15 lessons to share from my 3 years as a Twitch PM

Sam Chen
14 min readFeb 6, 2021
TwitchCon 2019 Badge

This week marked my last at Twitch. I’m officially hanging up the wrench and leaving this community in the hands of the next generation of Twitch Staff. I’m not leaving the platform though (I’ll still be streaming), but I did want to share some of my experiences and learnings from the last 3 years.

Twitch has been my home for the last three years, it’s been a whirlwind of emotions for 36 months (that’s almost a year!), I’ve gotten to meme with the best of you, I’ve gotten to do a job where people tackle-hug me for the impact my products made, and all along the way I’ve had the pleasure of creating real friendships with some of the greatest people I’ve ever known.

I’ve gotten to see, first-hand, not only Twitch’s growth, but the growth of countless streamers, communities and friends. I wanted to share some of this hard-won wisdom I have earned in my time here. I’m going to break down my advice into lessons for each group of stakeholders I’ve had the pleasure of working with at Twitch.

A hackathon trophy with the immortal words of Forstycup in the background.

Staff

I’m sad to be leaving your ranks, but optimistic because I expect you to carry the mantle of all of us who have come before you. If I was lucky enough to be part of your onboarding at Twitch, this might be a bit of a repeat, but if not, here are my words of wisdom for you:

  • People care about this platform — Twitch is a platform like no other today. No offense to Facebook or YouTube, but the users of Twitch genuinely care about the success of the platform. They aren’t always going to agree with all the decisions we make, but they want to see Twitch succeed. This is possibly the most valuable blessing you could get working here, but it is its own double-edged sword. Don’t let these people down; Twitch is the intersection of content and community, and our users are the reason we continue to exist.
  • Look at the whole picture — Everyone who regularly uses Twitch has a life before and after the streams they view. Don’t ever stand back and think “it’s not my department, it’s not my problem” because none of our users see a difference between subs, bits, ads, moderation or whatever team you’re on. If you stay in the silo of your own team, you’ll only limit your ability to really engage with users. The best products I’ve developed for Twitch were a partnership between the people on my team and a group of dedicated users.
  • You have the opportunity to profoundly affect more lives in a day at Twitch than you’ll likely have at any other job — This is a lesson I learned after I launched Community Gifting in 2018 (yes, there was a time Community Gifting didn’t exist on Twitch). So many people came to me after the launch to tell me that Community Gifting was the reason they can be full time on Twitch. I never looked at my job the same again. This sentiment made me feel elated, but it was also a humbling reminder that I was impacting the lives of many individual streamers, not just Twitch as a whole. You don’t get to build something like this everyday, but you CAN build something like this on any given day. Don’t ever underestimate your ability to progress meaningful change at Twitch. In the words of Margaret Mead: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
Yo Dawg Meme — Community Gifting Style

Viewers

You are crazy kids, misfits, rebels, troublemakers, and above all the lifeblood of Twitch. You might have come to Twitch to watch the next meme only to find yourself part of a community you never want to leave; the addiction is real. Here are my thoughts for you:

  • It’s ok to take time off — The instinct to make Twitch your entire life is hard to fight. I’ve personally felt the need to be in every stream, play every game, participate in every Discord and it has only run me to the ground. I’ve seen many people get burnt out by this and some of them even leave the platform for good. No one thinks less of you if you aren’t in every stream. If a stream does make you feel that way, that might not be the right community for you. My experience throughout these years it that the community will be there when you get back, I promise.
  • Don’t spend above your means — I’ll be the first to say that I helped build Community Gifting and I know how addicting it can be to spam gift subs. When love is for sale, sometimes you gotta buy it. But it’s never worth jeopardizing your finances for it. Believe me, no streamer who’s been around for a while would ever encourage you to debt-finance their lifestyle. Supporting streamers is good, they work hard and your support allows them to keep doing what they do, but don’t do it at your own expense.
  • Don’t avoid subscribing just because you can get everything for free — Yes, I know this is ironic because of my last piece of advice. But here’s the thing. The most beautiful moment you can have on Twitch is finding the first streamer you’re willing to just drop $5 a month on and set it and forget it. It’s because you’ve found community, you’ve found friendship, and you’ve found belonging. Don’t underestimate that feeling. My first paid sub on Twitch was to twitch.tv/thedragonfeeney because even though I could get gifted in her channel whenever I wasn’t subbed, it wasn’t worth it to me to not have her emotes, even just for 2 days. But it was much more than that.
A streamdeck button featuring lobCry of me timing out LotsofGifts (Niall) in LotsofBunnies’ channel

Affiliates

I’m one of you. I streamed when there wasn’t an affiliate program and I’ve been an Affiliate for over 2 years now. Your journey as a streamer is hard, hopefully this will help you along the way:

