Entrepreneurs

Twitch's Kevin Lin: This is what it's like to have Amazon buy your company

Getty Images | Alex Wong

As Amazon announces plans to acquire grocery store chain Whole Foods in a deal valued at $13.7 billion, the question that pops into the minds of entrepreneurs everywhere is: What's it like when Amazon buys your company?

Kevin Lin, co-founder and COO of Twitch, the video-game-streaming site that Amazon bought for $970 million in cash in 2014, knows the answer to that: "Frightening," he jokes. "At least at first."

"I find entrepreneurs talk a lot about – especially after they raise money — 'Who's gonna buy us? What are we going to do with the money?' But you can't think that way," Lin tells CNBC. "Especially people who are vocal in the office, and you find this, surprisingly, a lot. And it makes your culture really weird when you think about it a lot."

In the case of Twitch, "We weren't seeking it but all these companies started reaching out – we're like, 'Why are all of these companies reaching out all of a sudden asking how things were going, wanting to meet'?

"But we met with a ton of people and Amazon from a company values perspective matched ours really well. And we felt like we were really differentiating. They weren't doing anything like we were. Whereas other companies had similar platforms or similar businesses. We felt pretty comfortable with it," says Lin.

Kevin Lin
Getty Images | Steve Jennings
Kevin Lin

Amazon has gotten a bad rap for its workplace culture in recent years. And Whole Foods founder and CEO John Mackey was not on board with the idea of a sale before the Amazon acquisition announcement. What has the experience actually been like for Lin and Twitch, especially now that some time has passed?

"So far it's been great," Lin says. "We're still in San Francisco. Amazon is super excited about what we're doing. We're doing more and more with different teams there. So far so good."

One of the departments the Twitch crew works with is Amazon Game Studios. "They're building games so we're obviously going to help them how to build communities on Twitch," says Lin. "Or help them figure out e-sports if that's what they want to do."

It's not always easy when a new team comes in to work with the old team. "It's really awkward to see at first, because [it's] like 'You guys are all doing the exact same thing as we are,'" admits Lin. "But they're like, 'That's OK. We're doing it slightly differently – maybe we're building some of the same core tech, but hey, two shots on goal.'

"And I love that approach," says Lin.

The Twitch team is also afforded a lot of freedom. "It's never, 'You must do this.' It's always, 'Hey, thought you guys might like to talk, if nothing comes of it, no big deal.' That's very much their approach. Which has been really awesome to see," explains Lin.

Plus, there are all the benefits of the new team being, well, Amazon.

"They're all about these 'think big' ideas," says Lin. "And we have, for better or for worse, tons of those."

While Lin says he and his Twitch cohort try to remain focused, Amazon gives them the opportunity to try new things – and have those trials be paid for. Definitely a perk.

It give Twitch the chance to say, "Hey, this isn't really exactly Twitch, but we'd love to try something like this," says Lin. "And if they like the idea … if it makes sense, [Amazon says,] 'We'll fund it.'

"Sweet! It's like doing this instead of having to raise money from VCs again," says Lin. "There's definitely no shortage of crazy ambitions, so it's been a pleasure."

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