According to one recent study, YouTube had more than 2.68 billion active users as of 2023. The streaming giant's "YouTube Premium" paid accounts total nearly 80 million active customers all over the world. It's been estimated that over 50% of Internet users head to the site at least once a month and, through both websites and apps, about 122 million people visit content hosted on it daily.
These days, if you're searching for a particular video clip like a recent news interview or even an episode of a television show you remember from decades ago, it's almost muscle memory to head to YouTube and see if it's there. The chances are high that it will be.
But it wasn't always like this. YouTube may officially be the second most visited website in existence, but it certainly didn't look destined to achieve that status.
YouTube: In the Beginning
YouTube as we know it was originally launched in February 2005. It was founded by three entrepreneurs - Chad Hurley, Steve Chen, and Jawed Karim. They had befriended each other while working at PayPal and were all very different, particularly in terms of their education.
Not long after meeting, the trio decided to quit their jobs. They believed that they could put their heads together and come up with the type of idea that would "change the world" - they just didn't initially know what that idea would be.
At first, it took the form of a dating site called Tune In, Hook Up. It allowed users to upload video clips and share them with other users for free. The intention was that someone would upload a personal clip that would then be seen by someone who was interested, thus sparking a romantic connection.
While the site itself never took off, the underlying technology proved to be something worth holding onto. They decided to pivot to becoming a full-fledged online video platform and, after a lengthy period of development, launched at the beginning of the year in 2005.
Onward and Upward
It would be safe to say that things started going well for YouTube and its co-founders almost immediately. The company officially began life as a tech startup backed by venture capitalists. Throughout the course of six months, they raised a significant amount of money from various backers, including notable names like Sequoia Capital.
Even though YouTube was not the first video-sharing site on the Internet, it quickly became among the most popular. It was the home of early viral videos like the Lonely Island "Lazy Sunday" sketch from "Saturday Night Live," for example. By July 2006, more than 100 million views were taking place every day and more than 65,000 new videos were being uploaded.
It was in October 2006 that YouTube was purchased by Google for a staggering $1.65 billion. With that came a major expansion in not only the technology that powered YouTube but what the platform allowed people to accomplish.
Over the next decade, the rise of YouTube coincided with the rise of Google's AdSense program, for example. Ads would run alongside videos that allowed both the content creator and the associated brands to earn money.
This led to the beginning of the "YouTube Influencer" era. Suddenly, it was possible for people from all backgrounds and in virtually any location to upload content ranging from short films to Internet-based TV shows to vlogs, music videos, and build their own audience.
Flash forward to today and YouTube continues to expand. YouTube Kids is a channel filled with family-friendly all-ages programming, for example. The appropriately named YouTube Music is where both independent artists and some of the world's most popular musicians go to debut new songs, give interviews, and more. YouTube TV is a live-streaming service so successful that it has replaced cable for many households.
All this was possible because, once upon a time, three young entrepreneurs sat in a garage and tried to think up new ways to change the world. They had an idea... that turned out to not be one that anyone was interested in. But they didn't give up. They got rid of what didn't work (the idea of a video-centric online dating platform in the early 2000s) and kept what did (the underlying technology).
That one pivot took what could have been a flash-in-the-pan novelty and transformed it into one of the most valuable brands in existence. It's an important lesson for entrepreneurs and dreamers everywhere to remember - and it's hardly the only example throughout the history of technology in particular.