This post's theme song: Aloe Blacc: I need a Dollar
So, I went around to various incubators with just the concept and business plan. I was very protective of the name and I never showed the logo to anyone during this process. Perhaps I should have bought the domain name, but I never did. People have criticized me for this. There are several reasons.
1) I knew that purchasing YouTube.com would have protected me, but I already had spent money on a dozen domain names. In 2000, you could easily lose your domain name if someone else wanted it. I foresaw issues if someone tried to forcibly take it from me because the budget I had for YouTube was only about $20. At the time, domain names cost over $10 a month. Also, if you ever needed to transfer a domain name, it was impossible until late 2004 or 2005. There were lots of reports of people losing their names during domain transfers and, eventually, it happened to me. You can view this archive of my domain nimud.org to see what happened when the transfer occurred. (If you do visit the archive, compare pages in 2003 to pages in 2004.) This one company would automatically step in and take the domain name during the transfer process. I was so protective of YouTube that I never even typed it into a search engine. Once, I tried my theory by typing "UraniumGames.com" into a Google search. Within two weeks someone bought the domain. See this historical domain lookup for some proof. You can't purchase it, and it didn't exist before I typed it into Google.
2) When I did approach various company (or product) incubators (aside from pitching to former Lycos advisor Don Marinelli, the ones I approached were: IdeaLab, IdeaFoundry, InnovationWorks, Davison and the Invention Submission Corporation - you know, they have that TV ad with the caveman and the wheel?) many of them turned it down. They would say things like "Oh we see that" or "Why don't you go do that?" or "What's the invention part?" but they wouldn't commit or fund the venture. I needed at least $5000 to pay for a VPS back in those days. That would have lasted 1 year. That was the bare minimum investment beyond the $10 domain name. None of those companies keep records of pitches. In fact, InventHelp (the new name of Invention Submission Corporation a.k.a. ISC) has a policy where they destroy all records after 3 years. All I have to prove I ever spoke with them is a pink sheet that is signed only by me. They won't sign off on your idea unless you pay them thousands of dollars to do patent research. Since YouTube had no patentable aspects to it (and, in fact, "borrowed" some of its ideas from existing search franchises), the ISC representative told me it just wasn't appropriate for the type of products they handle. IdeaLab, IdeaFoundry and InnovationWorks all gave kudos to the concept, but offered no funding. Where else to turn but close friends and relatives?
3) I asked my father, who was skeptical and never has offered any support in my ventures since I was a teenager. He didn't understand the market, the concept or even the Web at the time. He's an amateur radio operator who was born in 1944, why would he care or have any knowledge of things like MTV? He listens to the "Golden Oldies" channel WWSW (94.5 3WS Pittsburgh) .. though he's since graduated to Sirius XM. I asked my millionaire buddy, George A. Economou, Jr. of Akamai, for $10000 in December 2002 (and again later in 2003) to start the venture. It was bad timing: his father was dying of cancer and George's rise to millionaire status had estranged our friendship. I tried to get colleagues (fellow students) at Carnegie Mellon to start it up, but most of my friends were anti-capitalist music thieves. Remember I was trying to start YouTube at the same time Napster was making news with the RIAA.
4) Buying the domain name and getting a few thousand dollars together to buy a VPS wouldn't have handled the type of traffic I wanted YouTube to see. How do you start from nothing? You most likely can't - it's very hard. You have to have investment - a process that I knew very little about at the time - and I doubt I could negotiate very far with limited experience and a lower middle class background. I needed millions and the more I asked for money the more I was turned away. It's not like "hey, man, can I get $100,000" - they want to run background checks, credit checks, rigorous marketing surveys that absorb all of your investment capital. For instance, at InnovationWorks, you can apply for a grant for $50,000 but all of the money is used to do extensive marketing research. YouTube didn't need marketing research, it needed computing power and legal defense.