Justin Kan

YC Partner and I started some companies.

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Survive and Thrive

This is an excerpt from the introduction I give to my group at Y Combinator at our orientation before each batch begins.

Several years ago my my cofounder Michael and I were recalling the early days of Justin.tv when he made a memorable observation to me: “Isn’t it funny that we knew so many geniuses back then?”

Michael was referring to the group of us founders that all lived in the same apartment building, called Crystal Towers, in San Francisco’s North Beach neighborhood. After we had moved in to work on Justin.tv in October of 2006, we were quickly followed by a slew of other YC founders, including those of Reddit, Dropbox, Disqus, Weebly and Scribd. The founders were all attracted by the community and because the apartments were leased month-to-month and came furnished. The founders in our early group were all close, and most went on to create companies worth hundreds of millions...

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Be the first iOS developer for The Artist Union

Three months ago, James, Ranidu and I launched The Artist Union, a suite of social media tools to help musicians promote themselves. These tools are free for artists, because we 1) like artists, and 2) most of them don’t have much money anyways ;). Ultimately, our goal is to help artists make money directly off their audiences the way Twitch helped gamers make money.

Since we launched, we’ve seen tremendous growth and are now used by over 25k artists on the web. Our current mobile app (not yet released) is built with React Native and we want to make our first iOS hire to double our rate of iteration.

A little about you:

We started this company because we love music and want to do dope stuff in music. You should too. We are chill people who like hacking on stuff, going to house music shows, and DJing. Hopefully you like these things too. If you don’t, you probably won’t like working...

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Fun with Magic

Over the past month I’ve been using Magic, the text for anything service, more extensively. Being able to fire off job requests and get them easily outsourced is a service I’ve always wanted to exist – so badly so that several years go I started Exec to do exactly that. Magic improves on Exec: it still uses human operators to do your task, but they are in a call center and outsource to other companies for real world operations, solving some of the problems we had around how to maximize utilization when your operators have to be in the real world.

Now that I’ve used Magic for a while, I wanted to share some of the more interesting things I’ve gotten the service to do. A fairly simple one: some of my friends and I were making a DJ set of trap music for a party, and wanted some more songs:


That was pretty cool. A few weeks ago I wanted to change my flight, but Virgin America wouldn’t...

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Be the first hire for The Drop

The Drop is looking to hire our first web developer! We launched less than 2 months ago, and until now, my brother and I have been the primary developers. As The Drop is growing we are looking for help to improve the website. Specific things you will do:

  • Develop and implement new features using Ruby on Rails for both desktop and mobile websites
  • Locate, understand and fix bugs reported by customers

You would come with:

  • Experience with web development in JS and Rails
  • Experience coding mobile apps is a plus
  • A passion for electronic music
  • An entrepreneurial spirit and analytical mind
  • An outgoing and positive personality
  • Good organization skills

We are an early stage startup with no revenue. The internship will be lowly-paid position but some benefits of this position will include:

  • Connections with top record labels and DJs
  • Ownership over a product with 40k+ users
  • ...

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The Founder’s Guide To Selling Your Company

For most founders, selling a company is a life changing event that they have had no training for. At Y Combinator, one big thing we help our startups with is navigating questions around the acquisition process. Originally, I wrote this guide for YC startups outlining what I’ve learned in my last ten years as an entrepreneur about selling startups. If you are going through an acquisition, hopefully this will be useful to you.

When to Sell

Similar to raising money, the best time to sell your startup is when you don’t need to or want to. Paradoxically, you are probably thinking about selling your startup as you are experiencing a lack of traction, tough competition, or difficult time fundraising. However, this is a bad time to sell your startup: you will have few bidders and be more likely to acquiesce to the demands of anyone who does show up.

The best time to sell your startup is when...

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How to Pitch Your Startup On Stage

At technology conferences over the past couple months I’ve had the opportunity to meet some amazing startups by talented people from around the world. Unfortunately, I’ve often had to determine that their startups were interesting by deciphering a very confusing pitch.

One of the big things we do with startups during the Y Combinator batch is help them refine their demo day pitch. How you pitch is important, because investors (and other people you will be pitching, like press, potential employees and customers) don’t have an obligation to expend the mental energy to figure out what you are talking about. More likely, if you approach someone with a pitch that takes work to understand, they will just turn their brain off and go back to checking their phone (if they are in an audience) or nodding and planning an escape (if it’s just you and them). When an investor checks their phone...

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Startups Around the World

This year I went to Thailand, Singapore, Indonesia and Croatia and had a chance to visit startups in each of those countries. One lasting impression from all my trips was the quality of products being created. These is no question in my mind that most of the technical talent in the world exists outside the US.

I think there are two kinds of internet companies being created today: global network effect companies and local network effect companies. Global network effect companies are like Google, Facebook and Dropbox, companies with large technical barriers to entry that can easily provide value to everyone in the world from an office in California. Local network effect companies are local marketplaces, business listing sites, real estate listings and ecommerce companies, where there is an advantage to being on the ground and close to your buyers and sellers. These local companies win...

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What I learned about online-to-offline

Many new online-to-offline entrepreneurs have asked me about my experience founding Exec. “Uber for X” businesses seem to be the startup of the day – it probably helps that on the face they are less technically complex and more accessible to aspiring less-technical founders.

Exec (subsequently changed to “Exec Errands”) started off as us trying to fill my own personal desire for a part-time personal assistant / errand runner. I had enough random tasks that I wanted done and was willing to pay for, but didn’t have enough to pay someone full time. I tried hiring a shared assistant, but it was hard to get her to run same day errands on late notice. I tried Taskrabbit and Craigslist, but the bidding and selection process was too high friction to use for smaller, every day tasks. Eventually, we came up with the first version of Exec, which we described as “Uber meets Taskrabbit”, where...

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My friends Tim Robertson and Montana Low are creating the ultimate Ruby documentation search. This is the beginnings of the product I always want when I am wearing my programmer hat: lightweight search over documentations (and soon examples, I hope) that required fewer clicks than Google to find what I need. I’m excited to see how it evolves.

Check it out and tweet your feedback to @omniref:


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How to do anything

Many people, when faced with doing something new that they know nothing about, won’t ever get started. The project seems too daunting and they don’t have any context for even where to begin. In fact, in the very beginning, Justin.tv was exactly this type of problem.

When we first conceived of Justin.tv, it was simple to explain: we’d have a live streaming video feed of our exploits in San Francisco broadcast from a camera in real time to many viewers simultaneously watching on the web. It wasn’t as simple to figure out how to make this a reality, in fact, Emmett and I (it was just us at first) didn’t know the first thing about online video protocols, servers or infrastructure, cameras, or mobile network connections. At that point, we were simply two web developers with a year of experience building an AJAX calendar app. To us, the whole project appeared to be one big black box:

  1. Build...

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