Reddit co-founder stresses Internet entrepreneurship
February 10, 2014Tweet
Now is the time to “have ideas and do them,” the co-founder of the popular website Reddit told Binghamton University students.
“It’s a new frontier,” said Alexis Ohanian about the Internet. “I don’t know where it’s headed. It continues to evolve and grow every day. Every one of us is in an amazing position to be exploring and creating. You all can be the Lewis and Clarks. I will be your Sacagawea.”
Ohanian, who founded Reddit in 2005 with Steve Huffman, visited Binghamton University on Feb. 6 as part of a 77-university, 200-stop book tour promoting Internet entrepreneurship. His 2013 book, Without Their Permission: How the 21st Century Will Be Made, Not Managed, was a Wall Street Journal best-seller.
More than 400 people, mostly students, packed the Mandela Room and heard Ohanian give a 35-minute presentation. He then chatted for 25 minutes with Ben Eisenkop, a doctoral candidate who is well-known on Reddit as a science expert (“unidan”).
The 30-year-old Ohanian, who said his grandfather’s family emigrated from Armenia to Binghamton, concluded the Women in Business-presented event by signing copies of his books for the audience members.
This generation of students has a “fluency with technology that is going to serve us extremely well,” Ohanian said.
“The incumbents merely adopted the Internet,” he said in the voice of Bane, the villain from “The Dark Knight Rises.” “We were born in it – molded by it.”
Ohanian emphasized that writing code is not only the most valuable skill in the country, but is easily accessible, as well.
“Those of us who can build in this new frontier won’t just be exploring, they will be creating under our feet,” he said. “(Code) is something you can learn. You don’t have to enroll in it. These resources are vast.”
Failure also is an option for creative minds and Ohanian urged students not to be afraid of the concept.
“You are at (Binghamton University) because you are good at not failing,” he said. “But life has failures. Life has setbacks. Sucking is the first step to being sort of good at something! It’s true: People suck when they start something new. Please: Go forth and suck!”
Ohanian shared the story of a college dropout who moved to New York City to take photos. Never mind that the young man had “no business picking up a camera.” Today, Brandon Stanton has a best-selling book and photoblog called “Humans of New York.”
“Three years ago – by all accounts – he was a total failure,” Ohanian said of Stanton. “He was a failure at college and a failure at work. Today’s he one of the best-known photographers in the world. He is reaching his maximum potential for awesomeness. It makes me happy because I don’t know how that story could’ve happened 10 years ago.”
Ohanian also shared his own success story, starting with a dial-up Internet connection that led to his own personal website.
“I had something millions of people all over the world could see,” he said of his boyhood website. “OK, fine, tens of people all over the world actually saw it.”
He then moved on to building websites for non-profits as a teen.
“That drug of being able to make something that others liked from a little, humble computer in the bedroom has never left me,” he said.
Ohanian and Huffman were University of Virginia students when they developed a software idea called My Mobile Menu, in which food orders could be placed over a cell phone. The pair brought the idea to Y Combinator, a company that helps burgeoning startups. The idea was rejected, but Y Combinator liked Ohanian and Huffman, and asked them to return to the Boston area and develop a new idea. Reddit, a message board and online community, was born.
Ohanian showed the audience a photo of himself and Huffman on their first day at Y Combinator.
“We had no clue what we were doing,” he said. “I still don’t know what I’m doing most of the time. Whatever it is you want to do, do not let ‘I don’t know what I’m doing’ stop you from getting started and figuring it out. Everyone is in a perpetual state of ‘figuring it out.’”
Ohanian is still involved with Reddit as a board member. He invests and advises more than 70 startups and serves as Y Combinator’s “Ambassador to the East.” Reddit has grown to become a Top 50 U.S. website, with more than 110 million users last month.
“We just wanted to build something that 100 people would like,” Ohanian said.
To further promote Internet entrepreneurship and creativity, Ohanian gave the students postcards and asked them to write out something they hope to accomplish. He vowed to mail the postcards back to them in April.
“I want you to hold yourself accountable to something you want to do,” he said. “Hopefully when this card comes back, you’ll pat yourself on the back and brush your shoulders off because you did it.”
The Internet is “the world’s largest stage and library,” Ohanian reminded students, adding that the present day is far from the Net’s end point.
“It is just the beginning,” he said. “What do the next eight years hold for us? Every day another platform emerges, another person gets to be awesome and we get another example of a way to do things. It’s a way that allows those of us with great ideas the power to spread them and share them.”