tv is the leading live video site on the Web, enabling users to create real-time connections...
Justin Kan is an entrepreneur, Web developer, and the ‘Justin’ of Justin.tv. Justin.tv started when Justin Kan and Emmett Shear took on the challenge of broadcasting one personâ€™s life 24/7. Being web developers, they recruited co-founders Michael Seibel and Kyle Vogt to run the business and build a live streaming video camera. For investment, they spoke with Paul Graham of Y-Combinator (an investor in their previous start-up) and raised seed capital. The Justin.tv website launched in March of 2007....
Emmett Shear attended Yale University, graduating in 2006. Along with friend and fellow Yale graduate Justin Kan, he co-founded a calendar startup called Kiko in the same year. Kiko was acquired by Tucows CEO Elliot Noss in 2006. Shear and Kan then co-founded video live-streaming startup Justin.tv in 2007.