This is a hopefully entertaining story about how I learned to not be an idiot CEO. We started Justin.tv in October of 2006 with 4 co-founders. 3 engineers (Emmett Sheer, Justin Kan, Kyle Vogt) and 1 business guy (me). Average age 23.
Emmett, Justin, and I were sitting around in the apartment pre-launch talking about how chat should look. More specifically, the information we should present next to a chat message in the chatroom. Clearly you want to display the chatter’s name and time the message
was sent, but do you include AM/PM? For the next 2 hours, AM/PM dominated our lives. Emmett’s position was that this information would be redundant as chat would be flying buy constantly and that the extra characters would take up space. My perspective was that people would be watching from all over the world and because chat times were represented in the broadcaster timezone AM/PM information would be very helpful. While this seems like a simple and straight forward decision - battle lines were drawn and neither Emmett nor I would back down.
After the first 30 minutes of violent argument Justin left the room, 1.5 hours in we started to run out of steam, and at hour 2 Emmett screamed “Fuck it! I’m going to do it the way I want!” I distinctly remember thinking that this unfair because he was an engineer and I couldn’t force him to build something he didn’t agree with. Needless to say - we didn’t talk to each other for the rest of the day. A couple months later, post-launch, AM/PM came up again. Only this time
it was after a long day of putting out fires, doing press interviews, dealing with rude chatters, and answering hundreds of emails. After such a long day of work and with a todo list a mile long - Emmett and I couldn’t help but laugh at our “epic debate”. Of all the decisions we had to make, AM/PM could have been the most inconsequential ever.
But after a number of failed product launches under my belt I finally realized that pre-launch is it very tempting to assume that you can make your product perfect. This feeling pushes people to turn small decisions into productivity killing arguments. Even worse, these urges are a classic trap for non-technical co-founders because without the ability to write code - argument feels like the only tool in the tool-belt. Thankfully I learned the skill of sitting down and shutting up and this skill has served me very well.