A Hustler Never Sleeps: PayPal Mafia’s Steve Chen
This is how a startup funded on credit card debt sold to Google in twenty months.
August 20 | 3 min
When YouTube went live in 2005, its founders put ads on Craigslist in L.A. and Las Vegas, offering women $20 to upload content to their platform. It is a little-known fact that, in the beginning, YouTube was a dating site. It was even launched on Valentine’s Day by three lonely techies. No one would ever answer those ads, but that didn’t matter. YouTube would go on to become one of the most widely-used sites in the world and change the way people interact with the internet forever. This culture-shifting platform would eventually be acquired by Google for a whopping $1.65 billion. This brings us to Steve Chen, who is one of the three original founders of YouTube. With a current net worth of $300 million, Steve Chen has become one of Silicon Valley’s legendary hustlers, GQ’s “Man of the Year,” and Fortune’s “Most Powerful People in Business.”
The will to win
Originally from Taiwan, Steve Chen immigrated to Illinois as an adolescent after his father was offered a job in the states. He was an avid learner and proved to be a bright student, studying computer science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. His competitive spirit and skills as a hardcore coder caught the attention of the legendary tech company, PayPal. He realized, “if I didn’t venture out on my own now, I wouldn’t have this opportunity later on in life.”
Two is better than one
Chen’s big break came in 1999, when he ventured to California to make a name for himself at PayPal. There, he worked alongside big names like Elon Musk, Peter Thiel, and Max Levchin. More importantly, he met Jawed Karim and Chad Hurley, with whom he would go on to start YouTube.
Three dudes on Valentine’s Day
In the beginning stages of YouTube, the struggle was real. They didn’t have offices — they worked out of their homes. When they did move into offices, they were infested with rats the size of cats! They racked up huge bandwidth bills funded on an array of Chen’s credit cards. Then, one of the founders, Jawed Karim, left YouTube to study at Stanford. There were mishaps, but nothing could stop the hustle. Chen explored his PayPal network and secured funding. They weren’t going to let YouTube go — they knew they were onto something.
Denny’s + viral video = a BILLION dollar deal
Chen was surprised when companies like Nike uploaded an advertisement featuring Cristiano Ronaldo or when SNL uploaded skits with Andy Sandberg that would go viral on the platform. YouTube quickly became one of the most used web pages and caught the attention of two tech giants: Yahoo & Google. Chen set up meetings in Redwood, California with both corporations at a local Denny’s. After a couple meetings and signatures, Chen sold YouTube for $1.65 billion, just twenty months after its inception, before Chen had even turned 30.
Chen is still out there hustling. He currently works with Google Ventures, a subsidiary of Google that provides funding to tech startups. Even after receiving $326 million in Google stock, he still had his hands in different projects. After YouTube, Chen launched the StartUp AVOS Systems and then a video-editing application called MixBit with Chad Hurley.
Chen’s philosophy = product before anything else
How many people can say that they founded a billion dollar company before turning 30? How was Chen so successful at such a young age? The answer is that he believed in his product. During his celebration video after the Google acquisition, Chen says, “the most compelling part of this is being able to really concentrate on features and functionality for the community.”
The money was an afterthought for him. He was all about his product and making it great. He made his product so well that no one could resist it. He had a genuine love and interest for the community of YouTube creators and wanted to give them the best he could. This was why he has the success he has today. This is how he sold his idea for over a billion dollars. This is why he is a hustler.