As The Next Web Conference 2012 approaches, one of the great speakers we’re looking forward to hearing from is Chad Hurley.
After cutting his teeth in the startup world as an early employee at PayPal, he brought online video to the masses as co-founder of YouTube, which was sold to Google for $1.65bn in 2006.
Although Hurley and fellow co-founder Steve Chen are still advisors at YouTube, they moved on to found AVOS, a company which acquired social bookmarking service Delicious from Yahoo last year. Meanwhile, he has a fashion business on the side and has even dabbled in the world of Formula One racing. In short, he’s going to be a really interesting speaker.
Ahead of his appearance at the conference, we caught up with Hurley to find out more about the future of Delicious, what else AVOS is up to, and his views on the current state of the social Web.
TNW: It’s nearly a year since the Delicious acquisition was announced — how are things going from your perspective?
CH: Things are going great. We’ve had our hands full. When we announced the acquisition, that was just the beginning. Once we started to dig into the project, we quickly realized that we had to rewrite the entire codebase. It was a product within Yahoo that, for the most part, hadn’t been touched for five years.
When that was complete we had to make sure we had a migration plan in place to move all the links and users over to the new service and hope it all worked. For the most part it went relatively smooth – there were a few bumps along the way but I’m pleased to say that we completed the migration, so that was really 2011 for us. Really just focusing on the code and system that would run Delicious.
2012 is about continuing to improve the service, innovating and take Delicious to the next level. We’re doing that in two ways. One is to continue to build out the team – we’re focused on bringing in the most talented individuals that we can and we continue to bring on more. It’s a competitive market but we truly believe in surrounding yourself with great people. The second thing is the product itself. We’re in the middle of a transition from ‘personal utility’ to ‘daily destination’.
TNW: It’s fair to say that curation has moved on since the original heyday of Delicious, with Pinterest, Clipboard and the like offering new ways to share. Delicious Stacks are are a great feature (which we enjoy using at TNW!) but in a market that loves novelty, does Delicious suffer a ‘brand of the past’ problem? If so, how will you counter that?
CH: Delicious was the original way to collect or curate information on the Web but to some extent, they lost their way. If you’re going to share a link you do it on Twitter or Facebook. These other service that have popped up over the past year are coming from the roots of Delicious.
I’m a fan of working on a product in a space that people aren’t really talking about, trying to lay low. But in 2012, things have really heated up – but what we’re trying to do is become a service for everyone.
Delicious in the past has been strong in the tech world, and within the design and education worlds. We want to continue to serve those communities and more, and we want to do that by allowing people to interact with every kind of content or media online. Not just photos but video, text and audio to create a complete experience that people can enjoy.
TNW: So following on from Stacks, will we see more social features in Delicious?
CH: Yes, for us that was almost a proof of concept. A way for us to more visually display information. create a true unit that people could share on the Web; something that the community could interact with and comment on. For us it was a slightly different take on the way people were already organising information on Delicious with tags, but trying to package it in a different way so that people could look at it as a different thing. I think that where we stand now is that we’re going to try to streamline a lot of the ways that you interact with and consolidate information on Delicious, and just make it an easier experience.
For us, going back to the system, the code that’s powering Delicious, it’s running on top of AVOS, which is our main company, which we envisage as a platform that allows us to build multiple services and gives us the tools to get those multiple services off the ground.
TNW: Aside from Delicious, what else is AVOS up to? All your activity seems to have been Delicious-focused of late.
CH: We do have some other projects in the works that I can’t talk about at this time, but to explain AVOS in more detail, this came from mine and Steve’s background from working at PayPal and YouTube, and realizing that in the early days you have to build a lot of the same things – there are a lot of common building blocks that you need to get up and running. You have to start from the ground floor, with nothing, creating everything again.
We’re playing with the idea of creating a sandbox that gives us the ability to think of an idea, get it up and running quickly and not have to deal with the frustration of starting again from zero. That’s going to give us the ability to not only innovate and work on Delicious but to continue to use the same learnings and technology to build more services.
TNW: What’s your view of the current state of the online video space? There’s a big shift towards the fusion of television and online video — is there anything you think the current leaders in the space aren’t doing that they should be?
CH: That transition’s happening because the business model for online video can finally support it. That’s what was slowing things down in terms of the transition from TV to the Web. YouTube stepped up and made a big commitment to push the industry in that direction with $100m investment in content, and there’s been a great response from advertisers. I think you’re going to see more of that in the future.
I think what YouTube enabled was the democratisation of the online video experience – people controlled not only the creation but the distribution of their content in front of an audience at a scale that was meaningful. I continue to see YouTube be a leader in that space, but at the same time, with video standards on the horizon, there are going to be a lot more opportunities in the online video space.
TNW: Looking back to your time at PayPal, I remember reading a Wired article from 1999 about how this quirky little startup wanted to change the way payments worked. It all seemed so ahead of its time back then. Online payments have really evolved over the past year or so, what are your thoughts on that industry now?
CH: It’s funny you mention that article – that was the article that brought me out to California and made me end up working for PayPal. I read that article after I finished college and sent them an email because I saw they were in need of a web designer. A week or two later I moved out here and started working for them. The main driver there was that I was interested in the UI for the Palm Pilot — that’s how they were building the service — by beaming payments to Palm Pilots. That was a great learning experience for me, seeing a bunch of talented individuals not knowing too much about the payments space and defining a new solution – and that’s what we ended up doing at YouTube as well in the world of video.
Talking about payments specifically, it’s interesting to see that the world continues to move forward with new solutions. I think PayPal had a great opportunity to be the market leader – the definitive solution for online payment, but again, being part of a larger organisation — eBay — they focused on auctions and online commerce. Other companies have popped up like Square and similar services. It’s great to see the industry move forward. Who knows what the future holds, but it’s a competitive space.
TNW: You were widely reported early last year to have got into the fashion industry. What’s happening there?
CH: Hlaska started as a collaboration with my friend in San Francisco. It’s something I started after I left PayPal but before I started YouTube. My background in design was more graphic but I was always intrigued by creating something physical, tactile – dabbling in industrial design, fashion design. I connected with my friend and initially we worked on some bags and wallets. Over the years it’s morphed into us exploring clothing too.
More recently we’ve brought Stephen Gordon onto our board of directors – he’s the founder of Restoration Hardware. We’re focusing on the retail experience in our store in San Francisco. We’re really focused on our roots again – innovative bags and wallets that have a unique style and functionality. It’s something that I enjoy and it’s a great way to think of something other than an online solution.
We’re excited about how it’s come together and the potential for the brand in the future — it’s been an interesting journey.
TNW: You were previously involved in Formula One – is that something you’re interested in getting back into?
CH: I always believe that you should work on things that interest you, be it a startup or a hobby. Too many times people approach a business as something that’s a job — something that they strategise for the biggest payoff. Personal enjoyment should be one of the biggest determining factors in what you get involved with.
For me, the Formula One opportunity was just an interesting fusion of technology, sport, competition and trying to do something different by building a team in the US. Unfortunately the guys I got involved with couldn’t build the car in time. Instead of pushing my luck, we just decided to call it a day. I was impressed by the run that we made but ultimately disappointed that the team couldn’t get it together in time.