Be Awesome, Without Their Permission
Words of wisdom from internet celebrity and Reddit creator – Alexis Ohanian
Last night, serial entrepreneur and founder of internet homepage Reddit, Alexis Ohanian spoke at Cornell about how to change the world. His message? Just go out and be awesome, don’t wait around for someone to ‘ok’ it. Ohanian passed through Ithaca as part of his national book tour where he plans to visit over 77 universities. He stressed the importance of the internet to our generation as an enabler for cross border communication, a means of expression and a catalyst for self-gain via business building.
At 15 Ohanian began designing websites for nonprofits, hidden behind the anonymity of the early days of e-mail. “It felt empowering knowing that my skills were needed and appreciated.” As a young adult he was accepted to entrepreneurial incubator Y Generation in Boston – it was here that he began the early coding for Reddit, what would later become ‘the front page of the internet.’ He mentioned how at times he thought to himself “what the hell am I doing?”But was quick to say that it’s ok for early entrepreneurs to have those thoughts – no one has it all figured out, it’s not a paint but numbers grid, but one can always consult with experts to regain confidence.
Ohanian spoke about how to handle competition and recited the first time he noticed content aggregator Digg.com and nearly gave it all up. “Here was a guy who was doing virtually the same thing we were doing, but better. Hell, he had his own TV show and was featured in Silicon Valley Magazine! What chance did we stand?” Upon a consultation with the experts his answer was to keep your head down and keep working. “Don’t care about the competition; they won’t beat you, you’ll just end up beating yourself. Be Grumpy Cat – don’t care what people think!”
Our generation has grown up with the internet – that’s what separates me and my peers from those late adopters. And it is our generation that most recognizes the magnitude of change the internet can allow. “It is the largest stage and library around.” Ohanian took a political aside and brought up his platform of net neutrality and the dream that “every American should have access to the internet. People shouldn’t have to go to McDonalds for free Wi-Fi to connect – limitations like this will hold us back and we will fall behind.”
With a fake fire on the PowerPoint screen behind him, Ohanian invited Cornellian and business owner Michael Horn to speak about his experience with venture creation. Horn, 30 and ex-law student, spoke about how to recognize problems as opportunities. After discovering the courtroom was not in his future Horn went out and decided to work on his weakness: he learned how to code in 6 weeks. Two weeks later, he had a fully functioning website covering fresh food markets in NYC and landed a shoutout in the NYTimes. “Once I had that as a credential, the opportunities just kept coming along” Horn now runs an artisan coffee shopping website (www.craftcoffee.com) and a couple other projects on the way.
Ohanian encouraged each of us to reach out to him ourselves if we ever needed help. “The world is not flat, but the World Wide Web is. Use your time here in college as a safety net to try things out and don’t be afraid to fail. Don’t be afraid to suck, because at least it’s the start to getting better.”
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Y Combinator is a Boston based startup incubator and found here