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.

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Turning YouTube from a sensational rumpus to a profitable corporation will require Chad and Steve to thread the company through legal disputes, hire at least 100% more employees than they have now, negotiate with the biggest ad and media companies in the world, maintain their unique identity without getting swallowed up by Google, please shareholders, manage p.r. and flawlessly execute a thousand other tasks that far more experienced executives have flubbed. All while Chad has to make time for his wife and two small children, Steve needs to buy a car to replace his crappy Jeep Wrangler, and the broadband in the YouTube office is so slow, it takes forever to watch their own site. Can a couple of kids who grew up nowhere near Silicon Valley handle all this?

CHAD MEREDITH HURLEY has the lanky and languorous carriage of a teenager who just rolled out of bed. He wears a stubble beard over a complexion that doesn't see enough sun, and he has a habit of pushing his chin-length hair back from his forehead so that by the end of the day it's a bit oily and Gordon Gekko--ish.

Raised in the southeastern Pennsylvania town of Birdsboro, Chad is the middle child of Donald, a financial consultant, and JoAnn, a schoolteacher. He was an arty kid, always watercoloring and sculpting, which is not to say he ran with the artsy crowd. There is nothing affected or capering about Chad--his temperature runs so low he comes off at first as a dullard--and it's easy to imagine him as a slightly introverted, earnest boy trying to sell artwork (not lemonade) from his front lawn, as he did in an unsuccessful venture that taught him the difference between art and commerce.

Chad was unusual in that his artistic proclivities coincided with an interest in business and technology. In ninth grade, he built an amplifier that won third place in a national electronics competition. By the time he was in college, he would hole up for hours online, doing those things boys do these days--studying Web design, playing games, experimenting with animation. He did not come equipped with a sense of entitlement or snobbery; his brother Brent, 27, told me that to earn money during one summer in college, Chad joined a pyramid-marketing scheme for knife sets. "He would come over to our friends' houses and cut through a soda can or something," says Brent. "One of our family friends, they joke now, 'Hey, you sold us these knives and look at you now.'"

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