Surprise! There’s a third YouTube co-founder

Surprise! There's a third YouTube co-founder

By Jim Hopkins, USA TODAYThu Oct 12, 6:46 AM ET

SAN FRANCISCO – Jawed Karim doesn't begrudge the spotlight on YouTube co-founders Chad Hurley and Steve Chen this week after they negotiated the video website's sale to Google for about $1.7 billion.

After all, Hurley and Chen took the germ of an idea – famously hatched at a San Francisco dinner party – and turned it into a Silicon Valley company that became a global phenomenon in less than a year.

Karim on the right

Still, Karim, 27, would like more people to know that he was YouTube's third co-founder – and, he says, the guy who first suggested the idea that became the company. "It took the three of us," he said Wednesday.

The story of YouTube's birth, like that of many companies, is more nuanced than the one widely known. In many accounts, Hurley and Chen take center stage. If he's mentioned at all, Karim is cast in a bit part, ending when he assumed an advisory role after leaving YouTube last year for graduate computer studies at Stanford.

Other entrepreneurs lost their place in history, too, says James Hoopes, a business history professor at Babson College near Boston. Historians and journalists "like to write about personalities," so they often focus on individuals, brushing aside other co-founders. Popular wisdom, for example, says Bill Gates and Sam Walton single-handedly started Microsoft and Wal-Mart, respectively, but they were co-founders.

Karim says his idea for what became YouTube sprang from two very different events in 2004: Janet Jackson's "wardrobe malfunction," during a Super Bowl show, and the Asian tsunami.

YouTube fizzled in an early version, Karim says: A dating site called Tune In Hook Up drew little interest. The founders later developed the current site, now broadcasting 100 million short videos daily on myriad subjects.

YouTube says Karim was part of the "core" team that developed the idea for the company and notes that he is listed as one of three founders on its website. "There's no question about that," spokeswoman Julie Supan says.

Karim is one of the company's biggest stockholders and is in line to get millions of dollars in Google shares when the deal announced Monday closes. He declined to reveal his stake, or the stakes of the other founders and venture-capital investors at Sequoia Capital.

Karim grew up in West Germany, and his family immigrated to Minnesota when Karim started high school. His Bangladeshi father is a chemist at 3M, and his German mother is a biochemistry research professor at the University of Minnesota. Karim got his bachelor's in computer science and engineering in 2004 at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Hurley, 29, Chen, 28, and Karim met as early employees at PayPal, the payment service sold to eBay in 2002. The three, newly rich after leaving PayPal, talked about a start-up of their own, possibly a database venture, Karim says.

Then, early last year, Karim recalled the difficulty involved in finding and watching videos online of Jackson accidentally baring her breast during the Super Bowl show. The same was true with the many amateur videos made of that winter's devastating tsunami.

Karim says he proposed to Hurley and Chen that they create a video-sharing site. "I thought it was a good idea," Karim says.

The three agreed within a few days in February, then divided work based on skills: Hurley designed the site's interface and logo. Chen and Karim split technical duties making the site work. They later divided management responsibilities, based on strengths and interests: Hurley became CEO; Chen, chief technology officer.

Karim had already planned to resume computer studies, so he opted out of management and agreed to take a smaller ownership stake than the other two founders. He continued advising YouTube and a growing number of employees – now 67 – as Hurley and Chen took his "little spark" of an idea and turned it into a fire.

"My only interest was in helping the company get off the ground, implementing it, and raising money," he says. Hurley and Chen handled the Google talks; Karim says he signed off on the deal once details were reached.

Now in a two-year master's program, Karim says he's considering another start-up but declines to give details.

For now, he's basking in YouTube's success and its eye-popping sale price. "I definitely thought that this was a possible outcome," he says. "But I didn't think it was the most likely outcome."

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