YouTube, her way

Su­san Wo­j­ci­cki ups the ante at YouTube

The Australian - The Deal - - News - Story by: HE­LEN TRINCA The Val­ley vet­eran carves a dif­fer­ent path from Wall Street col­leagues

Su­san Wo­j­ci­cki is late for work.

It’s 10am in San Bruno, just out­side San Fran­cisco, and the YouTube CEO is sched­uled to meet press rep­re­sen­ta­tives from around the world.

Her comms guy apol­o­gises but says, well, she does have five kids. She’ll be along in about 10 min­utes.

What­ever. We’re in Cal­i­for­nia, where the busi­ness cul­ture, as Wo­j­ci­cki says, is “more flex­i­ble, more for­giv­ing and more re­sult­sori­ented” than in the East Coast and other big cities.

“I have been able to achieve re­sults,” says the 47-year-old. “Peo­ple were okay with what­ever other things I had go­ing on, as long as I achieved re­sults. There are times when I can’t do every­thing, I have some­thing at home and there are things that I give up, it is not a per­fect world.”

Wo­j­ci­cki’s style is very dif­fer­ent from the Wall Street im­age that has be­come the norm for fe­male cor­po­rate lead­ers. In San Fran­cisco you can al­most feel the dis­tance in busi­ness cul­ture be­tween the East and West coasts and the YouTube CEO, with her healthy tan and her un­der­stated dress and man­ner, of­fers a real al­ter­na­tive.

She’s run YouTube for two years and for 15 years be­fore that was one of the in­ner cir­cle that built the be­he­moth par­ent com­pany, Google, from the ground up. Yet Wo­j­ci­cki gets home for din­ner most nights and is re­laxed about ref­er­enc­ing her kids – who range in age from in­fancy to ado­les­cence – in the workspace. Talk­ing about ba­bies in the of­fice used to be a no-no for women ex­ec­u­tives, but the YouTube boss is shap­ing as a very dif­fer­ent fe­male CEO.

Wo­j­ci­cki is Sil­i­con Val­ley roy­alty. She grew up on the Stan­ford cam­pus where her dad was a physics pro­fes­sor, and fa­mously rented out her Menlo Park garage – and two rooms in her house – to Google founders, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, in or­der to make ex­tra money. She has de­grees from Har­vard (his­tory and lit­er­a­ture), Uni­ver­sity of Cal­i­for­nia Santa Cruz (Mas­ters in eco­nom­ics) and UCLA (MBA).

She was four months preg­nant when she left her job at In­tel and joined the guys in the garage to sign on as Google’s 16th em­ployee, and its first mar­ket­ing man­ager. Three years later she be­gan work on mon­etis­ing the search en­gine via ad­ver­tis­ing. She is cred­ited with rev­o­lu­tion­is­ing on­line ads via AdWords, AdSense, Dou­bleClick and Google An­a­lyt­ics. A decade ago, she pushed for Google to buy YouTube for $US1.65 bil­lion in stock: she’d been hooked af­ter watch­ing a video of Chi­nese stu­dents singing to the Back­street Boys and un­der­stood the world was mov­ing in new and un­ex­pected ways.

Aca­demic, hard­work­ing, busy with those ba­bies, and un­pre­ten­tious, Wo­j­ci­cki kept a low pro­file for years.

Then, in Fe­bru­ary 2014 she be­came CEO of the ex­tra­or­di­nary con­tent plat­form that has trans­formed the way one bil­lion strangers, as well as friends, com­mu­ni­cate across the globe, across time zones, cul­tures, class and gen­er­a­tions.

The YouTube job has given her a higher pro­file – and she’s us­ing it to ar­gue for more ma­ter­nity leave and more women in tech. “I want to use my po­si­tion to fight for is­sues that are very im­por­tant for women that no one else is fight­ing for,” she says.

Mar­ried to Google di­rec­tor Den­nis Troper, Wo­j­ci­cki had al­ways had ma­ter­nity leave at Google – in­deed she was the first em­ployee to take it at the start-up – and was sur­prised to find more re­cently that most women in the US don’t get it, and that 25 per cent of Amer­i­can women go back to work af­ter 10 days.

“I just had a baby and at day 10 I was not ready to go back to work,” she says. Does she see her­self as a role model? “Yes, I do,” she says. “I didn’t in­tend to be, it wasn’t one of my goals when I started out, but I re­alise I have had an un­usual ca­reer and that most women don’t get to this po­si­tion and a lot of women are very cu­ri­ous how I got here – so I want to share my story with them.”

Wo­j­ci­cki’s ad­vo­cacy comes as two writ­ers, Anne-Marie Slaugh­ter and Sh­eryl Sand­berg, are shift­ing the con­ver­sa­tion about women at work.

She ac­knowl­edges the in­spi­ra­tion that Sand­berg (who worked at Google be­fore be­com­ing the chief op­er­at­ing of­fi­cer at Face­book) evoked in women through her call for them to “lean in” and take the big jobs.

