You don't need a serial entrepreneur to tell you that things go wrong at startups, but when an experienced founder takes the time to share some stories, it's worth a listen.
And if you listen to Twitch cofounder Justin Kan, what you'll find out is that whatever emergency your company is facing in its upstart phase isn't as big of a deal as you think it is. Kan published a blog post this week describing three instances where things went haywire at his earlier live video startup Justin.tv.
"The point of the stories was that bad shit happens at startups, and as a founder you are probably freaking out way more than you should be," Kan, now a partner at startup accelerator Y Combinator, tells Inc.
Justin.tv, despite its high volume of visitors, didn't work out. Another startup cofounded by Kan that ultimately failed was software startup Kiko. With Justin.tv, there was a fruitful outcome: the video game category on the site inspired Twitch, a popular streaming platform acquired last year by Amazon.
The three anecdotes Kan describes in his blog post resulted in two key outcomes: The team at Justin.tv learned how to better scale the streaming service, and realized they needed to hire more competent colleagues.
Here's a nutshell version of the blog post:
Pizza guy to the rescue.
Kan writes that stress over problems with an early version of the live video platform he and his cofounders developed was mostly unwarranted. "Because our site was live video, and because our backend was extremely unstable, we were always in a PTSD-inducing constant state of stress. Whenever things broke we would do the professional thing, and proceed to completely lose our shit."
That's what happened once when the video system went down during the weekend cofounder Kyle Vogt had taken a rare break to head up to the northern California/Nevada border town of Tahoe. Kan and others who remained at work couldn't reach Vogt by phone, so they ended up sending him a message, using a pizza delivery person as courier. Upon receiving the message, Vogt logged on and fixed the problem. "Of course, that unstable video system hacked up by Kyle went on to become the fourth largest peak consumer of bandwidth in North America, many iterations later," writes Kan.
Officers don't have morale problems.
Once when Justin.tv was slated to air a Jonas Brothers performance, the site went down 30 minutes before the set was supposed to start. The founders told the pop group's managers they had taken the site down to make sure everything was working. When it came time for the show to begin, Justin.tv still wasn't working.
While Kan and others were freaking out, the office manager walked by and said "Officers don't have morale problems." The comment didn't sink in at the time, and folks continued to lose their minds. The broadcast resumed 25 minutes later than planned. "In retrospect, not the end of the world. Hollywood Records lost all faith in us and did the rest of their promotional broadcasts on Ustream. Eventually, we got better at scaling."
Always take your beating.
Justin.tv suffered a problem Kan says is common for social websites: A baseline traffic of users looking for porn. "On Justin.tv, this manifested itself as a constant stream of (presumably) men going into the chatrooms of any channel that had a woman on camera and saying things spanning from the very awkward ('show feet') to the outright horrible." Plus "porn" and "sex" were top search terms on the site. In effort to ride Justin.tv of visitors the founders had deemed undesirable, the team started redirecting such traffic to actual cam girl sites. Members of the startup also realized they could monetize that traffic through affiliate fees.
The setup seemed brilliant until TechCrunch caught wind that Justin.tv was redirecting traffic to porn sites. The founders asked for a few hours to respond, trying to buy time to pull the redirect off the site and think of what to say. Too slow; TechCrunch published within half an hour. "What I learned: if you've done something you think the public is going to react badly to, you can't delay it, hide from it, or ignore it. You have to address it head on and take your beating. Always take your beating."