How did you get into esports?
I got into esports far before the term “esports” even existed (we simply called it “competitive gaming”), all the way back in the early 2000s playing an online shooter called Starsiege: Tribes.
I played Tribes in organized competitive leagues for about eight years straight, uninterrupted. My esports hobby began to expand and evolve as my passion grew; I went on to become an esports commentator and tournament organizer for games like Quake, Enemy Territory, and eventually even games like Overwatch.
When live streaming technology became available via platforms like Justin.tv (Twitch) and Ustream in 2007, esports started to gain mainstream popularity, and I became utterly infatuated with following every single major tournament, league, and event. This eventually led to me getting a full time job on the founding team of Twitch in 2011.
What’s the inspiration behind Juked? When did you know it was time to start the company?
My co-founder Chris Chan and I were both voracious esports consumers who loved to follow all the major esports events happening around the world. But as consumers, we found it painfully difficult to do so: just staying on top of the top esports games required being glued to Reddit, Twitter, and a dozen or so community sites, and there was a real lack of high quality content that helped connect the dots between esports games.
Every single esports community was essentially distributed across the internet with no connecting tissue, and this problem was only getting worse as new esports games launched every year.
Esports had reached critical mass, and we knew that millions of fans craved a deeper sense of connection. Chris and I had talked about this problem dozens of times over the years, and finally decided to form a company to tackle it in early 2019.
You were on the founding team of Twitch. What was that like? What did you learn from that experience?
What a ride! I attended UC Santa Cruz majoring in Environmental Studies and Economics with the intention of going into the burgeoning green tech world. While esports was my strongest passion in life, there truly was no industry yet, with very few people making any money at all.
I always thought esports would continue to be a passion and hobby for me, so when the Justin.tv team offered me a job (under 25 employees at the time) to focus solely on esports, I was over the moon.
Not only did I get to take a job working full time to help grow esports, but Twitch immediately flourished after we launched in June 2011 and grew exponentially over the next four years all the way through to the $970M exit to Amazon. I got to follow my passion, and had a great outcome. Doesn’t get more lucky than that.
What do you think is the most important skill founders need to succeed?
I fundamentally believe that the most important thing a founder can do is surround themselves with the right people, from co-founders to early employees to investors and mentors. Thus, founders need to have incredible emotional intelligence and the ability to sell not just investors, but employees on the dream. Without an aspirational goal or vision you’ll never get people to join your company or invest, and getting your first customers will be impossible.
How did you meet your co-founders? How do you work together?
Chris and I have known each other for more than eight years. At the time, Chris hosted and produced several popular esports talk shows (such as Value Town, Climbing the Ladder, Unfiltered), and he invited me to join one of his shows as a guest to speak on the topic of “how to get a job in esports.” We hit it off and started grabbing dinner and hanging out at gaming conventions like E3, BlizzCon, MLG, and DreamHack. Over the years, our friendship grew, and we eventually co-hosted a podcast called The OverView, an Overwatch esports-focused talk show.
Delan, our VP of Engineering, joined shortly after we launched Juked and was a friend of a friend. Delan had worked at gaming/influencer tech startups and was an esports fan, so he fit right in. We feel incredibly lucky to have him on the team leading engineering.
How do you handle risk and competition?
I don’t think you can get too wrapped up in what your competitors are doing. Of course, you have to build a strong brand and a defensible product.
As long as you have a clear vision, are making data-driven decisions, and talking to customers every day, you’ll find your own path.
If you could imagine one new feature in the future of esports what would that be and why?
One of the areas that esports falls far behind traditional sports is monetization. In traditional sports apparel, ticket sales, and media broadcast rights driving billions in revenue, and each of these areas are woefully underdeveloped in esports. This makes it difficult for independent 3rd parties (tournament organizers, teams) to drive revenue. We’d love to be part of solving this problem by driving more revenue from esports fans themselves through unique offerings that allow fans to get more value and enjoyment out of following their favorite teams/games.
Do you have a favorite game?
I’m a self-identified esports hipster and love many esports on the smaller side. I’ll tune in to the big events for League of Legends, Counter Strike, or Dota 2, but find the most enjoyment out of watching games like StarCraft 2, Smash Bros., Street Fighter, and Quake. Personally, my #1 most played game over the last four years has been Overwatch.
What’s been the #1 (or two) top challenges you’ve faced while launching your company?
Our biggest challenge is changing existing user behavior, because while following esports is a pain for hardcore fans like myself, people are set in their ways. They’ve already put in the work to follow all the right individuals and communities on social channels like Reddit, Discord, Twitter, and Twitch. So we need to prove to the average esports fan that, without a doubt, unequivocally, Juked is the better option for all their esports needs. This takes time and we still need to build brand equity with a wider swath of fans.
Have you learned anything new or surprising about yourself through this process?
I’ve learned to love spreadsheets :).
No seriously, it is way more satisfying than I imagined to build a well manicured, visually appealing, and easy to update backend for KPIs, financials, or even to-do lists.
What was it like participating in 500 Startups, what was that experience like? What did you gain or learn?
500 Startups was awesome! Being in the same room with a few dozen other startups who are going through similar challenges was a huge motivator and we’ll cherish the network we’ve built from being part of the 500 family forever. 500 taught us some not-so-obvious strategies for talking to users and building with product market fit in mind. 500 also provided us a tremendous opportunity for us to connect with investors and mentors that I simply don’t believe you can get without an accelerator – or 25 years of experience in the valley.
Why did you decide to raise from the crowd?
We loved the idea of being beholden to average, everyday esports fans, rather than relying solely on VCs. And we love the idea of allowing those same fans to contribute to the success of the company. Juked has community in its DNA so this just felt right.
What is your superpower?
Our superpower is our connection to the esports community. This includes both intimate connections to the business side (we’re close friends with esports team owners, league operators, game publishers, and content creators) AND the fans. We know what esports fans want/need and have the rolodex to accelerate the growth and adoption of our brand.
What’s your kryptonite?
While we’re all experienced entrepreneurs, this is our first go at building a startup from scratch and there have been some growing pains. We’re passionate but lack the operational experience, which could come in handy at times.
Do you have any unusual routines or habits?
Meditation! Although I suppose this isn’t so unusual these days, especially in Silicon Valley, I try to meditate in the mornings before getting to work.
Do you have any other hobbies/things you like to do in your spare time?
Despite having only a tiny San Francisco patio, I’m an avid gardener and grow a variety of fruits, vegetables, herbs, and flowers. It is a great way to step away from the computer to relax.
Are there any apps or gadgets that you can’t live without?
My pour-over coffee maker, my Nintendo Switch, and YouTube (the best educational resource humanity has ever seen).
Do you have a(ny) mentor(s)? If so, what have they taught you?
Kevin Lin (former boss at Twitch)—Kevin taught me through his actions the value of truly respecting anyone and everyone he came across. I was always amazed that Kevin would remember everyone and call them by their name, even people I first sometimes wrote off as not important. Kevin would always greet them by name, regardless. Kevin is a beloved guy, but I think it comes from the fact that he shows his respect for everyone around him.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received?
One of the pieces of advice I’ve gotten is also one of the most cliche, essentially: “just do it.” I had expressed anxiety to a mentor of mine about whether or not I wanted to take on the entrepreneurial journey with Juked, vs. taking a cushy and safe role with an esports team. But we had talked about the concept of Juked many times, and he pushed me to just go for it. I was lucky to be in a financial position to be able to take such a risk, but this nudge made all the difference.