But Wo­j­ci­cki is more taken right now by Slaugh­ter’s work sug­gest­ing that “women still can’t have it all” thanks to a sys­tem that isn’t al­ways set up for work­ing fam­i­lies. With five kids, says Wo­j­ci­cki, she can re­late to Slaugh­ter call­ing out the chal­lenges, such as the school cal­en­dar.

Yet in her par­tic­u­lar job, kids are her se­cret weapon: “They are the next gen­er­a­tion of view­er­ship so I look at how they use

the in­ter­net, I look at how they use all the so­cial prod­ucts and they tell me if some­thing isn’t work­ing … I feel like I have a lit­tle fo­cus group at home”.

JUST near the lift at YouTube’s head­quar­ters in San Bruno – about 20 min­utes from down­town San Fran­cisco – is a smi­ley pic­ture of two of the plat­form’s founders, Chad Hur­ley and Steve Chen. Could they have imag­ined their baby would be val­ued last year by Bank of Amer­ica Mer­rill Lynch an­a­lysts at more than $US70bn? There were just 67 staffers when the founders sold up. To­day about 450 em­ploy­ees, many of them en­gi­neers, are spread over two build­ings where the look is more mid­dle-brow cor­po­rate than cut­ting edge.

Google doesn’t break out the fig­ures for YouTube but growth of the once-an­ar­chic plat­form is phe­nom­e­nal, thanks in large part to smart­phones. The num­ber of hours spent watch­ing on mo­biles has dou­bled in the past year. A stag­ger­ing 400 hours of video is up­loaded – or at Wo­j­ci­cki puts it, in­gested – on the site ev­ery minute. It’s one of those mind-bog­gling sta­tis­tics only pos­si­ble in the in­ter­net age. The scale and pen­e­tra­tion of YouTube is ir­refutable, yet crit­ics say it is the most un­der­mon­e­tised com­pany ever. All that prod­uct, all those users, all that in­flu­ence. And yet. Now Wo­j­ci­cki, with her street cred in on­line ad­ver­tis­ing, is charged with tak­ing it to the next level – a ma­ture video de­liv­ery plat­form for the post-tele­vi­sion age that re­tains its unique DNA, and makes some more money. What’s her so­lu­tion?

“It’s go­ing to take time be­cause TV ads need to move,” she says. “The users have moved, the users are mov­ing very quickly, but the ad­ver­tis­ers also need to move. It just takes time.”

YouTube spe­cialises in brand ad­ver­tis­ing with bud­gets that are no­to­ri­ously hard to move quickly, but is now pur­su­ing new ad for­mats, in­clud­ing shop­ping ads.

It’s also bet­ting on a new rev­enue source, in­vest­ing heav­ily in the launch of a $US9.99 ($13.80)-a-month sub­scrip­tion ser­vice called YouTube Red. Re­leased in the US in Oc­to­ber, it will be rolled out in other coun­tries, in­clud­ing Aus­tralia, later this year. The idea is to al­low ad-free, off­line and back­ground view­ing as well as giv­ing sub­scribers ac­cess to a cus­tomised mu­sic app and ex­clu­sive con­tent by high-pro­file YouTu­bers. The “cre­ators” are backed fi­nan­cially by YouTube, al­low­ing them to go to a dif­fer­ent level of pro­duc­tion. The strat­egy is that stars such as Swedish gamer and co­me­dian PewDiePie and Cana­dian per­former Lilly Singh will help haul in sub­scribers for a new rev­enue stream.

With up to 20 long-form videos likely each year, Red be­gins to look like an al­ter­na­tive to Net­flix, Stan and other on-de­mand en­ter­tain­ment sites. And there’s also the need for YouTube to re­tain stars now so suc­cess­ful that they are be­ing in­vited to step out of the bed­room and on to the big screen. Van­ity Fair last month asked whether, with the hottest tal­ent be­ing courted by the net­works and stu­dios, YouTube could be “the fu­ture of Hol­ly­wood, the new Net­flix, or just a lu­cra­tive playpen”.

Says Wo­j­ci­cki: “Our cre­ators are be­com­ing global stars and TV net­works are ap­proach­ing them to take them to the next level, but their au­di­ences are on YouTube, that is their home.”

She cites a re­cent Va­ri­ety poll that last year showed eight out of the top 10 stars in terms of teenage in­flu­ence are YouTube cre­ators, over­whelm­ing tra­di­tional TV and mu­sic stars with their pop­u­lar­ity. Hav­ing once again seen the fu­ture, the CEO is in­vest­ing heav­ily in at least some of those stars by help­ing them pro­duce movie-length videos that will be part of the Red sub­scrip­tion of­fer­ing. The new Net­flix then? Wo­j­ci­cki sees some sim­i­lar­i­ties – she says both com­pa­nies un­der­stand that the fu­ture is about con­tent on de­mand and global do­mains (80 per cent of views on YouTube come from out­side the US) – but “Net­flix is more cu­rated, we are an open

IdeasVal­ley The YouTube Space in LA and, be­low, Wo­j­ci­cki with two of her five chil­dren

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