Episode 16 - Creating a Culture of Transparency with Kevin Lin

In episode 16, we speak to Kevin Lin, co-founder of Twitch, the world’s leading social video platform and community for gamers. Kevin led the Twitch team as COO for a decade before serving as Culture, Strategy, and Innovation Officer, following the company’s staggering $970 million all-cash acquisition by Amazon. 

In this episode, he shares his origin story as an entrepreneur, tips for early-stage founders and advice on how to create a culture of transparency in your startup from the early days.

How do you stay true to your identity and culture as your company scales rapidly? What’s the secret to success when building remotely and gathering customer feedback? Tune in to find out.

[22:20] Kevin’s top advice for early-stage founders:

"I think the biggest advice is just be transparent to yourself, to your team, to investors, to anyone mentoring you. A lot of founders just want to make it work. So they look at things that seem like they’re working, look at the right stats that are going up (even though the key ones - the actual ones that matter - are not). Just be honest with yourself and everyone around you. The next stage of that is finding a great set of mentors that you can be open and honest with, that will give you good raw, honest feedback in return.

Be honest with yourself, learn how to ask the right questions, and then watch your money. Most companies die from suicide, right? Not homicide. Don't over fret about competitors, because chances are, you'll destroy your own company from within versus somebody else eating your lunch. So mind the shop."

[12:35] On the importance of being clear about your culture and process, especially as your company grows:

"At Twitch, it was such a wild ride with people that generally just trusted each other, challenged each other, yelled at each other and hated each other, but only temporarily. And then they just hold hands and go and build. In big companies, that just doesn't happen as often. 

But we were also pretty young and naive as a team when we got bought. We got deals, we were growing quickly, we were making revenue, but did we have a really good, traditional process? Not really. So when someone else comes in and says, "Wait, you guys are a mess." We were like, "Oh my God, we're a mess." You start to believe people, when really it worked for us. It may not work for someone else. I think that was one of my major lessons learned when looking back. Maybe we shouldn't have adopted so many of their processes, and just slowly iterated on our own so there's mutual understanding versus just being like, "Okay, now we're going to write six pages every week, for every project."

[29:00] Tell us what you think and feel:

"At Twitch, we constantly said "Tell us what you think." Don't just say yes or roll your eyes or something, explain to us how you're feeling. We spent a lot of time doing that. So on one hand, it's this outward transparency of like, "Hey, here's what we're thinking about. We have no idea what we're doing, but I think we'll just go in this direction. Let's just try it." And we debate, debate, debate, and then make a decision and go. We call that commitment, not compliance. Amazon describes it as disagree and commit. But we were open, we were very conversational, and we encouraged healthy debate from the start.

The way we communicated transparency was in action. So one simple example is, every Friday at the team meeting, from the beginning of time, we talked about everything. From what we were worried about, to mistakes that we made, to how much money we had in the bank, and how many months we had left to run away before everyone was going to be unemployed. Everything was out in the open.

Once every three months or so, I'd make sure to take everyone in the company out for a quick walk or a coffee for 15 minutes and just say, "Hey, what's going on? What's on your mind? What's good? What's bad?" Process all that and try to change as fast as possible."

Apps & Startups that Kevin mentioned in this episode:

Gathered Town - a video-calling platform that lets multiple people hold separate conversations in parallel, walking in and out of those conversations just as easily as they would in real life.

Sophya - a digital 'metaverse' that is helping companies to recreate the in-office feeling that is no longer available.

Spatial Chat - video chat conversations that recreate real-life social interactions.

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