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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If it's true that people make their own luck, Chad made a lot of it. In 1999, he was finishing up at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, where he had majored in computer science before switching to graphic design and printmaking. ("Computer science, that was too technical, too mechanical for Chad," says his father Don. "He wanted to be on the creative side." Chad spent much of his time running for the cross-country team, and he was in top shape at the time. The not insubstantial paunch he has added since then is a source of some consternation.) Around graduation, Chad read an article about a new company called PayPal, which back then was trying to enable PDA users to beam money to each other. Chad sent PayPal his résumé, and on a Wednesday evening he came downstairs to announce he had a job interview on Friday. The company flew him to California and asked him to show his skills by designing a company logo (it's still the PayPal logo to this day). That Sunday, PayPal's CEO offered Chad a job as the company's first designer. He slept on a friend's floor for a few weeks, scrounging money for pizza before he got his first paycheck.

It was a propitious move; Chad had joined a firm that would soon abandon the handheld-payment concept in favor of something far more lucrative: securing online transactions. In 2002 eBay bought PayPal for $1.54 billion, and as an early employee, Chad walked away with enough to buy a few luxuries--including his Tag Heuer watch--and plenty of seed money for a future venture. "Either he was incredibly brilliant and he saw the opportunity, or he was really lucky--I don't know," says Ryan Donahue, who was PayPal's second designer and roomed with Chad for a time. "But to hit gold with your first job out of college is pretty rare. And then for his first company to be YouTube, he's gotta be a smart guy."

Chad was also lucky to meet his future wife, Kathy Clark, at a party in 2000. Clark shared his interest in technology and in starting a family. She also turned out to be the daughter of James Clark, the legendary Silicon Valley entrepreneur who founded or co-founded three billion-dollar-plus companies: Silicon Graphics, Netscape and Healtheon. His daughter, 36, is an intensely private person--she was reticent when I visited the Clark-Hurley home in Menlo Park, Calif., for a brief meal of takeout burritos in their trophy kitchen (Wolf range, lovely). She asked that I not reveal the names of the kids. Kathy and Chad have never before publicly discussed her father's identity. Their reluctance is understandable: Jim Clark is one of the valley's most revered figures, and because he runs a media-sharing website--Shutterfly, founded in 1999--it would be tempting to think he was the real force behind the video-sharing site his son-in-law was starting. But Chad says Clark has had only a tiny role in YouTube, merely offering the boys advice in 2005, when the start-up was seeking its initial round of funding. "Basically I have never wanted to mix money and family, so we haven't talked much about it," Chad told me.

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