Few people are as closely linked with YouTube as Ben Relles. The Wisconsin native has been making content on the world’s top online video platform since 2007. He joined the company as an exec in 2011 and spent 11 years developing new original programs for it.
Now, that decade-plus tenure has come to an end. In a LinkedIn post, Relles announced that he is “headed to a new opportunity.” He has teamed up with Reid Hoffman and will work closely with the LinkedIn co-founder “on content strategy across a portfolio of his investments in AI, Web3, video and other seed-stage and growth companies.”
Relles developed a close relationship with Hoffman in 2020 when the two innovators united for the Good to Vote campaign, which was initiated by Relles and funded by Hoffman. As a result of that push, 150,000 people registered to vote. The pair continued their partnership when Relles helped Hoffman launch the 10th-anniversary edition of the LinkedIn co-founder’s book, The Startup of You. Relles told Tubefilter that the themes of that text — including “infinite learning, risk, and working in industries with momentum” — encouraged him to take a job alongside Hoffman.
Hoffman was LinkedIn’s founding CEO. The social media company was sold to Microsoft in 2016, and Hoffman joined the Microsoft board a year later. He is perhaps best known as an investor, and he is one of the principal members of the powerful VC film Greylock Partners.
“A big part of Reid’s vision is building technology companies that scale and can enhance human potential. I’m excited about the types of investments and social impact projects that have that upside,” Relles told Tubefilter. “Reid has a general belief that every tech company needs a content strategy, and that’s a big focus of my role. With the emergence of AI, metaverse projects and other new media, I’ll have a chance to bring what I learned about content and creators at YouTube to an incredible group of new companies.”
Relles started the Barely Political channel (now known as The Key of Awesome) in 2007. That same year, he joined the innovative new media company Next New Networks, which Google acquired in 2011. Relles various roles at YouTube centered on content strategy, and he became a key member of the YouTube Originals team. The lessons he learned from that wealth of experience will be applied to his new role alongside Hoffman.
For example: Relles believes that YouTube creators have a special ability to connect with their viewers. In an email to Tubefilter, he cited a survey of people under 30 conducted by YouTube. The respondents were asked to name their favorite celebrity, and the most common response was the gamer Markiplier, who beat out A-listers like Rihanna, Ryan Reynolds, and Dwayne Johnson.
“I think that survey speaks to what has separated YouTube from other media since about 2008 when the content shifted from viral videos to top creators,” Relles said. “Fans feel like they know creators, and YouTube creators are often their favorites. Even creators just starting out have fans who would name them as their favorite personality. That’s different from stars on a TV screen or movie screen or For You Pages.”
So we can expect Relles to engineer some personality-driven strategies for his new boss. At the same time, the new position gives Relles a chance to think back to the open-ended structure that existed on YouTube when he first launched Barely Political all those years ago. A number of Hoffman’s investments are in the Web3 space, and Relles believes that industry is in the “wild west” phase. He notes that similar metaphors were used to describe YouTube back in the day.
“People joke about it being expensive jpegs, and it’s true there is a lot of speculation, but there’s also signal in the noise,” Relles said. “There is serious innovation and energy since turning users and creators into owners is a huge unlock.”
Unlocking potential in the digital media space has been Relles’ specialty for nearly two decades, and his new gig will put him in a position where he can concoct new ideas and strategies for emerging platforms. “Sometimes when you’re early you can get a head start,” he said. “And for myself, [areas like AI and Web3] present an opportunity to understand where video and creators fit in.”
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