There’s a great debate over at YCombinator about my blog post from 2006 titled, “YouTube is not a real business.”
What a horrible headline in 2015 — but I stand behind half of it to this day!
The fact that YouTube exists today is nothing short of a miracle. You have to give kudos to the team, Sequoia Capital and Google, for literally saving this business.
At the time I wrote that post, YouTube was not a real business; it was a very simple website largely built off copyright violations with unsustainable legal and bandwidth bills. The fact that they were forced to sell a business that is now worth $100-150b for $1.6b is a good indication for how close to the brink of destruction they were.
[ Click to Tweet (can edit before sending): http://ctt.ec/f9594 ]
There are three important lessons here for founders:
Breaking the Rules Can Pay Off
Google made a sick, sick bet and won big by buying a huge lawsuit and a growing business. They broke a ton of M&A rules and got 100x on their investment. Given that Napster, Kazaa, and countless other “media sharing” services had been absolutely crushed, it is a true testament to Google’s legal and leadership teams that they took this risk. It was not clear that they would win their cases, but they did.
While the management team at YouTube might not have directly supported copyright violations, they did aggressively pursue a “we’re sorry that’s not our problem — we’re a platform” approach. An approach that is now the standard for disruptive startups.
Content ID was a brilliant innovation
YouTube was able to calm down many a pissed off media holder when they showed them content ID: “Look, we know this is your video so we will shut it down or let you claim it — and the revenue from it — for all time! What would you like us to do?” Think of how fucking brilliant that was. That’s perhaps the biggest lesson: you can innovate your way out of legal trouble!
Ignore the Press & Bloggers — they can’t tell the future!
At the time I wrote this I was a nobody. I used to blog with recklessness because, well, I really didn’t think people read much of what I wrote. Things have changed a bunch for me, and now that I’m older I actually pull many punches when writing about other founders’ companies.
The founders ignored me and my blog, and focused on Content ID and getting YouTube sold to Google before it went under. That was almost exactly the right thing to do (many debate the last part, thinking they could have made it).
How does it feel to read my words almost 10 years later? Well, I don’t care about the headline making me look so stupid, but 44-year-old Jason is kind of sorry that he was a dick to three founders working really hard and battling impossible odds.
Apologies to Chad, Steve, and Jawed … sincerely.