  • Partnership isn’t everything — I know that checkmark is sexy (the Ambassador one is even more sexy), I know it is. At the end of the day, you don’t need Twitch to validate your value, your worth, or even your content. If you’re not enough without the checkmark, you’ll never be enough with it. In my time at Twitch, I’ve seen streams get partnered and within a year they’ve left the platform for full time jobs. Partnership is a milestone, not the end of the journey. I’m sure you don’t need to be reminded of your value because I’m sure your community does it on a regular basis. You can succeed on Twitch (and in your content-creation life) without ever making Partner.
  • People don’t like you because you’re “just like ___” — One of the key things I see Affiliates do is copy someone else’s content, sayings, or style… then months later they wonder why they aren’t “just as successful”. The reality is that the community you build is the one who likes you for who you are, not who you’re trying to be. It doesn’t mean: don’t watch streams and adapt to something that works for you. There just isn’t a shortcut, a magic bullet, or a genie to make your stream as successful as you feel like it should be. It’s why the Devin Nashes or the Harris Hellars of the world can give away so much great free advice; they understand at the end of the day, the audience of people who can take their wisdom and be successful is a small group of individuals who will put the hard work in it. As they say, luck is just hard work meets opportunity. Make your own luck.
  • Tools are just that, tools; they aren’t solutions — If I had a penny for every time someone told me that a specific Partner feature was the one reason they weren’t more successful, and I took those pennies, bought GameStop at $6 and held until $400, I’d be rich! But in all seriousness, remember that the people who have been on this platform for 5+ years did it without an affiliate program, without emotes, without any true form of on-platform monetization. Twitch might be different now, but it’s only gotten easier to grow and be stable. The tools you have today and the audience that visits Twitch on a daily basis is only going to increase. Use it to your advantage, don’t waste time lamenting about what you don’t have today.
Ceddy prediction that I wouldn’t make Partner in the next year at a Chicken and Waffle breakfast party at TwitchCon 2019

Partners

I’m so glad I’ve gotten to know so many of you over the years. I’ve been to more PAXs than I can remember, gotten more business cards than I can hold (they’re in storage but it’s a lot), and had more cups of coffee getting Partner feedback than is healthy for a human. You’re what made my time at Twitch truly special, and I hope to honor that love with this advice:

  • Set goals, achieve them, rinse and repeat — You’ve all achieved something in life most people will never be able to do, you’re a Partner on Twitch. Dana White (President of UFC) came to an event I was at once and told the room, you’ve all done something that was too hard for me to do: “get a 4 year college degree”; I believe you can do a lot more than you think, if you just put your mind to it. That’s how I feel about you. You set a goal and you achieved it. The first goal was one Twitch made for you; you have the ability to do it for yourself. There’s always someone who’s going to make more money, have more views, or “be better” than you, but they didn’t live your life, walk in your shoes, or build your community. You did something difficult and achieved something most can’t. You can do it again, I believe.
  • You don’t own your viewers, and they don’t own you — One of the most toxic things I hear people say (not just partners) is those are MY viewers. You don’t own your viewers, they have their own lives whether they’re on Twitch or not. The most toxic belief is that you need to chase down those viewers. I once had a streamer reach out to me after I told one of her mods that I stopped coming by because she got really focused on the game and didn’t interact with chat. She immediately reached out and apologized. And the first thing I told her was: “You don’t owe me an apology, this is your channel, your content, and your community.” If you change your content for the few, you’ll alienate the many that got you to where you are. I firmly believe Twitch is a matching game, the better viewers are matched with a streamer the longer they’ll stay with that channel; it’s ok if someone isn’t a great match for your channel.
  • Don’t have beliefs, have hypotheses — I think everyone’s heard about how valuable data is but data is valuable because it lets you test a hypothesis, do something different, and measure how it does. Sometimes it’s hard to get data at Twitch (both internally and externally), but not having data doesn’t mean “don’t take a data oriented approach”. The streamers I consider the most successful have so much information to back their choices by changing something, measuring the results, and then doing it over and over again. Don’t let things happen to you; take control of your own destiny by developing and testing your own hypotheses. Believe me when I tell you some of the most successful products on Twitch didn’t come from nowhere. You don’t want to see what the 2018 /subscriptions page looks like, but that’s a story for another time.
The subs team finally activating cumulative sub tenure after 5 months of hard work

Twitch Leadership

Endings are always bittersweet; my time at Twitch will always be something I hold near and dear to my heart. I can’t help but express my admiration and appreciation for the leadership at Twitch. You’ve given me the opportunity to do something incredible both personally and professionally. Having sat in numerous meetings with many of you, I know your jobs are hard, the decisions you make are often impossible, and while I don't expect any of you have the time to read this, I want to share these thoughts in hopes that you do:

