An Interview with Susan Wojcicki, YouTube CEO

In 1998, while 5 months pregnant, Susan Wojcicki rented her garage to Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin. A few months later, she joined the company as its 16th employee.

Today, as CEO of YouTube, she is widely recognized as one of the most well-respected female CEO’s in the world. With over 1B viewers per month, YouTube is active in over 88 countries and continues to be one of the fastest growing social media companies in the world.

Female Founders Fund recently had an opportunity to interview Susan on topics including her career path as an early employee at Google to YouTube’s CEO, her thoughts on influencer-built businesses and the future of video content, and more.

Tell us about your family and interests growing up. Did any of this have an impact on your career in technology?

I grew up on the Stanford campus where my dad was a physics professor and my mom was a high school English teacher. All of our neighbors were professors, so I didn’t know anyone who worked for a big company. The internet hadn’t happened yet — in fact, I didn’t start using a computer until college. So I never had a goal to work in business or in technology. Instead, I saw academics asking big questions and working to solve important problems. Long before I knew exactly what I wanted to do, I knew I wanted to do something that made the world a better place. I still have that focus today, especially when I think about YouTube’s work around responsibility and ensuring that it’s a place millions of creators around the world are able to connect with their audiences and build thriving businesses in the process.

After graduating from Harvard, you contemplated a career in academia but instead decided to pursue an interest in technology. What led you down this path? Did you have an interest during childhood?

I was always drawn to creative art projects growing up, but my interest in tech came about nearly by accident between my junior and senior year at Harvard. I worked for a temp agency each summer, and every year they would send me to a different place to work: one summer I was at a law firm, another summer I worked at the Palo Alto Sanitation Company, and then during the summer before my senior year, I was placed at a tech start-up. I saw first-hand that summer how creative coding was, so when I went back to school in the fall of ’89, I took my first computer science course. I was majoring in History & Literature and was the only senior in the class, but I quickly realized that technology and computer science could be incredibly creative and impact the lives of so many people. I knew then that tech was the field I wanted to pursue, and I haven’t looked back!

After graduating from business school, you rented your garage to Larry Page and Sergey Brin. What led you to join Google at such an early start-up phase?

At the time, I was 5 months pregnant, working at Intel, and my husband and I had just bought a house, so it was not the most traditional time to leave a stable job for a small start-up. Our house was near Stanford’s campus, so we were looking for a couple of students to rent out part of the house to help supplement the mortgage. Through a mutual friend, Larry Page and Sergey Brin became our tenants. I wasn’t particularly interested in what they were doing as long as they remembered to take out the recycling and pay the rent! But, over time, I got to know them more and began using their search engine, Google. My ‘eureka moment’ came one day when I was at work. I went to search for something on Google, but the site was down. I realized in that moment that I had become completely reliant on Google search for getting my work done, and that it was so much better than any other search engine out there. I realized that if I found Google this helpful, other people would too. Within a few months I had signed on as Google’s 16th employee.

You worked on Google’s acquisition of YouTube in 2006. What inspired you about YouTube in 2006 and what led you to take the role of CEO at YouTube in 2014?

In 2005, I was working on Google Video and saw that another video company called YouTube was seeing incredible growth through user-generated content. With a tagline of ‘Broadcast Yourself,’ people all over the world were uploading amazing videos to YouTube that would never end up on traditional media. I realized there were entirely new genres of content and formats that had never existed before, and that YouTube was a huge opportunity for Google. I worked on Google’s acquisition of YouTube in 2006.
Susan Wojcicki
Susan Wojcicki
At that same time, I moved to leading product management for Google’s advertising products, and I continued working in ads for the next eight years. In 2014, Google’s leadership approached me about taking on the role of CEO at YouTube. I was as passionate as ever about the mission of YouTube and was excited for the opportunity to lead it into the future.

YouTube now has 2 billion users worldwide with 500 hours of video uploaded every minute. How has the platform evolved over time?

We’ve definitely come a long way since the first video, Me at the zoo, was uploaded to YouTube in 2005. Today’s creators on YouTube have built an entire creative economy and are redefining the face of media. They are truly next-generation media businesses, with millions of views and global brands, who are contributing to local and global economies, and creating jobs. These are creators that wouldn’t have had a chance to break through in a more closed media landscape. Creators like Swedish robotics enthusiast Simone Giertz and blind lifestyle vlogger Molly Burke, both unconventional in their appeal and passed over by traditional media, are finding huge success on YouTube managing businesses, selling merchandise, creating jobs for other people, and creating real economic value in their communities.

