Matthew: Are there any unique metrics, statistics or social proof that you’d like to share with our audience about Justin.tv and Socialcam?
Michael: Sure. I would say generally what we always track at Justin.tv across all of our products is an active user base. We started to track that on Socialcam as well. It’s extremely hard, with only eight days of data, but what we’ve seen in the metric region so far is are people using the app 24 hours after they have downloaded it and created a user.
We wanted to remove all of the testing videos from the equation and see how many people we’re actually capturing as ongoing video creators. Those numbers look really great so far. That’s all the way out to the right. Right now, eight days in, I think we have about 100,000 downloads and it’s still growing fast. We’re pretty happy.
Matthew: That’s amazing. We know that founders face unique challenges when they decide to launch a company, so my question to you is what was the hardest part about starting Justin.tv and how’d you overcome this obstacle?
Michael: You know, it’s funny. That’s why I think starting startups with friends is so much better. Nothing seems that hard when you’re working with your friends. I have to say that at Justin.tv there have been various times where I’ve been really afraid about the outcome of the business and whether it was going to work, or there were times where I thought the business was in trouble or challenged. But the fun thing about being a founder is that you have to win. The responsibility of finding a solution is solely yours. It’s not like your favorite sports team where if they lose a game you say, “Oh, you guys suck.” If you lose a game, you suck.
One of the challenges early on, within the first couple months of launching, was bandwidth expenses. We had raised about $50,000 in seed financing and the first bandwidth bill we got was $40,000. We had about $20,000 in the bank.
This is one of those fun challenges that I always love about being a founder and CEO of the company. You know you can’t pay, so it just opens up all these other areas of creativity. I think we had $20,000 in the bank at that point. If they had given us a bill for $19,000, we would have just considered. “Maybe we can figure out how to pay,” but it’s double what we have. There’s no way we can pay.
So we got creative and figured out a great solution. We worked with the vendor. I think that was one of the first moments in the company where we realized that this is a startup. It’s about finding solutions when things are not going to work out in your favor. The way you create value is when walls are presented to you, how do you get around them? Four and a half years later we’ve had to climb a lot of walls, but it’s been fun. And that first one was really educational for us.
Matthew: Since you’ve been in operation, what have you learned about your business and your users that you didn’t realize before you launched? This could be geared toward Justin.tv or this could be in relation to Socialcam, or both.
Michael: Sure. About our users, that’s interesting. I think I take that kind of question a slightly different way. One of the things that I think is most important is to be a user of your product. When we started Justin.tv we were the user in many ways. Either Justin was broadcasting or we were there living with him and watching.
When we built the platform I think that we lost that a little bit. We weren’t very interested in broadcasting our own lives. Justin was no longer interested in broadcasting his life, for certain. We weren’t the kind of people who broadcasted events, or so on and so forth, and so I think that for a while there we were supporting a user base that, internally, we didn’t represent.
One of the great things about where we are now with both Socialcam and in gaming is that for gaming we’re all avid video game players, so that product really makes sense to us. We like it, we enjoy watching people play competitive gaming. For Socialcam, we all have smartphones, we all want to stay connected on Facebook with our friends, and we all like video, and we all have the same problem that it’s just really impossible to share video.
One of the great things about Socialcam is that as it’s developed, and even throughout beta, we were all users. I can go to my Socialcam right now and it’s not just some bland test page. It’s friends from the office, friends from my community, who are essentially using the app and I can see all the crazy things that they do. I think that being part of your user community is extremely important, especially if you’re building consumer applications. It’s very vital.
Matthew: That’s great advice. What piece of advice or information would you share with our audience in terms of launching a startup? We know that it’s hard. What do you think are the key elements to doing it successfully?
Michael: I think there are two problems most people have about launching a startup. The first is their understanding of risk. I think that people don’t really understand the risks involved in launching a startup and they’re a lot less than they would be.
The second is not scratching the entrepreneurial itch early. When I was working on the political campaign I was making almost no money. I was used to a very startup-style lifestyle. When I then started the startup it wasn’t a drastic change. To be honest, college, campaign, early startup was pretty much all the same. I see a lot of people who are saying, “I want to be an entrepreneur, but in the meantime, I’m going to get a great job, get married and have kids.” Well, you’re going to be in for rude lifestyle change once you start. So definitely scratch the itch early. Get in the game early.
Then second on the risk tolerance front, I think what’s great is that most startups now are started by engineers. When you’re an engineer doing a startup, I think it’s so easy to forget that you have a base level of skill that’s extremely valuable in this marketplace, extremely valuable in the Valley, and secondarily, the startup’s success or failure is a validation.
Starting a startup is often a faster path to getting that great job you wanted, to getting the level of responsibility you want in a tech company, to learning a lot about technology, and it shouldn’t be seen as a risk. The worst thing that happens is your startup doesn’t work. and if you’re an engineer specifically, you get a job with Google and you’ve got to cry in your lap as you eat at the cafeteria and enjoy a four-day workweek.
I definitely think people need to re-examine risk/reward. It’s not as risky as some of the typical startup small businesses that are started every day; a bakery or a laundry, or any of those.