19-year-old Bath student sells YouTube rival for £630,000

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19-year-old Bath student sells YouTube rival for £630,000

Antony Savvas

A University of Bath student who developed a video streaming website two years before YouTube has sold his business for £630,000.

Kieran O’Neill, aged 19 from Winchester, set up the HolyLemon.com website in 2003, when he was taking his GCSEs, to show friends the Flash animations he created.

As word of the site began to spread, he started streaming user-generated funny video clips submitted to the site – well before YouTube was established on the market.

O’Neill then began marketing the site and drawing revenue from advertising sales, making it profitable.

HolyLemon.com soon had more than 50,000 users per day and became established as Google’s first-ranked website for the search term “funny videos”.

In March 2007, HolyLemon.com had more than 1.1 million unique visitors. Over the last year, O’Neill has refused several offers for the business, including an approach from Brad Greenspan, one of the early investors in MySpace, and other US companies keen to expand into the European market.

But O’Neill has now accepted an offer from Handheld Entertainment after spending three weeks at the company headquarters in San Francisco. They impressed him with their vision for the company.

O’Neill now holds shares in the parent company and has a sizeable amount to invest in two ventures he is currently working on.

“With exams, I haven’t really had time to celebrate yet,” said O’Neill, who is a second year BSc Business Administration student in Bath University’s School of Management .

“I designed the early sites in my bedroom at home and the trick was learning how to effectively stream user-generated video clips through the browser.

It is what you see everywhere now, but then it was a really novel idea, particularly for humour websites,”
said O’Neill.

O’Neill said, “At the time of its launch I remember seeing YouTube and thinking that it was good – this was back when my site was 10 times the size.

“YouTube’s success came through a widget that allowed people to distribute their own video content – but then they have had a team of developers and a lot of money to get it where it is today,” he said.

Google bought YouTube last October for a more sizeable $1.65bn (£868m).

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