Reddit Co-Founder Alexis Ohanian Explains How He Built A Web Empire

Reddit Co-Founder Alexis Ohanian Explains How He Built A Web Empire


posted yesterday


You don’t need to be a cut-throat jerk to be successful in the business of capitalism. Alexis Ohanian doesn’t stand out in a room; other than being tall enough to play NBA defense, he’s usually the unassuming guy in a corner making new friends with a big smile and a buddy-buddy attitude. Ohanian also happens to have founded one of the most influential websites in, a popular news aggregator, snags over 1 billion page views a month and has the power to turn a news story into a viral sensation. Ohanian’s new book, Without Their Permission, reveals the origin story of Reddit as the earnest project of a do-good entrepreneur. Most importantly, it proves that there are many paths to unlocking the Internet treasure chest and at least one doesn’t involve selling your soul.Reason Rules

Before the days of social media dominance, a 22-year-old Ohanian had a simple theory: “the old model for news aggregation, when it was printed on a dead tree, wasn’t suited for the Internet age,” he writes. “An entire building full of editors, no matter how smart or tireless they are, can’t match the speed or efficiency with which” a robust Internet community can discover important news.

The sheer wide-eyed idealism of Ohanian is notable; we see it a lot from fresh-faced Silicon Valley newbies, but it’s still encouraging to hear it spelled out.

“I’m motivated by all the awesome people whose ideas we’ve never benefited from because of where they were born or because of their race, sex, or other characteristics,” he gushes. “All the bullshit that holds amazing people back doesn’t suddenly disappear online, but the open Internet does technologically level the playing field for everyone.”

It’s an imperfect utopian lens. Social media is as famous as it is infamous for the spread of patently false information: rumors of untimely deaths (video below); false information during a school rampage; and Photoshopped images of a catastrophic storm.

The Reddit community, itself, wrongly identified the Boston bombing suspect after some misguided vigilante sleuthing (Reddit execs would eventually ban the practice of crowdsourcing manhuntson the site).

But, none of these disaster scenarios deterred Ohanian from his newfound mission. After being rejected from his university entrepreneurship class, Ohanian bum-rushed noted tech entrepreneur, Paul Graham, after a talk he gave at Harvard. Graham was eventually convinced to seed the idea of a user-controlled content aggregator, which set Ohanian on the path to garage tinkering.

The staple of Reddit, the up and down voting arrows that control the fate of story, were hand-coded out of brute-force simplicity and a dash of intuition. “Neologisms like upvote and downvote came into existence without any forethought—I just liked the way an up-and-down arrow looked.”

The simple tools for crowdsourcing interesting content would eventually help Reddit become among the top 40 websites. President Obama did an “ask me anything” forum, the community helped galvanize a worldwide protest against the Stop Online Piracy Act, and raise over $100,000 for Donor’

Hypothesis test about marketplace of Ideas: True.

Being A Nice Guy -> Mo-ney, Mo-ney, Mo-ney, Mo-ney…Mon-NEY!

“Look at every meeting as a chance to do someone a solid,” advises Ohanian, who argues that starting a successful company starts with building good karma. Help out as many people as you can, and eventually it’ll come back.

Before Reddit’s fame, he met a Wired reporter, Rachel Metz, who was interested in a story. Metz and Ohanian hit it off over Chinese food, to the point where Metz could no longer objectively cover the growing startup. “That was fine by me. No Wired story came from that, but I got a new friend in Rachel.”

But, that set in motion a very lucrative chain of events. Metz “happened to mention reddit to her editor at Wired, Kristen Philipkoski. Kristen, the wife of Kourosh Karimkhany, was doing business development for Condé Nast and heard from Rachel about a pair of plucky founders in Boston working on something interesting called reddit.”

Eventually, Condé Nast would acquire Reddit for an unknown (but pretty large) sum of money, turning Ohanian from a startup founder to investor overnight.

Without Their Permission reads mostly like business advice; if it can convince more people to make money by being a nice person and believing in humanity, it will have accomplished a noble goal.

About bambooinnovator
Kee Koon Boon (“KB”) is the co-founder and director of HERO Investment Management which provides specialized fund management and investment advisory services to the ARCHEA Asia HERO Innovators Fund (, the only Asian SMID-cap tech-focused fund in the industry. KB is an internationally featured investor rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as a fund manager and analyst in the Asian capital markets who started his career at a boutique hedge fund in Singapore where he was with the firm since 2002 and was also part of the core investment committee in significantly outperforming the index in the 10-year-plus-old flagship Asian fund. He was also the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. Prior to setting up the H.E.R.O. Innovators Fund, KB was the Chief Investment Officer & CEO of a Singapore Registered Fund Management Company (RFMC) where he is responsible for listed Asian equity investments. KB had taught accounting at the Singapore Management University (SMU) as a faculty member and also pioneered the 15-week course on Accounting Fraud in Asia as an official module at SMU. KB remains grateful and honored to be invited by Singapore’s financial regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to present to their top management team about implementing a world’s first fact-based forward-looking fraud detection framework to bring about benefits for the capital markets in Singapore and for the public and investment community. KB also served the community in sharing his insights in writing articles about value investing and corporate governance in the media that include Business Times, Straits Times, Jakarta Post, Manual of Ideas, Investopedia, TedXWallStreet. He had also presented in top investment, banking and finance conferences in America, Italy, Sydney, Cape Town, HK, China. He has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy & business model innovation in Singapore, HK and China.

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