Justin Kan

YC Partner and I started some companies.

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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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The First Time I Used Programming At Work

It turns out you don’t have to be employed as a programmer to use programming at your job. When I was a college student, I spent a few summers working at a law office as a file clerk. Basically, the job was as boring as it sounds: get requests for files from the file room, physically sort through boxes, pull out said files, deliver them. Occasionally rearrange the entire file room to accommodate more boxes.

Because there was a full time file clerk as well as myself, there wasn’t really enough for two people, so I also spent part of my time as the assistant IT guy. That was also as boring as it sounds, and much less technical: reinstall copies of Windows 98 for the lawyers, hand them new keyboards, etc.

At one point a particularly terrible task came at hand. In order to make exhibits for a certain case the firm had to lay out and print literally thousands of photos. For God knows what...

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The New Bing

The New Bing

A pretty cool detail: Bing special cases self searches (i.e. me searching for “Justin Kan”) and lets me customize how I appear. Self searching is a hugely common behavior on Google. Cool idea to piggy back on searchers’ ego stroking.

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Socialcam #1

#1 baby

Socialcam, our spin off company from Justin.tv, just hit #1 on the App Store Free charts. For those who don’t know, Socialcam is the easiest way to customize and share your videos from your iPhone.

18 months ago Michael, my Justin.tv cofounder, saw that there would be a need in the market as smart phones began to replace all your other electronics, including your hand held video camera. After skunkworks-ing Socialcam internally at JTV, we spun it off as a new company with founders Michael, Guillaume and Ammon.

Michael had a strong conviction around building products by designing experiments, looking at the data and iterating. He also had a vision around unlocking the video camera that exists in everyone’s pocket today. It’s awesome to see that passion and dedication to process pay off today. I couldn’t be more proud of the team.

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The Startup Resume

Having recently read through the hundreds of applications for YC’s Work At A Startup event, I have a few tips for programmers who are applying to work at a startup. Here they are:

  • Keep it short. At the early stage, your resume is probably being read by someone who doesn’t read resumes as their full time job. Help them save time by limiting what you write down.
  • Keep it concise. Contrary to getting hired a big company, startups aren’t looking for the alphabet soup of every programming language and framework. We know you can’t possibly have mastery in all of them; no one can. Instead, you should focus on the things you do excellently, and demonstrate why you do them excellently.
  • Keep it relevant. If you worked in retail, leave that off, unless you are applying to some sort of retail software startup. Honestly, I just don’t care, it looks like filler.

Overall, startups are looking for...

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Maybe we’re in a bubble but it doesn’t matter

What should you do?

Lots of people are saying we are in a bubble. The IPO market caps for Groupon and Zynga are too high. The purchase price for Instagram is too high. Early stage valuations are too high, no thanks to that darn Y Combinator.

We are definitely in the growth phase of a cycle. I personally believe that we still have a ways to go before a retraction, but that is not the point of this post. I am writing this post for all the aspiring tech entrepreneurs and programmers out there who hear bubble and wonder whether jumping off is the right decision, and all the college kids wondering if a CS or engineering degree will pay off. To those readers: we might be in a bubble, but for you it doesn’t matter.

The reality of the world is that software, specifically Internet enabled software, is becoming a part of every business. Marc Andreessen said “software is eating the world,” and by that he meant...

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What good is experience?

When I didn’t have any experience, I thought that experience was totally worthless. Emmett and I taught ourselves how to build web applications in a few months in college and built the first version of Kiko pretty quickly. I did the front end by piecing together javascript tutorials until we had something that resembled a calendar.

We thought we were pretty awesome. If we could build a web app that easily and drum up a bunch of public interest, then it seemed to us that everyone should be starting startups right out of college, and that anyone who wasn’t was just too scared. What was the point of waiting? You aren’t getting any younger.

When I think about that first codebase today I want to vomit in my own mouth. I am glad that I no longer have access because I want to deny it ever existed. It was a mess of spaghetti code, and even though we built it quickly, it took a lot longer than...

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The power of vocabulary

I learned that the process of new words entering common vocabulary is called “lexicalization” today.

When designing a new program, you are forced to come up with names for everything on the backend. Those names then tend to bleed into to common usage among the team, even though there might not be any particular reason to be consistent. For example, at Justin.tv, since we designed the system around streams of live video, we ended up with Users and Channels. When we started saving video for playback later, we naturally called these videos Archives. Now, when we talk about video, we talk about archived vs live, all because of the names we picked to describe objects in the database six years ago.

In a startup, many things are changing all the time. You are constantly adding new objects to the system or are forced to come up with new processes for new situations. These new objects and...

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