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Steve Chen: The Man Behind YouTube's Success

Theo Moret

17 Apr, 2024

4 min read

Many internet entrepreneurs have risen to prominence in recent years, but few have made an impact as profound as Steve Chen, co-founder of YouTube. His platform transformed our relationship with videos, turning us from consumers to creators.

Meet Steve Chen, YouTube's Visionary Co-Founder

From his early days in Taiwan to the tech hubs of Silicon Valley, Steve Chen's journey is nothing short of remarkable. After studying computer science at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, Chen teamed up with Chad Hurley and Jawed Karim to create YouTube — a platform that would redefine our relationship with online videos. 

Steve's influential role as YouTube's Chief Technology Officer played a crucial part in the platform's swift rise, leading to a monumental moment: YouTube was sold to Google in 2006 for $1.65 billion. Beyond YouTube, Chen has continued to make waves in the tech world with ventures like AVOS Systems.

A Brief History of YouTube

Founded in 2005 by Steve Chen, Chad Hurley, and Jawed Karim, YouTube rapidly transformed from a startup into a dominant force in online entertainment and communication.

  • Initial Growth: Within just months of its beta release in May 2005, YouTube was attracting around 30,000 viewers daily. Six months after its official launch, this number ballooned to over two million viewers per day.
  • Content Volume: By March 2006, YouTube hosted over 25 million videos, with approximately 20,000 new uploads every day.
  • Rapid Surge in Popularity: By the summer of 2006, YouTube was among the fastest-growing sites on the web, boasting more than 65,000 new video uploads daily and an average of 100 million daily video views in July.
  • Google Acquisition: On October 9, 2006, Google announced it would purchase YouTube for a staggering $1.65 billion in stock, a deal that concluded on November 13 of the same year.
  • Dominance in Online Media: With Google's backing, YouTube solidified its position as a key player in the global media landscape. By 2018, it generated over twice the revenue of major TV networks, such as NBC.
  • Viral Videos: The platform's early success with Google was fueled by a series of viral hits, including classics like "Evolution of Dance" and "Charlie Bit My Finger."
  • YouTube Today: YouTube remains the premier video-sharing platform globally, boasting billions of users and creators. It has expanded its offerings with features like YouTube Premium, YouTube Music, and YouTube TV.

Quick Facts from Steve Chen's Career

While most renowned for co-founding YouTube, internet entrepreneur Steve Chen's impact goes well beyond the platform, establishing him as a pivotal figure in the evolution of digital media.

  • His Time at PayPal: Before YouTube, Steve started at Confinity, which later became PayPal, where he met Chad Hurley and Jawed Karim. Their shared visions would set the stage for big things to come.
  • The Genesis of Youtube: While discussing their desire for an easy way to share videos, Chen, Hurley, and Karim were struck with the idea for building YouTube, a platform that now hosts billions of videos, with countless hours of content consumed daily.
  • From Humble Beginnings to Tech Titan: YouTube wasn't created in a corporate office but in the garages of its co-founders. Its ascent was meteoric — just 13 months post inception, Google saw potential in the platform and acquired it for a staggering $1.65 billion. This acquisition remains one of the most talked-about transactions in tech history.
  • Championing the Tech: As YouTube's former Chief Technology Officer, Chen was the guiding force behind the site's technological infrastructure. His expertise ensured that YouTube could seamlessly handle the deluge of videos uploaded daily, cementing its place as the go-to video-sharing platform.

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3 Highlights from Steve Chen's Augment Class

  • On Creating Team Alignment: Steve understood the value of team communication from the start. "Every step along the way, we made sure that there was always communication — not just within the engineering department and the product department that I managed, but outside of the departments ... And I think that was critical in being able to get the team to really believe in the product. They weren't just an employee of the team, they were part of the entire company ... The best way to create alignment in the company is through communications and trust."
  • On the Importance of a Co-Founder: Steve believes that the life of an entrepreneur is much easier with a co-founder. "There are different layers to the company ... If you're sitting in that tier in isolation, there are so many challenges, so many hurdles that are always being thrown your way from both directions — up from the board, their demands and their asks, as well as all the challenges that the product is facing, all the issues on the HR side. There are so many of these issues and the only other person that you're going to be able to talk to ... is a co-founder. And without a co-founder, you're going to be isolated and doing all of these things all by yourself."
  • On the Role of Chief Technical Officer: "By the title CTO, you are supposed to be the chief of the technical side of the product in the company. But I would also say that in the early stages of the company, there is much more that the CTO needs to be accountable for rather than just the technical product of the company. It needs to make sure and manage a team of engineers. It needs to make sure the entire engineering team is well-connected with all the other teams within the company."
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