Chad Hurley and Steve Chen got the idea for Youtube when, after a dinner party at Steve's San Francisco apartment, they had trouble sharing videos of the event. That's the foundation myth of Youtube, as emblematic as Pierre Omidyar's effort to sell his wife's Pez dispensers, a web project that became eBay. And it's about as bogus. Time gets the founders to admit that the germ for Youtube, which recently sold to Google for $1.65bn, came from another Paypal engineer, now largely written out of the story, Jawed Karim. The original idea: a video version of the Hot Or Not rating-and-dating site. The moral of the story: the original idea is worth nothing; a foundation myth is usually the creation of the company's first publicist; and it gets simpler with every press telling. Chad Hurley is more photogenic; even if Google's publicists insist on both Youtube founders being present for the photo shoots, watch magazine editors push the dorky Taiwanese-American engineer to the edge of the frame.
Chad's greatest stroke of luck at PayPal was meeting Steve Chen and Jawed Karim, two PayPal engineers with whom he would occasionally bat around ideas for start-ups. Karim, 27, enrolled at Stanford last year to pursue a master's in computer science, and today there's some tension between him and the other founders, who have become famous while he toils in a small, modestly furnished dorm room. Although Karim is named on YouTube's site as a co-founder, Chad and Steve have promoted a highly simplified history of the company's founding that largely excludes him. In the stripped-down version—repeated in dozens of news accounts—Chad and Steve got the idea in the winter of 2005, after they had trouble sharing videos online that had been shot at a dinner party at Steve's San Francisco apartment. Karim says the dinner party never happened and that the seed idea of video sharing was his—although he is quick to say its realization in YouTube required "the equal efforts of all three of us."
Chad and Steve both say that the party did occur but that Karim wasn't there. "Chad and I are pretty modest, and Jawed has tried to seize every opportunity to take credit," Steve told me. But he also acknowledged that the notion that YouTube was founded after a dinner "was probably very strengthened by marketing ideas around creating a story that was very digestible."
No company, of course, is ever founded in a single moment, and YouTube evolved over several months. Chad and Steve agree that Karim deserves credit for the early idea that became, in Steve's words, "the original goal that we were working toward in the very beginning": a video version of HOTorNOT.com.