This past weekend was commencement at U of I. As is pretty typical of these things, they had a relatively famous alum (Jawed Karim) speak at it. What’s different about this particular guy, though, is that he’s quite young for a speaker–he and I are about the same age, actually (like me, he’ll presumably be skipping his 10-year high school reunion this summer). His resume pretty much speaks for itself: he’s been working on some interesting and high-profile Internet-related technologies for his entire adult life. The most recent such endeavor, and by far the one he’s most famous for, is YouTube.
As the already-old joke goes, I couldn’t find a video of his commencement speech on YouTube (yet), but I did find a description of it:
Karim’s speech was great. It was short, it was funny, and it had video clips. He advised students to always be open to opportunity and to take risks while you can (like leaving college while still young to try something brand new). He apologized for ruining their gpa’s by inventing YouTube! He was self-deprecating when reminding students that things don’t work right away. In 1997, Karim’s application to the University of Illinois’ computer science department was rejected. He wrote a letter asking them to reconsider, which they did… He also talked about how lame YouTube was in the beginning until users started uploading their own videos — a concept that the founders had not envisioned.
The funniest line of the speech came when Karim explained that YouTube was launched on February 14, 2005. I am paraphrasing, but he said something akin to: “One of the best things about being a computer science major is that Valentine’s Day is just like any other day.”
Jawed previously gave a talk at the UIUC ACM chapter‘s reflections|projections conference last year. This one is available on YouTube, entitled “YouTube: From Concept to Hyper-growth,” and I think it’s well worth watching for anybody interested in this stuff:
Aside from noting that they began development on Valentine’s Day, as Jawed himself saw fit to joke about during his commencement address, I think the funniest part is around the 39:50 mark (11:00 remaining), when he talks about how they realized that in order to really get YouTube to become more popular and start spreading, they’d have to get chicks involved. So they posted an add on Craigslist LA:
Hey, if you’re a female, and we think you’re attractive, and you make 10 videos and upload them, then we’ll send you a hundred bucks via PayPal.
Surprisingly (or not), they didn’t get any replies, but as we all now know, that didn’t hurt YouTube’s success.
What I find so fascinating about this guy is not just the fact that he’s already accomplished so much before his 28th birthday, and not just the fact that he’s somewhat more interesting to me than most young entrepreneurs because he and I went to the same school. It’s the matter-of-fact way he presents himself and his endeavors, as if it’s just a common occurrence to create something that sells for 1.65 billion dollars. I think this is probably what sets folks like him apart: they are so driven that they can’t imagine not working your ass off on idea after idea until you get something that does succeed, so it’s not even surprising to them when it happens. That’s a perspective I don’t think I’ll ever know, but I bet it’s nice, albeit frustrating at times when things that you just know are going to pay off for you take their time getting off the ground.
In a way, of course, I’m envious. How cool would it be to make one of the most popular Web sites on the Internet? Then again, how much work would it take? I think just the fact that the second question so closely follows the first in my mind proves I’m not cut out for this type of thing. But it’s certainly interesting to follow.