Episode 3
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Episode 3
Finding Your Zone of Genius with Justin Kan

Finding Your Zone of Genius with Justin Kan

Everybody has a Zone of Excellence, where they're really great at something that just saps all their energy. Where they really need to be is in their Zone of Genius where they're thriving doing something they're great at and they love doing it.

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Mathilde Collin Hi, everyone. I'm Mathilde Collin and I'm the CEO and co-founder of Front. I started this company because I wanted more people to come to work and be happy. And at the beginning of this year, I started a quest and tried to understand way better what companies can do to make their employees more happy and find more meaning. And so as part of that, I've been interviewing people with interesting perspectives on finding meaning and happiness at work. And so I'm very happy to have Justin Kan today. Justin was the CEO and co-founder of Atrium.

He has started a few companies before, one of them being Justin TV that became Twitch was sold to Amazon for, I think, a billion dollars in 2014. And 2014 is also the year I met Justin as he was a partner at Y Combinator. And very few people know, but I don't think I would have been into YC without Justin, so I don't think I would be here today without him. Now, as much as I respect what Justin has done as an entrepreneur and as a business person, what I admire most about him is his transparency and candor and vulnerability when he talks about finding happiness in this challenging journey of being an entrepreneur. And that's what I want to talk about today. So, Justin, thank you so much for being here. 

Justin Kan Thanks for having me. I'm super excited. 

Mathilde Collin Great. So the first thing I want to talk about is this concept of meaningful work. So it seems like more and more people are not looking for just a job or just a career. They want a calling or they want more meaning in their work. And so the first question I have for you is, do you find your job meaningful? 

Justin Kan Yeah, I think I do. I don't think that was always the case. I think a lot of times I didn't find my job meaningful, it was just a means to an end. You know, I wanted to have a big company or I wanted to be famous startup founder. So I had to do all these things I didn't like to do. The concept that really opened up my job and turned it into the best job I've ever had was the concept of living in your "zone of genius," a.k.a. the things that you love to do that really give you energy. Most people, founders and really everyone else end up in their "zone of competence," which is the things that they really don't love to do, but they're really good at and they think they need to do. And so they create a job they're really good at, but they're miserable. And even CEOs up there, where they're in a spot where, you know, they're like, I have to do all these things because my company won't survive without it. I have to do the sales. I have to manage product. Whatever they don't like to do, but they're good at. And oftentimes when they get stuck in that position, they feel like they're trapped. So I've definitely lived there in my past. And when I learned this concept of like living in your zone of genius, I went through and explicitly said, what are all my areas of responsibility? And which ones do I love doing? Which ones give me energy and what are the ones that don't? And for the ones that don't, maybe I can find somebody who actually it's in their zone of genius to to do these things and have like true 100 percent responsibility for these things. And that's what I did. And my work became a lot more meaningful to me after that. 

Mathilde Collin Yes. And how do you think you came to that realization? So why didn't you do that in your previous jobs and what made it special in this specific opportunity? 

Justin Kan Yeah, so. Well, I spent 15 years not doing that, so I might be in the remedial class. But you know, I really learned it because of an outside coach. So this CEO coach, you know, Matt Mochary and Matt really isn't a genius concept. As for Matt. So I didn't make it up. He told me about it and helped me kind of do take the first steps by doing an audit of my calendar. So I went through my past three weeks calendar together with him, and he was like, did what was this meeting? Did it give you energy or did it drain you? And then I just circled every, you know, everything that gave me energy and blew and everything that took away energy and red. And I tried to figure out how to not do any of the red things. Yeah. 

Mathilde Collin What was the percentage of green. I did the same. Go say so I'm curious. 

Justin Kan Yeah. I think it was probably like 50 50. And what is it now? I need to do another audit. I don't have a recent audit, but I would say that it's probably like 85 to 90 percent blue now. Yeah. I didn't have green pens so green. 

Mathilde Collin So one thing that I find interesting is you're in this position where you're askew and so you got the opportunity to meet with metamaterials, which is great. And I got the opportunities amazing. And I also think that it's easier for CEOs and founders to find meaning because they know exactly why they're working on what they're working on. They usually care about it because otherwise they wouldn't work as hard. And so what I've been curious about is how can companies and CEOs make sure that that's also happening for their employees? So do you think that employees at Yttrium find their job meaningful? 

Justin Kan I think some of them do. And yeah, some of them probably don't. Yes. Yet. Right. Yeah. I think that term start off is pretty normal company from an employee culture and workplace happiness. Let's say two years were two years old, so two years ago. And I think we have been investing a lot in it in the past year. 

Justin Kan And so it's gone. You know, we've improved a lot, but it's still a lot to be improved, to be honest. I see my job as kind of the primary facilitator to help everyone in the company live in their zone of genius, because I have this comment right. I was outside coach a lot of outside resources, training, etc. I've been very blessed to get those things. But you're right, it is hard for even executives on a team in a company, let alone, you know, kind of everybody else in the company to get that same kind of training. 

Justin Kan So that's really what I'm doing for the company. So I actually went and went through all my executives. We went through their Ayoade and we said, what's in your zone of genius? What's not yet? And how do you with your team? Because each of these executives is really running their own team and within their organization. How do you, like, transfer the responsibilities? You're not excited about that. Don't give you energy to someone else where they might actually jump at the level of responsibility. Yeah. And going through that process now, and I think it's it's already been very freeing for those team members. And my goal is really to bring that culture, that mindset all the way down the organization. 

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