The YouTube Gurus

How a couple of regular guys built a company that changed the way we see ourselves

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MICHAEL GRECCO FOR TIME

Chad Hurley, Steve Chen and hundreds of the videos that helped turn YouTube into a sensation.

Let's say you're in your 20s and you start your first Internet company. Let's say 21 months later you sell it for $1.65 billion. What happens next?

At first, not much. Some of the money is tied up in escrow, and the traditions of modesty in Silicon Valley require a period of restraint before you spend in the big, life-changing way that your wealth will permit.

Still, the world wants to talk to you. Japanese television, Argentine newspapers, a bunch of French journalists and what seems like every news outlet in the U.S. Friends you haven't heard from in a long time send e-mails. Hey, how's it going? Long time no see! BTW I have this great business idea ...

And so even though you've just left a photo shoot with an imperious, name-dropping L.A. photographer and ride to the airport in a jet-black Escalade, when you arrive at LAX, you have to stand in the United Economy line because you're still flying coach. Having removed your shoes to get through security--an indignity you'll never again endure if one day you spend an inconsequential few million on a jet--you walk past a newsstand to see your company on the cover of Wired and GQ.

"Oh, and have you seen FORTUNE? ... Yeah, we're in there too."

And there they are: Steve Chen, 28, and Chad Hurley, 29, two of the three founders of YouTube (the other, Jawed Karim, went to grad school last year), a couple of boy-men looking out from a magazine and up at themselves in real life. Then they board the plane, Steve way in the back and Chad closer to the front after paying an extra $24 for an "Economy Plus" seat.

Such is life these days for Chad and Steve--and because they are still young enough to get the occasional pimple, I don't mind calling them Chad and Steve. They are premoguls, near magnates. They foreshadow but don't quite yet embody the wealth and power that accompany their role as the new demiurges of the online world. At a GQ party in West Hollywood, Calif., a few weeks ago, Al Gore tapped Steve on the shoulder outside the bathroom to congratulate him on the success of YouTube. Chad chatted with Leonardo DiCaprio, handsome and taller than you think and ashing his cigarette on the floor. But at the end of the night, the YouTube boys were hanging with the B crowd, Steve eating a burger (despite a disapproving glare from his girlfriend Julie) and Chad drinking until 2:30 a.m. with a guy who was in the Jackass movies--not even the main guy. Guys, you gotta know when to leave the party. (When Leo does.)

But of course the party is just starting for Chad and Steve, whose omnium-gatherum of online videos has captivated the Web for the past year, at least since a Saturday Night Live digital short called Lazy Sunday was forwarded millions of times last December, increasing visits to youtube.com 83%. (If you don't know Lazy Sunday, don't tell anyone, particularly anyone under 30. Just quietly YouTube it now.)

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