YouTube’s Chad Hurley: ‘Surround yourself with great people’

29 Oct 2010

YouTube CEO Chad Hurley last night at the Dublin Web Summit advised technology entrepreneurs to surround themselves with great people and keep their operations lean and mean in order to be more efficient.

Fine art graduate Hurley, who established YouTube in 2005 with PayPal colleagues Jawed Karim and Steve Chang, sold the company to Google in late 2006 for US$1.65bn.

Hurley was interviewed live on stage by Siliconrepublic’s John Kennedy at the Dublin Web Summit, where Hurley talked openly about building YouTube, the company’s acquisition by Google and the future of the video-streaming site. He also doled out sage words of advice to up-and-coming start-ups.

Speaking at the summit, which is currently ongoing in the Chartered Accountants Offices, Dublin 2, the YouTube founder spoke about the site’s humble beginnings and how it managed to create the world’s biggest video-sharing network.

“We were in the right place at the right time in terms of people having the devices to create these videos. And having the connections to upload and view them, as well. That all came together around the time we created the site,” he said.

Art of the start

Hurley said he believes having an art degree helped him think outside the box and dream up ideas that related to your customer more instead of focusing on the mechanics of the web. However, he emphasised the importance of having technical muscle to reinforce your concept and see it through to fruition.

“I think a great combo is not just having someone to come up with an idea but having someone to build it. So I’m not underestimating the value of engineering to any degree. There’s a play between engineering and design where people have a product they can emotionally relate to and understand from the brand to the community you have to build.”

Despite the short 18 months before the site was acquired, it had multiple offers before Google came knocking on their door. This allowed them to grow, and in the meantime see out their potential. However, while this played in their favour, Hurley admitted such rapid popularity and growth took them by surprise.

“Unfortunately, growth surpassed our expectations and we weren’t able to keep up on all fronts – namely infrastructure, people and cash. All of those things were in great need and exponentially continued to grow. Google were trying to build a video service at the time so it was a great combination. They had the sales teams and we had the community.”

Hurley on the future of media

The impact YouTube had on the world at large was completely unplanned and despite becoming a new form of news service in its own right, the content has a long way to go in terms of becoming truly valuable socially.

“For people to react to is really emotional. We still have a long way to go in terms of people producing their own content that is new, compelling and valuable. Just to hear about the community has been one of the things I’ve been happy about – not necessarily making a difference in politics or producing something newsworthy,” he said.

Hurley spoke openly about what he believed lay in the future for YouTube and the potential for the site. He admitted he desired to see the site made widely accessible and hoped that one day it might support all channels of distribution.

“It’s really early in terms of what we can do but we need to focus on making the site easier to use. It’s not just a problem of search, its building better and better recommendations. It’s really a combination of improving these things. Down the road we need to extend this experience to all devices and make the site interactive on the mobile phones or PC or TV and provide more business models. It would be great if we became this video platform that supported all types of distribution.”

Before opening questions to the floor, Hurley answered an interesting question about how he believed the world of online advertising and YouTube would cross over going forward.

“It’s going to be huge considering the progress we’ve seen over the last five years. From our eyes, creating a great ad experience will help our partners which in turn can create great content for the community. And we have a long way to go in terms of integration with TV. These worlds will merge and if it’s still a linear broadcast they’ll be pooling ads dynamically to serve the individual.”

Hurley’s advice to entrepreneurs

Finally, he addressed the room full of entrepreneurs who had come to hear him speak and told them among other things that team work and being unafraid to reassess your plan mid stride can be vitally important.

“Surround yourself with great people. I think you need people you can trust to do their job and sometimes the product or idea can die if someone is too controlling. Be prepared to adapt. Also, being lean and mean helps you build something more efficient. You may have initial thoughts or ideas on how something will work but you need to observe how you and the community are using it. Don’t be afraid to change direction mid course,” he concluded.

It also emerged on the same night from the Founders event that ran in parallel with the Dublin Web Summit that Hurley will be moving from the CEO position to an advisory role at YouTube, where he will be adding his attentions to new projects.