If you tuned into Justin Kan’s Snapchat story in the last few weeks, you would have watched him zooming around on a hoverboard while reading applications for startup accelerator Y Combinator, working out on an exercise bike next to a taxidermied alligator he killed himself, shouting from the back of an all-terrain vehicle while cruising around his new ranch in Sonoma, and partying with his former cofounder who just sold his startup to GM.
Oh, and, most important, giving entrepreneurs a continuous stream of advice, ranging from how to tips on how to pitch on stage to his musings about money.
“Someone told me, ‘Watching your Snapchat is like a never-ending episode of ‘Silicon Valley,”” Kan tells Business Insider, laughing, in reference the hit HBO show that satirizes the tech world. “I was like, ‘I guess that’s true. I don’t think that was a compliment but I’ll take it.’ It kind of is. I have a very ‘Silicon Valley’ life.”
Ask any entrepreneur who they love to follow on the disappearing photo and video app and two names consistently come up: Kan and LA-based venture capitalist Mark Suster.
While the two accounts differ in a lot of ways — Suster sticks to advice-driven “SnapStorms” while Kan co-mingles aphorism with scenes from his daily life — at their core they both serve the same goal: giving mentorship to founders and startup junkies in a way that’s much more scalable than individual conversations and more convenient (and fun) than a post.
We talked to both of them to find out how and why they’re embracing this platform once known for teens.
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Kan: a live video veteran
Kan’s a serial entrepreneur with several exits — including the sale of streaming-video startup Twitch to Amazon for nearly $1 billion — and current partner at Y Combinator.
And for the last few months, he’s been obsessed with Snapchat.
Every day, Kan will use Snapchat’s “Stories” feature to hold Q&As, offer guidance to startups, and give viewers a peek into his life.
The format is familiar to Kan because his old company Twitch started as Justin.tv, a site where he would stream his life to viewers 24/7. He sees Snapchat as sort of a Justin.tv 2.0, with all the benefits of live video — the immediacy, intimacy, and capability for spontaneous interactions — but with less friction and effort and without the pressure of permanence.
Kan also routinely pops other startup founders into his feed, which has helped his account gain notoriety among the Silicon Valley set. (People who make cameos often tell him that they receive a string of texts afterwards — I can attest that this happened to me after Kan teased our interview on his feed)
Fadhli Rahim, a Singapore-based CTO, says he finds Kan’s Snaps exciting, and that it feels like he’s getting “exclusive insight” on the life of a successful guy and “learning from him personally.”
Cyril Moukarzel, a founder, says he’s “addicted” to Kan’s Stories.
Suster: more immediate than blogging
Suster, who’s been hooked on Snapchat for about a month and a half, says that he keeps a list of topics in his phone that he’ll address through the app whenever he has free time. Recent themes include “what is corporate guidance?” and why startups shouldn’t ask VCs to introduce them to other VCs.
Suster, a prolific blogger and a video vet (he’s been posting interviews on YouTube for years), says that he downloads all his SnapStorms and will eventually upload most of them and cross-link the videos with posts he’s written. But creating daily Stories gives him incredible reach and immediacy.
“It’s a chance for me to communicate a series of messages directly to entrepreneurs,” he says. “I could write a blog post, but it’s a simpler form and it’s more personal because you actually get to hear me say it — it’s more intimate.”
John Gattuso, a first-time entrepreneur, says he watches Suster’s SnapStorms every night to glean all his best practices for starting a company.
“Mark does an amazing job condensing it all down into such a small timeframe,” he says.
Right now, Suster says that he’s one of the only VCs with a real presence on the platform.
“They’re all there, but they’re sharing photos of their kids or the great food they eat or their vacation spots,” he says, adding that although that content is fun, it’s often not compelling to a large audience. “Almost all of my target customers — entrepreneurs between the ages of 22 to 25 — are on Snapchat. So here’s this great platform that suits me for the kind of mentorship that I like to give — which is short, sharp, very authentic pieces of advice — on a platform where no one else is there.”
Suster recently penned a blog post entitled Snapchat 101 for VCs and Old folks. But if other venture capitalists don’t drink the KoolAid, well, you won’t find him complaining.
“If no one else can figure out how to use the platform and I have the playground to myself, I’m ok with that,” he says. “As long as my customers are here.”
Viewers seem to be eating it up
Both men say they average several thousand viewers per Story, and are seeing solid growth.
Kan even hired a full-time, salaried “Snap God” to help him produce content. Tiger Wong quit his advertising job to follow Kan around, come up with new ideas, and help grow the channel.
Both Suster and Kan say they plan to continue snapping for the foreseeable future, as long as viewers continue to stay interested and their reach keeps growing.
Unlike a lot of Snapstars, their end-game for growth isn’t scoring big brand partnerships (both are already rich). They’re having fun and building their brands, while talking directly to the next great generation of entrepreneurs.
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