How a boy smuggled across the Berlin wall became co-founder of Youtube


This is an intimate biography  of Jawed Karim, from the time when he was smuggled across the Berlin Wall as a baby, till the time he co-founded Youtube.


Somewhere in the 70’s in East Germany,  Bangladeshi student Naimul Karim managed to ask a beautiful, young German fellow student out for tea.

They talked, and they talked some more and they discovered other things that they could do together and one thing led to another … you know how it goes!

Naim and Christine got married and a year later, they were graced with the birth of a boy.

They named him Jawed.

Jawed was born in Merseberg in 1979 .

This was the time when Berlin Wall still stood high.

Some say that due to xenofobia, Naimul Karim wanted to leave East Germany. But leaving the country was not that simple.

While as a Bangladeshi citizen, Naimul Karim was free to travel anywhere, the same was not true for his German wife Christine.

However, one day at the end of the summer 1981, Naimul Karim bundled Christine and his two year old son Jawed on to a train for Amsterdam, pretending that they are on their way to visit Bangladesh.

The train stopped at Frankfurt,the Karims got off and they never looked back.

Aided by a West German policy that happily welcomed anyone who successfully scaled the wal , albeit figuratively in this case, Naimul Karim and Christine finished their studies, eventually getting their Ph.D.s in chemistry in this little town called Kaiserslautern between Frankfurt and the border with France.


In 1985, Naimul took a job as a product development engineer with 3M in the city of Neuss close to Köln. Christine and Jawed joined him six months later.

But not before Jawed had spent an entire summer in Dhaka with his grandparents in Uttara! And during that summer, Jawed became a true Bangali

He loved it in Dhaka. In no time at all, he became fluent in Bangla. And to make matters worse, he completely forgot his native tongue, German!

When the time came to join his parents in Germany , Jawed Karim did not want to leave Bangladesh at all.

They had to put him on the plane kicking and screaming. Little Jawed had around 4 years then.

For the next six years Jawed lived in Neuss, Nordrhein-Westfalen province in West Germany. 1988 his younger brother Ilias was born.

It was in Neuss that Jawed’s father made the decision that will change the future of internet.

Walking through a flea market (an open air market for used knick knacks), Naimul and his 10 years old son Jawed spotted an old Commodore C-64 computer.

On an impulse, Naimul bought it, brought it home and set it up. Father and son played around with the computer and Jawed learned how to programme in BASIC. He was hooked and there was no turning back!

In a conversation with Die Zeit newspapiers, Jaweds mother’s said that she and her husband were initially skeptical and regarded the PC as “harmful to children”.

Even though Jawed liked to write programs and showed them proudly to his parents, his time on the computer was limited.

Going to America

Jawed was 13 and attended a Catholic high school near Dormagen, when his father took the opportunity to get a job at 3M’s headquarters in St. Paul, Minnesota.

Whole family moved to US. German media claims that the family decided to move  due to xenofobic atmosphere in the country.

At this time xenophobic attacks happened in Hoyerswerda, where riots started with a group of mainly young neo-Nazis attacking Vietnamese street hawkers and in the following days a lot of foreigners were hurt. Also, in 1992, in the year when Karim family left Germany, two far-right extremist perpetrators started fires in two residential houses in Mölln, then called the fire brigade to let them know, and declared “Heil Hitler.”

In the fire three people died. Concerned headlines spoke of the swamp of the far right in Germany that never seemed to dry out, and defiant disillusionment in the interior. After Mölln, tens of thousands of people demonstrated all over the country against racism and xenophobia..

Karims left this mess behind. They settled in St. Paul, Minnesota.

Jawed was Arnold fan as a kid.

When his father’s boyhood friend Tarique Mahmud visited the family in 1994 in St. Paul where they just moved to a new house, he brought Jawed a sweatshirt autographed by Arnold Schwarzenegger, that he had picked up at a charity auction in Los Angeles. Jawed was delighted. Schwarzenegger was the hero of all teenagers at that time and Jawed didn’t know if he should wear it or frame it!

Tarique Mahmud remembers that Jawed invited him into his room. “Come see my room,” Jawed said, and I dutifully followed him up the stairs to his room. It was a beautiful room — bright windows, nice stained wood furniture, neatly laid out bed, desk and cabinets with a computer monitor occupying a prominent spot and jewel cases of CDs stacked neatly around. “Very nice” I said as I looked around. “All these” Jawed said, and waved at the neatly arranged CDs. “are my programmes”.

“Very nice,” I said again and turned to walk back out. Kids, you, know! Always wanting to show off all their possessions!

Jawed went to Saint Paul Central High School, and during that time he was into sports, preferring academic teams, math in particular, but with one exception. He loved to race bikes.

He went for long distance rides — 50 miles, 100 miles — he’d think nothing of it. And his love affair with computers continued.

The internet revolution was just taking shape and Jawed was all over it.

After he graduated from Saint Paul Central High School, he attended the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Department of Computer Science, but during this whole time he worked the net, making friends, writing programmes that he posted on forums and bulletin boards and chat rooms, free to anyone who wanted them.

He did a lot of pioneering work with, what else, computer games, particularly, a game that used to be very famous some 10 plus years ago called Doom.

And in doing so, he became known to many of the other budding net mavericks.

“You’re not the Jawed Karim?” asked his freshman college roommate when they first met.

It was the beginning of junior year (3rd year) at college and Jawed was torn about what to do.

It seems that an upstart internet company called (they were all upstarts or start-ups and often, both) had made Jawed an excellent offer.

He’d be paid a princely salary and have an opportunity to join a happening bunch of guys on the proverbial ground floor.

The catch? He’d have to drop out of school and move to Silicon Valley.

So Jawed was calling his father’s boyhood friend Tarique Mahmud for advice.

