It’s okay to build a shitty first startup: Justin Kan

It is important to build a shitty first startup, because the first step is always the hardest. Without a first draft (no matter how bad), you have nothing to build upon. – Justin Kan

Your first startup will probably be terrible, and that’s ok. Building a shitty first startup is one of the most important things you will ever do:
Whenever I was stuck writing essays, my tenth-grade English teacher used to tell me this: “Start with a crappy first draft. It doesn’t matter if it sucks – just write something.” This advice applies to perfectly to startups.
It is important to build a shitty first startup, because the first step is always the hardest. Without a first draft (no matter how bad), you have nothing to build upon. It is always easier to improve upon something bad, than to start from scratch.
Before @twitch, I built a pretty bad company with a couple of my college friends: It was called Kiko, a web-based calendar app. It seemed like the right thing to do at the time.
We had absolutely no idea how to program or write web applications, and no money in our bank accounts. But more importantly, we had nothing to lose. Luckily, we caught ourselves a programmer (@eshear)
In six months, we cobbled together the worst demo ever, fuelled entirely by pizza and beer in-between World of Warcraft playing sessions.
I literally googled ‘how to make something drag and drop on your website’, and copied and pasted the code into our app.
Eventually we stumbled across the @ycombinator Summer Founders Program. We were amazed by the concept that people might pay us to build our shitty idea instead of pouring our own (non-existent) money into it. So we applied.
We got an email back from @paulg, who told us that there were 3 categories of applicants: – Good founders & ideas – Bad founders – Okay founders + bad ideas We were in category 3.
After a tumultuous interview process and by some miracle, we were accepted into the program. We got our first investment to build our calendar app. But the problem was that none of us really knew why people used calendars or what they were looking for.
As a college kid, all I knew was that I had class on Monday and Wednesday from 10:30 to 12:30. I didn’t need a calendar to remember that.
We never did any customer development, or talked to anyone who actually used a calendar. After we launched, we got a couple users but they quickly churned. We had raised money from YC and a couple of investors, but we were slowly burning all our cash.
When we eventually ran out of money, we didn’t know what to do. Our only option was to sell our company. The problem: we didn’t know how to do that either.
I suggested the only place I knew where to sell things: eBay. When no one could suggest anything better, we listed Kiko on the site for $50,000 and a prayer.
I sat in my underwear in my friend’s NYC apartment, desperately refreshing the auction page. Suddenly, offers started flying in: $50K, $85K, $100K, $150K, $200K… We ended up selling our shirrt first startup on eBay for $258,100.
Before that, I was ready to quit startups. I had resigned myself to moving back in with my parents and going into real estate, which my mom worked in. Suddenly, it seemed that tech startups weren’t so bad after all.
After my first shitty startup, we started justintv which became Twitch, I joined YC as a partner ,and so on… The moral of the story is this:
If we could do it so damn incompetently, you have absolutely no excuse not to try. So get out there and build your shitty first startup!
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