Chris Zacharias

Founder of imgix. YCombinator alum. Ex-YouTuber. Studied New Media at RIT.

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Eat. Sleep. Exercise. Work.

YCombinator S2011

“Eat. Sleep. Exercise. Work.”

I remember Jessica Livingston telling our YCombinator batch this in our first week of the Summer 2011 session. As a first time founder, I was terrified that I was expected to never see my friends or family again and that extracurricular activities of any kind had to be foresaken if I wanted any chance at being successful. Looking back, I have to laugh, because I was so naive.

For the vast majority of us, this was not an immediate call to eliminate distractions… it was a pointed reminder to eat, sleep, and exercise!

What most traditionally employed people, like myself at the time, would not understand is how unbelievably intoxicating it is to put your shoulder into the millwheel for the first time and feel it turning. Especially in the early days of founding your company, every minute you spend feels so incredibly consequential, and very often, it is...

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imgix: A New Step Forward

Nowadays, you can take out your phone, open a user-friendly app, capture a shockingly high-quality picture, make any corrections you need, and then send that picture to your grandma, who can see it seconds later. Consumer photography is a largely solved problem. However, the same innovations that have benefited consumers - access to high quality cameras, ease of use, rapid distribution of photos - have created a multitude of complexities for businesses who are now forced to deal with both a more discerning user and a more complicated visual landscape. Delivering the highest quality, lowest latency image to your users is getting progressively harder over time as more and more factors play a role in what delivering the “perfect” image means. Nobody should have to become an imaging scientist to achieve the most with their images. We built imgix to solve this.

By providing a simple URL API...

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A Conspiracy To Kill IE6

The bittersweet consequence of YouTube’s incredible growth is that so many stories will be lost underneath all of the layers of new paint. This is why I wanted to tell the story of how, ten years ago, a small team of web developers conspired to kill IE6 from inside YouTube and got away with it.

I do not recall the exact triggering event that led to our web development team laying out plans to kill IE6 over lunch in the YouTube cafeteria. Perhaps it was the time I pushed out a CSS stylesheet that included an attribute selector on a semi-supported HTML element. Any reasonable web developer would expect this to be ignored by browsers not up to the task. This was not the case with older flavors of IE. Under very specific conditions, an attribute selector on an unsupported HTML element in IE would create an internal recursion that would at best, cause the browser to crash and at worst...

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The Imaging Chain and the Internet

Consider what taking a simple photograph meant 25 years ago. You had film cameras, negatives, dark rooms, emulsions, and paper. It would take days to produce a picture you could show to someone. Now consider what taking a photograph means today. With a smartphone that fits in our pocket, we can capture a photo, edit it, view it, and show it to anyone, all in as a little as a few seconds. These fantastic devices are simultaneously capable of capturing high resolution visuals, displaying them, and immediately distributing them to a billion other devices similarly capable of the exact same things. It is now actually perceivable that a photo you take one moment could be seen by over half of the entire human population a moment later. This power in visual expression has never existed before.

We can create and express visual media so incredibly fast that it is causing new behavioral patterns...

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The Multiplane Camera


During a recent trip to the Disney Museum in San Francisco, I became immediately fascinated by the multiplane camera that was on display there. The gigantic machine represents so much of what I find inspiring in graphics and technology. It is fun to get lost in thought, imagining what the modern equivalent of the multiplane camera might be and how to foster the intersection of art and technology from which the multiplane camera emerged.

The multiplane camera was invented in 1933 by famous Disney animator/director Ub Iwerks. It worked by enabling animators to position their layers of acetate animation cels at varying distances and offsets in a vertical column. They could then shoot a camera downward to compose the cels into a single frame. While animators had been using acetate celluloid frames composited over painted mattes for decades prior, the technical effects that the multiplane...

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Page Weight Matters

Three years ago, while I was a web developer at YouTube, one of the senior engineers began a rant about the page weight of the video watch page being far too large. The page had ballooned to as high as 1.2MB and dozens of requests. This engineer openly vented that “if they can write an entire Quake clone in under 100KB, we have no excuse for this!” Given that I agreed with him and I was excited to find a new project, I decided to champion the cause of getting the YouTube watch page to weigh in under 100KB. On the shuttle home from San Bruno that night, I coded up a prototype. I decided to limit the functionality to just a basic masthead, the video player, five related videos, a sharing button, a flagging tool, and ten comments loaded in via AJAX. I code-named the project “Feather”.

Even with such a limited set of features, the page was weighing in at 250KB. I dug into the code and...

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When I was going through YCombinator in the summer of 2011, I felt like I was the only person in the entire class who knew nothing about taking investment. I remember distinctly when Jessica Livingston announced the $150K we would be getting from SV Angel and Start Fund. When she told us the terms, the room erupted in shouting and applause. I sat there Googling nervously, trying to understand what had just been said and wondering if I really belonged in YC at all.

Being surrounded by such a select group of founders, each in varying stages of building their companies, you pick up the knowledge you need very quickly. This is the most valuable part of the 3-month YCombinator session. One piece of knowledge you learn very early on is that investors tend to have a herd mentality. What I would later realize through observation was that founders tend to as well.

I remember getting the...

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Cruise Ships

In July of 2010, I made the decision to leave YouTube. The first thoughts I had were “How am I going to explain this to anyone? How will I tell mom?” To my family, I had the greatest job in the world and the amount of money I was making was unfathomable. They were certainly not wrong in thinking this. Google is absolutely the best place in the world to work and they do pay very well. It certainly was not an easy decision on my part.

About 4 months before, I was backpacking through Europe, stopping off in major cities to present our latest HTML5 work at the local Google offices. It was my first time really exploring a different part of the world. I met fascinating people and experienced many random adventures. I was trapped in Stockholm for 9 days due to the Icelandic ash cloud. I was a successful stowaway on a train from Copenhagen to Hamburg. I had a girlfriend break up with me during...

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