In 2014, you wrote an op-ed in the WSJ around the importance of paid maternity leave. Why do you feel this is important and what needs to change?

I know from experience as a leader at Google and a mother of five that paid maternity leave is good for business. When Google increased paid maternity leave to 18 from 12 weeks in 2007, the rate at which new moms left the company fell by 50%. We also increased paternity leave to 12 weeks from seven, since we know that also has a positive effect on families and our business. Providing paid leave helps us retain valued expertise, skills and perspectives. And as someone who has taken maternity leave five times at Google, I have personally experienced the positive impact of having the time to bond with my newborn and recover physically before returning to work.

We need to support new mothers employed in all kinds of work with paid leave, not just those working at tech companies or at large businesses. A quarter of all women in the U.S. return to work fewer than 10 days after giving birth, leaving them less time to bond with their children, making breast-feeding more difficult and increasing their risk of postpartum depression. I talk a lot about the specifics in the WSJ article, but the sad truth is that paid maternity leave is rare in America, and the U.S. lags behind the rest of the world in providing for the needs of pregnant women and new mothers. According to a survey released by the United Nations’ International Labor Organization, the U.S. is the only country in the developed world that doesn’t offer government-mandated paid maternity leave. America should have the good sense to join nearly every other country in providing it.

YouTube has enabled many influencers to leverage their followings to build their own businesses. Any particular stories that inspire you?

So many creators inspire me, but here are just a few examples.

Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to meet Korea Grandma, a 70-something year old grandmother in Korea who began a second career with her YouTube channel. She originally started the channel as a hobby while running a diner, but has found incredible joy and success in sharing make-up tutorials, fashion advice, and vlogs with her fans. She’s been featured in Vogue, was invited to Fashion Week, and has traveled around the world as a result. I had the opportunity to sit down with her earlier this year in Seoul, and it was amazing to see how, with the help of her granddaughter, she has built a community of over 1M subscribers.

Another example is Nathalia Arcuri, a YouTube creator based in Brazil, who originally had a successful journalism career as a TV correspondent. After learning that many women in Brazil lacked the basics of personal finances — how to save money, how to invest for the future — she pitched an idea of a reality show to traditional TV around transforming people’s financial lives. Nathalia was turned down, and instead turned to YouTube. Her YouTube channel now has over 4M subscribers and is the largest financial entertainment channel in the world. She is leveling the playing field on personal finance and is helping millions of Brazillians, especially women, become financially independent.

I also could never have imagined that someday a 17-year-old named Claire Wineland would start a YouTube channel out of her bedroom in San Diego to cope with the complications of living with cystic fibrosis. Claire saw the way sick people are represented in our society, and she wanted something different. Claire passed away last year, but she leaves behind a legacy of videos to help us understand how to support someone struggling with an illness.

I feel incredibly fortunate to hear stories like these nearly every day, and to be able to watch so many inspiring channels grow and thrive on our platform.

What are you excited about for the future of video content?

I’ve been especially inspired to see Edutubers (what we call YouTube creators who focus on educational content), like Origin of Everything, Manual do Mundo, Eddie Woo and Excel is Fun turn YouTube into the world’s largest classroom. Every time I meet someone new and ask them about YouTube, I hear a story about something they learned on the site: how YouTube helped a student with her math homework, a mom fix a broken garage door, or an employee master a new job skill. I’m proud that YouTube is a place where people can come to learn new things every day, whether it’s how to compete in javelin, how to sew a quilt or how to learn nuclear physics.

Last question — your current favorite YouTube video?

It’s hard to pick just one! I genuinely enjoy watching all different kinds of videos and creators on YouTube. Lately, I’ve really been enjoying learning new things from PhysicsGirl and SmarterEveryDay with my kids, practicing yoga with Yoga with Adriene, and cooking alongside great chefs on YouTube like Laura Vitale, Sallys Welt and Helen’s Recipes.

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One of the primary goals of Oudney Patsika is to use media to change the cultural narrative. He aims to impact today’s culture with more accurate, responsible, and positive media stories about Christianity and the Church. Get In Touch Today!
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