“What did your dad tell you to do?” Mahmud asked Jawed.

“He told me to call you!”

“Oh! Let me call you back in a little bit,” Mahmud said.

“I hung up and called Naim. I wanted to make sure that I had my friend’s permission before I told Jawed that this was an opportunity of a lifetime and he should grab it. And so it was that a few months later, Jawed found himself surrounded by a bunch of other youngsters in the heart of Silicon Valley who rightly thought that the world was their oyster”, remembered Mahmud.



Path to success!

Jawed was one of the earliest employees of a company that is better known today as PayPal. The hours were long, the challenges were big and when the internet bubble burst, the going sometimes, was tough. But PayPal persisted and outlived competitive threats through the work of key architects such as Jawed and in 2002 was purchased for $1.5 billion by eBay which had tried but failed to build its own in house electronic payment processing arm. As an early employee (but not a founder), Jawed did alright. At the tender age of 23, he made enough money to never have to work again (if he didn’t want to). But Jawed was just getting started.

Over the next few years, Jawed and many of his core group of friends stayed at PayPal for a bit and then branched out. Jawed finished his undergraduate degree and got interested in many new and emerging concepts. Some quickly went nowhere, but he and his friends would meet often and stay up late, brainstorming ideas at Max’s Open Café or at one of their apartments, all located near Stanford.

In January 2005, two former PayPal employees — Chad Hurley and Steve Chen — attended a get-together at Chen’s new house in San Francisco. After shooting some video, the two realized they had no way to share it. The video files were too big to email and loading them to the web took hours.

So together with Jawed, Hurley and Chen decided to make a hosting a site for videos.

At that time, the three only had a vague notion of what YouTube would be.


Karim was was partially inspired by HotOrNot, a dating site that ranked people on a 1-to-10 scale in terms of attractiveness, and he wanted to make Youtube a dating site.

In the beggining, the founders called Youtube a dating site. “We even had a slogan for it: Tune in, Hook up,” said Karim.

But since there weren't many videos on the site, Karim populated it with videos of 747s taking off and landing. First video he ever posted is „Me at the zoo“.

The server used to host the videos cost $100 a month.

“We didn’t have any videos. Realizing videos of anything would be better than no videos, I populated our new dating site with videos of 747s taking off and landing,” Karim said. “The whole thing didn’t make any sense. We were so desperate for some actual dating videos, whatever that even means, that we turned to the website any desperate person would turn to, Craigslist.”

So, Karim recounts, they posted an ad on Craigslist in Los Angeles promising attractive females $100 if they’d post 10 videos on YouTube. They got not a single reply.

Jawed uploaded most of the early videos

The founders’ luck changed on July 4, 2005, when Karim attended a barbecue at PayPal alum Mike Greenfield's house.

Keith Rabois, a former PayPal exec who is at currently part of Silicon Valley investment firm Khosla Ventures, was there and asked Karim what he was up to.

Karim replied that he was working on a new video-sharing site called YouTube.

Rabois then asked him three questions: Does it use Flash? Does it host professional or long-tail content? Can you distribute the content on the web?

Karim replied that it was based on Flash, the site hosted long-tail content and, yes, you could distribute it on the web.

Since in 2005 you couldn’t watch video on your phones, Karim and Rabois went to Greenfield’s bedroom, got on his PC and watched all the content YouTube at the time, a process that took about a half-hour.

Impulsively, Rabois said he wanted to invest. “There were only two times I’ve done that,” Rabois told Mashable, referring to his instant decision to sink money into the venture. “The other was with Airbnb.”

For Rabois, the Flash component was an important factor. A year or so earlier, Levchin had declared that Flash was the future. “So literally from February 2003, I’d been looking for something that used Flash,” Rabois said.

Around the time of the barbecue, Karim got accepted to a Ph.D. program at Stanford University. The decision isn’t as crazy as it now seems. YouTube then was still an interesting venture with an uncertain future.

But Rabois said going to Stanford was a difficult decision for Karim. “In many ways, I think Jawed was the most active founder,” he said. “He uploaded most of the early videos.”

He said going to Stanford was a difficult decision for Karim. “Against my advice, he decided to leave the company.”

When asked if Karim regretted the decision, Rabois said, “Obviously, in hindsight, he still got to be part of one of the most influential cultural phenomenons of all time…. I think he underestimated how culturally significant YouTube would become, though few companies ever reach that level.

Karim’s departure complicated the elevator pitch to the press and investors.

The company stopped mentioning his name and instead focused on Hurley and Chen.

“It was awkward to talk about. ‘There are three founders, but one’s gone off to college,'” Botha said. “And at that point, Jawed did disengage.”

The twist is Karim would never complete his Ph.D.

Hurley and Chen pressed on. The numbers steadily increased. After he invested, Rabois checked Alexa daily to see YouTube's progress. When it cracked the top 35,000 sites, that was a big deal.

After Youtube became big, and was purchased by Google for $1.65 billion in 2006, co-founder Chad Hurley made $334 million, Steve Chen’s  stake was worth $301 million at the time of the sale, and Jawed Karim  walked away with only $66 million.

After Jawed and his friends sold YouTube, Jawed created Youniversity Ventures (Y Ventures) which is a venture fund.

He was one of the first to invest money in Airbnb. He also invested in Reddit and in many other startups.

Jawed now keeps his private life away from the media.

He cleared his Youtube profile of all but the very first video uploaded to the site, but in 2013, he changed his profile picture to “fuck google+” and posted a bulletin regarding it, thus joining those slamming Google’s changes to video site.

He wrote „Why the fuck do I need a google + account to comment on a video“, and that was the last time he got media attention.

Jawed now runs the Youniversity Ventures fund with Kevin Hartz and Keith Rabois.

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