Chad Hurley: How We Did It

YouTube CEO Chad Hurley, not known for being especially candid (especially now that he’s under the lock and key of Google PR!) gave an unusual address last night at a Startup2Startup dinner in Palo Alto where he detailed the story of YouTube. We caught the talk on video. It’s too long for our YouTube account, so we’ve posted it on

Here are my notes (I left out some of the already well-known parts):

– Chad and Steve’s original ideas were video for online auctions and ways for people to connect with each other, but realized they needed to generalize and create a video upload community along the lines of Flickr.
– YouTube didn’t have PowerPoint, just product and stats, when it made the rounds on Sand Hill Road.
– ServerBeach had two pipes, one for redundancy, and YouTube was using one and a half of them, with rest of its customers limited to just half of the one left. ServerBeach had a great plan, $129 month for unlimited data. “They weren’t necessarily prepared for a service like YouTube.”
– Before closing the round with Sequoia had 8-10 people working for them for free. “We told them we would work it out.”
– When Nike soccer video took off on the site, Hurley, Steve Chen and investor Roelof Botha went to Nike HQ in Oregon — nothing came of it but that was the beginning of thinking about commercial solutions beyond personal use, helping people reach a mass audience.
– One of first companies to automate DMCA — the press misses this, according to Hurley — one of various examples of solutions YouTube has built that set examples for its industry. “What people miss is we built a true community around video. These hundreds of competitors are dealing with the same problems but they’re not having the same growth.”
– Hit 1 million video views a day when still working in Sequoia’s offices, built long-term architecture to handle 30 million video views a day but blew past that. “We serve hundreds of millions of videos a day on our system, and receive over 13 hours of video every minute, and we’re still in the process of growing.”
– Hard decision to be acquired…YouTube could have tried to put everything on the line, raised another round, but “That would have been hard, we would have been even more threatening to a lot of the services out there, and it would have been hard for us to operate in an efficient way. So we decided Google was going to be our answer, and I think it’s really turned out that way, because we have been able to continue to grow, we have been able to continue to build a community, and I don’t really think that would have been possible without the help of Google.”
– We really feel opportunity to build new solutions to monetize this new world. Also tremendous opportunity for people to be discovered.
– Moved to San Bruno same day as acquired by Google — very effective because press showed up at their old office.
– “We never anticipated when we started this site we would have such a profound effect on popular culture or the political races, that really just by unlocking this video solution and creating this global audience behind what we were doing, we’re really just enabling so many more people to express their views, not only their talents, but to get a message out there, and that’s what really drives us.”

From Q&A (note: I didn’t capture all questions and answers). See also my recap of a question about potential monetization projects that I didn’t capture on camera.

– Paraphrasing Hurley here: NBC Lazy Sunday video, took off, received millions of views — within a week I sent email to ask if they wanted to upload it to our site, or if they wanted to take it down. They got back to us saying they’d get back to us, and three months later they got back to us, and they told us to take us down, after 7 million views. At that time they didn’t really know what to make of it, they enjoyed the exposure.
– “They have since opened up Hulu with FOX. We think that that’s great. We actually don’t think Hulu would have existed if YouTube hadn’t came along, that the industry wouldn’t have moved in this direction, where easily viewed streams of full-length shows are available to everyone without signing up, ad-supported, so we feel like we’ve already had a great influence on the industry to move in that direction to make their content available, but they also realize that they’re not necessarily competing with us, they’re more competing with video on demand, the TiVos of the world, and those traditional business.”

For another account of the early days, see our recap of a video of a talk by the forgotten YouTube co-founder, Jawed Karim.