Twitch: How Pivoting and Passion Led to Billions

In late 2006, Justin Kan and Emmet Shear set out to create a javascript based web calendaring application. The venture quickly failed, but unbeknownst to the pair at the time, had set in motion the events that would lead to the founding of the billion-dollar company As the pair drove home from a meeting one night, they began to toy with the notion of livestreaming their conversations to the web, a novel idea at the time. During the course of the conversation, the idea eventually evolved into livestreaming video, then into the idea of livestreaming someone’s life 24 hours a day. Justin even volunteered to be the subject should the time ever arise, and the working name for the venture was given, Justin.TV. At the time, the idea seemed fun to talk about but hardly a serious business consideration.

Getting Serious About Business

That all changed later that year when the pair took a meeting with Paul Graham and Robert Morris. The idea that got them through the door was a web-based app that would allow users to print out their blogs one page at a time in the form of a magazine. Graham was not particularly interested in the idea, but toward the end of the meeting asked them what else they had. It was at this point that Kan blurted out, ‘Justin.TV’. Kan then proceeded to excitedly relayed the idea and explain how it would be a new form of reality TV. As Kan later recalled, at one point Morris remarked, ‘I’ll fund that just to see you make of fool of yourself’. Not long after that, the pair left with a check for $50,000.

Soon, the two recruited two more friends to the team and Justin.TV went live.

At the time, the team had no real plan. They believed if the show became successful they might be able to sell ad sponsorships for it. But what they lacked in a plan, they made up for with passion. They were so excited for the venture that every person they talked to instantly became excited about it too. Their energy was infectious and the team worked well together. Looking back, Kan relates that he believes it was for these reasons Graham initially invested; investing in the people more than the product. He also believed that Graham had faith they would be able to pivot in ways that would allow the idea to become successful.

Knowing When To Pivot

And pivot they did. After eight months of livestreaming himself and gaining significant media attention in the process, Kan stopped ‘lifecasting’ himself. This was perhaps, due in part to the fact that viewers had learned that they could quickly spice-up the show by sending fire trucks or police to his house. But more than this perhaps was the fact that the team recognized a new opportunity was developing. Even after Justin had stopped livestreaming himself interest in the site remained high and in mid-2011, Justin.TV added a feature to allow other users to broadcast their own livestreams as well. The site continued to add features, like a Reddit-style upvoting system, and soon saw over 30,000 individuals livestreaming. As a result, on October 1, 2007, Justin.TV received $8 million in Series A funding from Felicis Ventures and Alsop Louie Partners.

Growth to Exit

Over the next 4 years, Justin.TV continued to iterate, grow, and evolve. One particularly important development was the separation of the site into sub-categories. It wasn’t long after this that one category had taken over the lion’s share of all site traffic  – video game streaming. By mid-2011, the video game section had become so dominant that Kan and his partners realized they had another opportunity on their hands. And on June 6, 2011, the video game section of Justin.TV officially spun off as its own entity and was born. One year later, more than 20 million unique viewers were using the site. Then in September of 2012, Twitch secured $15 million in Series B funding. And one year after that, in September of 2013, it received another $20 million in Series C. Then, in August of 2014, with over 55 million monthly users on the site, announced it had acquired for $970 million.

Modern Day Twitch

Today, competes in a space with YouTube, and ESPN, and is known as one of the premiere sites in the world for live online eSports viewing. Twitch currently has over 300 million viewers a year. Its development remains testament to the unexpected success a company can have when its founders are willing to follow their passion and adjust to new opportunities as they arise. It’s hard to imagine the pair ever envisioned the meteoric success their idea would have during that first conversation back in 2007.