20131120_Reddit_RachelChoi
20131120_Reddit_RachelChoi

Reddit founder Ohanian discusses techniques for successful entrepreneurship, power of Internet.

While the earth is most certainly round, the Internet is flat and can be the world’s largest stage from which everyone has the opportunity to learn, Alexis Ohanian, the founder of online forum Reddit, told a crowd of Princeton students on Wednesday in a lecture about Reddit’s founding and the field of entrepreneurship.

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Having grown up with the World Wide Web, younger generations have had the advantage of understanding the Internet better than the “incumbents,” or older generation — a “huge advantage that we all need to capitalize on,” Ohanian said.

Ohanian also offered his advice on entrepreneurship by noting that the difference between entrepreneurs is not whether or not one has great ideas. Everyone has “great ideas,” he explained, but not everyone can execute them. To be a successful entrepreneur, one must be willing to put oneself in new situations to implement one’s ideas, he added.

As an example of the Internet’s power to implement entrepreneurial ideas, Ohanian pointed to Humans of New York, a prominent photoblog featuring artistic street portraits of New York City. The blog was started by a former bond trader whose start as a photographer was initially quite unsuccessful, he explained.

“Sucking is the first step to being good at something,” Ohanian said, later noting that “It’s not about GPAs, it’s about getting shit done.

Reddit, Ohanian’s greatest success, also started with failure. Ohanian’s first foray into entrepreneurship began his sophomore year at the University of Virginia, when he decided he did not want to take the LSAT and approached his roommate, Steve Huffman, with the idea of creating a startup together, he said. Their initial idea was a company called My Mobile Menu that would allow people to place food orders using mobile phones. However, the idea was vetoed by a seed accelerator when they pitched it. Huffman and Ohanian founded Reddit in 2005, after they had graduated.

Ohanian noted that after he and Huffman launched Reddit, they noticed that a similar site, Digg.com, had been unveiled seven months earlier. One should try not to pay too much attention to the competition in the startup world, Ohanian explained, as people who do so could end up copying their competitors and losing originality.

“No one can beat you,” Ohanian added. “You can only beat yourself.”

The talk also featured a guest speaker, Savraj Singh ’03, a founder of Wattvision, an energy sensor that enables users to see how much energy they are using. Singh emphasized the importance of understanding one’s customer.

Ohanian concluded his talk by saying that nothing about the future of the Internet is guaranteed.

“It really is up to us to make sure the Internet lives up to its fullest potential,” Ohanian said, “and that is about bringing access, bringing skill to make the most out of that access, to as many people as possible."

Ohanian recently wrote a book entitled “Without Their Permission: How the 21st Century Will Be Made, Not Managed,” which shares ideas for using the power of the web to pursue entrepreneurial goals.

The lecture was sponsored by the Princeton Entrepreneurship Club and followed by a book signing at Labyrinth Books.

Correction: Due to an editing error, an earlier version of this article misstated the location of Ohanian's book signing. It took place at McCosh Hall. The ‘Prince’ regrets the error.

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