Justin Kan

YC Partner and I started some companies.

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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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Set good defaults

Setting up good default behavior is very important. In fact, most people never change the default settings for the things they use. For software designers, this means investing time thinking about what you want to happen if nothing changes. For example, this is why Google pays to be the default search in mobile OSes and browsers, and why Google invested so heavily in a mobile OS (Android) where they would automatically be the default search: most users will never change their browser to default to another search engine.

At Exec, we spend time thinking about default behavior. Here’s one simple example; this is the first step of our cleaning booking process.

This is what it looks like the first time:

Exec Cleaning Booking Second Use.png

This is what it looks like after you’ve used us once:

Exec Cleaning Booking First Use.png

The difference is pretty obvious: the second time you use the service, we default to the home you’ve already cleaned. Most people...

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Exec Cleaning, or the challenges scaling a real world business

We’ve just launched our new cleaning service for the rest of the Bay Area. It’s been several months of work to make our software robust enough that it can survive the real world.

Some of the things I’ve learned about building a technology business that touches the offline world with Exec:

  • Software that manages people’s livelihoods needs to be very robust. I thought people were mad when a 100k concurrent stream at Justin.tv would go down; downtime here is far worse.
  • You can’t just release new changes every day. People working on the platform need time to learn new systems. In consumer tech, everyone looks up to Facebook and aspires to “move fast and break things.” With Exec, we have to think about how everyone is going to be taught about every change.
  • When software goes down, the real world continues. Which is a total shit storm. We’ve dealt with AWS outages by assigning jobs by...

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My entire entrepreneurship story in 10 minutes

I had a fun time filming this interview (except for the part where our site went down momentarily, that wasn’t fun at all). This is probably the first quality edited recording of the entire story of my career as an entrepreneur.

Hope you like it. They cut out most of my flippant comments.

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Divine Inspiration Fallacy

When you first start creating products it is easy to succumb to divine inspiration fallacy. For many first time entrepreneurs, it is easy to think that you uniquely have had a one-of-a-kind product idea. You wake up one night with a crystal clear vision for a product and exactly how your future customers will use it. You think that the product spec comes from the mouth of God directly to your mind, and from there directly to the web. Write it out, build it, ship it, done.

When you think you already have the perfect solution to a problem, your mindset changes from “how do we discover what our customers want?” to “how do we get as much day one leverage as possible for our product?”. After all, it was quick for you to build it, so now it’s a race to capture as much of the market as possible before a competitor comes along and creates the same thing. Unfortunately, this leads many...

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