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It took a string of relative failures, but these entrepreneurs stumbled onto a niche market that they’ve made all their own.

In 2007, Justin Kan, Emmit Shear, and two other friends co-founded Justin.tv.

Justin Kan of Justin.tv

Justin.tv started as a live feed of cofounder Justin Kan’s day-to-day life. All day, every day, Kan filmed his daily affairs, wearing specially designed cameras that allowed him to easily capture and broadcast every waking and sleeping moment. It was, essentially, true reality television.

The confident young men were sure it would revolutionize the entertainment industry. It was the dawn of a new age of entertainment.  It was the opening parentheses on a new wave of digital content. It was… well, it was actually pretty boring!

Some people in the audience were bored enough that they started pulling pranks. One night, the cops showed up at Justin Kan’s door, having received a phony distress call. The next night, it was six fire trucks. And it wasn’t just the people watching who were eager for something a bit more enthralling.

“My first thought was that he spent an awful lot of time sleeping,” Paul Graham, an investor who provided seed funding for Justin.tv, told Fast Company last month.

Despite the initial wave of publicity for the project and its lofty ambitions, the team at Justin.tv figured out pretty quickly that their model wasn’t working. So the entrepreneurs made what’s known as a pivot— when a company decides to completely change direction, hoping to find their niche. They opened up Justin.tv to the world, making it a place where anyone could live-stream their life.

User generated content seemed a smart move. But this new business model also proved troublesome. In 2008, the first of many pirated sporting events appeared on Justin.tv. In no time, the trend caught on, and the site became a haven for illegal webcasts.

People would watch pirated feeds for football, basketball, and baseball games that were otherwise unavailable in their area.

It was a growing problem for a growing company. Within a year, of the first pirated sports game, Justin.tv’s monthly traffic more than doubled, to 20 million visitors.

Professional sports leagues–the UFC in particular–were starting to take notice. Lawsuits went flying. And despite their efforts to crack down, it was difficult to eradicate the pirated content entirely.

But there was more to Justin.tv than pirated sports feeds. Another spectator sport was starting to get a lot of attention with the user-base: Video games.

People were streaming live footage of themselves playing video games, often adding their own commentary.

And others were tuning in. Some were gamers trying to pick up techniques or hints from more skilled players. Some people came for the entertaining commentary. Some just wanted to veg out and watch their favorite games being played.

The expanding niche surprised many at Justin.tv, including Kan himself.

“I didn’t get the gaming streaming,” Kan says in last month’s issue of Fast Company. “I wasn’t a fan and I didn’t understand it.”

“Anytime you say to yourself, ‘Really, people want to do blank?’–that means you’ve discovered something,” adds Graham.

But Emmett Shear, a gamer himself, saw potential.

So Shear and Kan banded together and branched out from Justin.tv with a new site dedicated just to gamers streaming their live-play, Twitch.tv.

Star Craft II and other strategic games are the centerpiece of increasingly popular video game tournaments, like the ones Twitch webcasts live on its site.

The most popular games on the site are StarCraft II, League of Legends, and Call of Duty, according to the Pittsburgh Post Gazette

In addition to individuals streaming their games, Twitch broadcasts live video gaming competitions, like the surprisingly popular StarCraft II tournament held in Las Vegas.

Just how many people want to watch and/or stream video game sessions? As of January 2012, the site was attracting 12 million unique visitors per month. And the site is growing. Today, that number is already past 17 million.

Personally, I would call that a huge success. Only time will tell if live video game streaming goes the way of televised Poker tournaments, but for now, Kan and Shear are onto something with Twitch. And it just so happens to be one of our Axioms For Entrepreneurs:

Think Niche Within Niche.


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