Tuesday, July 18, 2006

YouTube: My Networking Misadventures

One of the primary skills to learn in business school is “networking”. When I first arrived at Stanford, I was very skeptical of the value and ethical validity of the practice. I pictured greasy men with double chins wearing turtlenecks and sport coats slapping each other heartily on their backs. Sure, this is an odd thing to associate with networking, but I had my reasons. Isn’t networking a substitute for getting by on your own merits? Isn’t networking treating someone merely as a means to an ends? Kant would certainly be displeased by this, if not by the turtlenecks.

I’ve since changed my tune. This isn’t surprising since business school in theory helps you hop from the “bad side” of the fence (no connections and network and having to get by on your own stinking merit), to the “good side” (pass me another martini, chums!).

But a blissful sense of entitlement and short memory isn’t the only reason I’ve changed my tune. What I’ve realized is that people control businesses and opportunities. Networking is in fact the only means to access many of these opportunities.

If you want to become a Venture Capitalist, it would be great if you could just google the term and submit your resume somewhere. Unfortunately, information about opportunities isn't transmitted that way, it's transmitted via people and their interconnected network of relations. You need to get out there and talk to Venture Capitalists, understand their job and industry, and get your name out there. When a job opportunity comes up, maybe they'll think of you because they met you, not because they stumbled upon your resume on Monster. Learning how to network to find a job is the equiavalent of learning how to use Yahoo Finance to look up a stock or Google to find out the origin of the pinata. All these activities are exercises in gathering information as efficiently as possible.

Thus, when it came time to find a summer job, I threw on my turtleneck and started networking. I meet with alums, old clients, friends, friends of friends, fiends, and friends of fiends. I had quite a few misteps (putting the wrong date in my calendar for meetings, forgeting to look at my calendar on days I had scheduled meetings...) but also some fantastic meetings and conversations. While I had a few industries and jobs that I was very interested in learning more about, digital media was not on the list. However, for a variety of reasons (that I'll go into in another post) I became highly intersted in the online video space around the beginning of December.

In the beginning of December, online video didn't really exist. Google had just launched their service, but it was a mismash of garbage that was impossible to navigate. Sharlke, Blip.tv, Vidilife, Vimeo, Putfile, and ClipShack were easy to use, but lacked a critical mass of videos and viewers. One site, YouTube, however, stood out as being both easy to use and having enough videos and viewers that you could find some interesting content.

I dawdled around during Christmas break for a while, and when I returned, I decided to "reach out" to them (AKA network!). There are two things you need in order to network 1) Someone to talk to 2) Something to say. On the first point, sometimes it is easy to find someone to talk to. Generally, there are a lot of people out there who will bend over backwards to help you learn about an industry or company. They are especially helpful if you are a student and by definition not a competitor. However, in the case of YouTube, try as I might, all I had was an email address (jobs@youtube.com).

Sometimes you can get by without a good lead on someone to talk to if you have the second critera, "something to say" (and vice versa). When I say, "something to say" you need to have an bold opinion on some trend of factor that matters to the company. You might go up to the CEO of Dole Fruit and say, "I think Coconuts are terribly undervalued for the following reasons. 1) Almond Joy demand is forecaste to triple in the 4th quarter 2) Hollowed out Coconut shells are increasingly used as spare parts in aircraft repair 3) A lot of the leading hedge fund managers are rumored to be increasing their Coconut exposure."

Having an opinion on the industry at least demonstrates you're interested in the company and you've done some modicum of homework. So, I put on my thinking cap and tried to come up with some interesting things to say to this fledgling company. Below you can see my email and decided whether I had anything interesting to say. In retrospect it looks not.

From: Dhar, Rohin
Sent: Wed 1/25/2006 10:15 PM
To: 'jobs@youtube.com'
Subject: Stanford project with YouTube

Dear Chad, Steve & the YouTube team,

Just wanted to introduce myself. I'm a Stanford MBA student who is absolutely captivated by your product and user-experience. I very well believe that YouTube is positioned to 1) Drive the success of online video by allowing artists to disseminate and potentially monetize their work (like Google did for the written word) 2) Become a dominant media force, rivaling TV networks as a content distributor 3) Continue to build on its position as the leading video-based social network.

Defining where YouTube wants to go will be critical. Figuring out how YouTube gets there from here is even more critical.

This is a rapidly changing space where converting YouTube's strong position today into success over mammoth rivals like Google and Yahoo will depend on the "blocking and tackling" that YouTube pursues in its business strategy and operations over the next 3 months. Marketing, user experience, content development and organization, advertising decisions all play a role in determining YouTube's future success.

Since I'm currently a student (with a lot of prior business experience), I thought you could use a free resource to help you think about, plan, and pilot test the "game changing" moves that your company wants to make (and help with marketing). I'm very much interested in working with your company on this project. I know you've got lots of very talented people on your staff today producing the best product out there, but I feel I can be an important asset as someone who can help position YouTube to become the next Time Warner (and I who won't put a drag on your company's resources since I'm a student. Plus as a Stanford student, I can help YouTube tap into Stanford's vast array of useful resources for a startup).

I would really like to come by your office in the coming week to meet with someone to discuss this further. I am very impressed by your company so far and would love to help out. Please let me know if you are interested in discussing this further. This is going to be very very big!

Best regards and good luck!


Anyhow, in this case, I received no respone from my "attempted networking". Generally it's tough to fire off an email to a generic address and get a respone (though I had quite good success doing this with other companies). Below is the a timeline from when I first heard of YouTube till today, plotted against their traffic data (versus nytimes.com for context). However, even before I "discovered/fist heard of" these guys, Sequoia Capital had already funded them. It just goes to show that in the venture business, you have to be really ahead of the curve to hit a homerun.

I've got some very strong opinions now on the space and how it will develop and what YouTube is doing right and wrong. I'll definitely write about that soon.

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