Blog Post

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.

39 Responses to “Chad Hurley: How We Did It”

  1. Heyy, just wondering if the guys that started this up had a university education and any details about that? if you could get back to me that would be great. thanks

  2. Most of the original ideas in YouTube came from me, including the Paypal “take with them” thing. He just claims that he came up with these things, but he did not. They did build a company, they run it every day, but whatever, justice is never really done.

    Inventor of the YouTube brand: h ttp://

  3. There really hasn’t been anything too impressive by way of development since YouTube was acquired by Google. They have trial features that they test out, but they really don’t deliver the utility that viewers and creators really would like to see.

    The future of online video is about the community yes, but also about interactiveness, and collaborativeness, two areas that YouTube should be paying attention to.

    They have their defined brand and maybe don’t want to mess with a good thing which I understand, that fortunately gives the smaller online video sharing platforms avenues to explore and innovate around.

    One sure thing is that YouTube will have a hard time ever monetizing a decent percentage of their content, which means profit margins will likely always be low, unless they can demand huge CPM’s on their premium content to compensate for their bulk of UGC.

    It will be interesting to see if Google or YouTube ever loose their #1 positions within the web’s mega markets.

  4. Interesting article. I got excited when I saw you had the video on; thinking I could view it on my iTouch. But the QuickTime format there isn’t compatible with iPhone/iTouch. Will NewTeeVee be releasing videos also in iPhone/iTouch format?

  5. Chad Hurley says they have automatic DMCA systems, or user-generated automatic moderation. Does that mean they have analog and digital fingerprinting filters on uploaded content? Do they provide content owners to scan their content and submit those analog and digital fingerprints? Does Youtube let content owners automatically “take-over” the content onto their own Youtube account when someone else uploads it?

    The worst thing I think with regards to content owners being still legitimally angry at Youtube, is that Youtube still doesn’t monetize the views as it should, so all these billions of views of copyrighted material isn’t directly monetized, basically it’s bad for content owners and bad for Youtube as well in terms of paying for bandwidth and infrastructure. Although some say content owners can monetize their content indirectly (stuff like when people watch your music video or your concert video on Youtube, more people buy your CD) and some people say it doesn’t matter that Google is loosing millions of dollars on paying for the bandwidth and infrastructure required to deliver 40 thousand terrabytes of bandwidth per month currently, including the infrastructure required to encoding of 1000 minutes of video every minute, host it and process it in different ways.

    I didn’t like Flash based videos when Youtube started, I still don’t like it. But the popularity and ease of use of the Youtube experience is impressive. Still though, I think it’s much too hard to really get meaningful experiences on Youtube, the personalized video recommendations engine isn’t very good so far, the quality is still so low and the incentive from content producers is still very limited cause the monetization is not very effective.

    Google is the coolest company out there, but I think they are still too slow at releasing new features. It’s been over a year and a half since Google aquired Youtube, and still nothing much seem to have happened other then perhaps that there is a better more reliable infrastructure behind it, view count and audience is growing, fancy statistics for the content providers, that’s still no difference from the users point of view and especially I would say it could be said to be disappointing from the content providers point of view.

    Chad Hurley says he is proud that there are some college kids that are earning thousands of dollars each month posting videos to Youtube, that some people get record contracts or get hired on TV because of being discovered on Youtube. That’s all fine and well, I wouldn’t have the exact monetization statistics, but I don’t think there are more then a few tens perhaps a few hundreds of independent content providers that are able to make money on Youtube thus far. Monetization of Youtube with banner ads next to the video is not much better then traditional adsense, you need millions of hits to start making a few hundreds dollars a month. Once Youtube has activated automatic overlay advertising, the monetization rates should grow 10x or 100x in terms of monetization per 1000 views. This will lead to tens of thousands of college kids being able to make a living being creative with their video publishing on Youtube. So really, Youtube needs to increase the impact from monetization 1000 times.

  6. Hi, I’m Evaangellus. I’m trying to start something called the 5 Million Club. I’m looking for, best and most popular videos on Youtube. I’m trying to find videos that have at least 1 million hits with a rating of over 5 stars. You wouldn’t by chance have any recommendations? So far I have almost 200 videos added to the 5 Million Club Playlist and I’m looking for more.