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It starts with a small insight – YouTube co-founder

Chad Hurley: success is not always characterised by ‘a revolutionary breakthrough’.
Chad Hurley, YouTube co-founder and creator, speaking on the 'YouTube Generation' at the Global Sage Summit

NEW ORLEANS – In a discussion on the meteoric rise of YouTube at the Global Sage Summit on Wednesday, the video sharing site’s creator and co-founder Chad Hurley said that the company would not be where it was today if it hadn’t sold to Google.

“We were able to internationalise by working with Google and take it to the next level,” he said. In October of 2006, Hurley and his partner sold YouTube to Google for $1.6 billion. He still serves as the company’s adviser.

Currently, it is estimated that YouTube attracts over 1 billion unique users watching over 6 billion hours of video each month with 80% of its traffic coming from outside the US.

When the dot-com bubble was reaching its height during the late 1990s, Hurley, Steve Chen and Jawed Karim, who were all former PayPal employees, identified the need for an easy and seamless way to share videos.

“We were looking at the state of video at the time and got talking about a way to publicly share them,” he recalled. “At that point, digital cameras had video modes and many people were recording short videos, or accidentally taking videos. This footage was just sitting on their desktops and for the most part, was too large to attach.”

As the concept began to develop, the trio moved to Palo Alto in California in the summer of 1999. “And then the [dot-com] bubble burst, and we saw all of the companies around us disappearing. We were fortunate to have survived that crash and we realised that we might have had an opportunity to turn what he had into something bigger… but not in a million years did we anticipate the scale of what it would eventually achieve.”

He said that when the site started to reach 1 million views a day, “we sat down with a venture capitalist to explore how this growth could be supported. The numbers and coverage that we were receiving was something that really blew our minds at the time. It was fascinating to see how people were using the service.”

He explained that the YouTube platform was developed so that anyone could participate. “We wanted to democratise the video experience, and people started to use it for various purposes – from education to business to entertainment.”

He said that from a business perspective, “you can be as creative as you want with the platform. But it’s best to be interactive as possible. You want your content to feel organic, and not necessarily overproduced. Your customers should be able to relate to the message you’re trying to send them.”

The democratisation of voice is a big opportunity for SMEs to use as a tool to expand volumes as a business.

Soon after selling YouTube to Google, Hurley co-founded AVOS Systems. He said that he is often driven by curiosity of what is possible.

His next move is focused on developing a video start-up, the assertion of which is collaborative creation as well as automated editing. “The fact that people are making videos together now is amazing but there is content just sitting on peoples phones – they don’t know how to use editing tools and life is too fast-paced to be able to take time to sit down and edit. We are focusing on automating that function.”

Hurley said that his ideas are generated by using a whiteboard, spending time brainstorming ideas and talking through it all with friends and colleagues. He says that ultimately it comes down to small insights. “It’s not about a revolutionary breakthrough. It’s usually about the small detail that is overlooked by everyone else. YouTube started with a really simple idea. The idea that these businesses [global tech giants] started with grand plans really isn’t true. It starts with a small insight and then trying to build from there.” 

Hurley said that despite being fortunate with successes, “along the way there were many situations that did not work out as planned”.

“You have to have perseverance and believe you are trying to solve a problem. You have to have a team around you that shares the same belief. With YouTube, we had no idea how video worked and it took a lot of trial and error. With any success, there’s many failures.”

*This writer attended the summit as a guest of Sage

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