  • Celebrate people, their accomplishments, and even the everyday — I started my career at Walt Disney World. They’re a company known all over the world for the stellar customer service (in many ways, the same way Amazon is). What I learned on my first day of orientation was a very simple “flywheel”: creating a safe environment allows you to treat your employees well; treat your employees well and they’ll treat your customers well; those customers will create business value. For as many wins as we’ve had in the last three years I’ve been at the company, I wish we spent more time celebrating them together. Celebrating the individuals that accomplished seemingly impossible things, celebrating the high performers who go above and beyond, and just as important, celebrating the individuals who move on, either to a different department or a different company. Every promotion at Disney was celebrated and every departure was announced with as much fanfare as every new hire.
    For those of you who had the chance to attend a Waffle Wednesday, you’ll have seen the variety of employees from all around, from different teams, functions and all walks of life. Whenever someone asked what “this was for” or what “we are celebrating” I’d just say “because it’s Wednesday”. You help create a company and environment where people are excited about what they do; embrace it!
  • The community trusts you, live up to that trust — When I joined the company, one of the first things I realized was the value of trust. Every chance I got with the community, I bought low so I could sell high on a rainy day. When I talk to users, new and old, streamers and viewers, or large and small, they all profoundly believe what we have to say. They choose to listen and engage and interpret. That trust is extremely easy to break and extremely hard to get back. Don’t give more reasons for our customers to not trust us. Own the successes, and own the mistakes. We’ll build a better platform together, not as staff and users, but as one family.
  • Streamers are more than numbers — Finally, just as engineers aren’t “resources”, streamers on the platform aren’t just an aggregate number. They have lives, they pay rent, and they have families that count on them. Every decision that gets made has an impact not only on the whole but the parts that equal the whole. Why is this important? Because if there’s one thing that I learned from my time at Twitch, is that the deeper we go into an individual’s experience the more likely we are to find something that’s universal. Some of the best things I’ve done for the company are ones where I got deep enough with one user to find something that I realized everyone needed but not many could express. Twitch succeeds when we all do, not only when some do at the expense of others.
TwitchCon 2018 Keynote when Emmett announces cumulative sub tenure

Special Thanks

This journey was made possible by the love and support of so many people, but there are a few people specifically that I want to take the time to shout out.

Bobby Scarnewman — Sup wit it, scar? You’re the real homie. You were the best partner in crime anyone could ever ask for. As I’ve always said, you and I have the same heart but two different brains. You’ve made such a profound impact on my life, you’ve made a bigger impact on Twitch than others will ever know, and you’ve never been properly thanked for either. Thank you, Bobby. You literally taught me what it means to belong to a community. If the world had a few more Bobby Scars, we’d all be better off.

Eddie Kotowski and Sanny Chawla — You two took a PM who thought pubsubs were only delicious sandwiches one can get at Publix to one of the most technically oriented PMs at Twitch (someone else’s words, not mine). I’ve been so proud to see both of you grow as engineers, and now as managers. Thanks for your patience, your kindness, and your dedication to delivering the best user experience. When my engineers hear me say, “Sanny/Eddie would have never let me do that,” they might be confused, but I’ll always know what that means.

Bobby Carp and Saurabh Oberoi — You know I went to the University of Michigan. I might have never played football but the phrase, “The Team, The Team, The Team,” never rang more true than my time working with you. You taught me the art of balancing process and people, helping to create a powerhouse team that only continues to deliver at Twitch. Your legacies will live long beyond your departure from the team we were all a part of. Every growing engineering team should be so lucky to have leaders like you on them.

Feen (thedragonfeeney) and Feff — When I moved from Amazon to Twitch, my biggest fear was I wouldn’t be able to get feedback from my users — boy, did I have no idea how heckin’ dumb that was… I can’t imagine the luck I had that you were the first Partner I was introduced to. Through these years, you’ve been more than just users to me, more than friends, you’ve been the driving force for why I always pushed for my products at Twitch to be the best. I’m in awe of the community you’ve developed on Twitch and I always saw my role at Twitch as something sacred, because I never wanted to let you down, and in turn, I never wanted to let any streamer on Twitch down. I may leave Twitch but I won’t leave your channel, ’cause it’s the home of Pizza Friday, that’s this Friday, I’ll bring my pizza, and we’ll talk about it.

Me and Hannahbart serving up a pineapple and anchovy pizza from MOD Pizza on Friday at PAX West 2018. Everyone’s favorite meme-flavored pizza.

What’s Next?

My favorite saying from one of my favorite shows of all time, The West Wing: “What’s Next”. The next thing you get to tackle gives you both a sense of appreciation for the present and a sense of inevitability for the future. I’m currently working on a new podcast, starting to write a book on product management (since one of my engineers convinced me to), and getting ready to call Los Angeles my home as I move there for my next career opportunity.

Who knows, maybe I’ll even try to make Twitch Partner.

Thank you all for making the last three years the most memorable of my life. Goodbye, and thanks for all the waffles.

The challenge coin from the West Wing Weekly featuring the saying “What’s Next?”

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Sam Chen

Product at Coupang Taiwan, former Twitch / Amino / Amazon. Aspiring author.