Alexis Ohanian

Co-founder of reddit

THIS CHAT HAPPENED ON September 28, 2016

Discussion

Alexis Ohanian@alexisohanian · Co-founder, Initialized Capital, Reddit
Hi everyone, I'm Alexis Ohanian, Co-Founder at Reddit, tech investor, bestselling author of 'Without Their Permission', and activist for the open Internet. After I graduated from UVA and realized my desire to play for the NFL miiiight not work out, I turned to working on making the Internet suck less. I'm super stoked about the things Reddit has accomplished since returning back to the company, including shipping our brand new official mobile apps, launching native image hosting, and building out an incredible team. In my spare time, I cheer relentlessly for the Washington Redskins, invest in some pretty cool startups, and FaceTime with my cat, Karma. Ask me anything!
Philippe Beaudette@pbeaudette · Community Operations guy
Alexis, it's Philippe - your community manager from Reddit. I've got my whole team with me because it's time for our weekly meeting. But you know that we are never ones to be shy or miss an opportunity to have fun with the boss. Folks may not know of your tradition of giving prizes to staff....who write the best haiku to earn them. So my team has a challenge for you: they would like to hear your very best Haiku about your time here today, by the time we are done. Also, please don't fire us. :-)
Paul Tomkinson@paultomkinson · Founder, Textras
@pbeaudette love this ^
Alexis Ohanian@alexisohanian · Co-founder, Initialized Capital, Reddit
@pbeaudette Haikus are lovely 'cuz almost anyone can Free smart frying pan 🍳
Philippe Beaudette@pbeaudette · Community Operations guy
@alexisohanian .... that day when you troll your boss, who trolls you back, and better.
Philipp Meder@phimema · Sales, Marketing @JapaCasa
@alexisohanian @pbeaudette I'm taking a creative writing class atm and this week we were supposed to write haikus. This might be one of the funniest ones I've heard so far!
Andrew Ettinger@andrewett · 👟 @wearAtoms // ex @Twitter @ProductHunt
Hey Alexis, thanks for joining! Been a super active Reddit user for ~8 years. Quick question: why has there never been a redesign? I figure there's a reason so would love to hear your take.
Alexis Ohanian@alexisohanian · Co-founder, Initialized Capital, Reddit
@andrewett Don't you love my choice of Verdana??? I've been asked this question for over a decade and I'm happy to say we're already making great progress on mobile web (http://m.reddit.com) and native mobile apps, which are world class, fast, and beautiful -- more than half of our traffic is via mobile, so it made sense to start there. The team has done a remarkable job in a short period of time by modernizing Reddit, while still holding true to the principles of function over form.
Abhishek Chakraborty@coffeeandjunk · UX Designer
Hey Alexis, what is your typical day like?
Alexis Ohanian@alexisohanian · Co-founder, Initialized Capital, Reddit
@coffeeandjunk I should get better at documenting this on snapchat (id: alexisohanian). It really depends on the day, but I'm usually doing some combination of meetings, emailing, and meetings. And travel. I'm on a plane a lot, but those hours are the times when I get some of the most work done because there's no distraction.
Sergio Flores@byoigres · Software Developer
@alexisohanian @coffeeandjunk Are you currently reading some books?
Alexis Ohanian@alexisohanian · Co-founder, Initialized Capital, Reddit
@byoigres @coffeeandjunk Yes! Love books. Currently reading The Inner Game of Tennis. And most nights I get home, work on emails, and catch up on all that great TV I've been missing. (e.g., Walking Dead, Narcos, etc)
Sergio Flores@byoigres · Software Developer
@alexisohanian @coffeeandjunk Nice! I love TV shows and I didn't know about "Without Their Permission", looks really interesting, probably this will be my next acquisition.
Alexis Ohanian@alexisohanian · Co-founder, Initialized Capital, Reddit
@byoigres @coffeeandjunk For all you wonderful PHers... 😏😏😏😏 https://www.dropbox.com/s/o6hpne...
Ben Tossell@bentossell · newCo
I recently read your initial YC application http://alexisohanian.com/our-y-c... - and you guys said you were rejected by YC with this and told you could join if you came up with a new idea... what is the story of coming up with that new idea (reddit) and pitching it back to YC to get accepted?
Alexis Ohanian@alexisohanian · Co-founder, Initialized Capital, Reddit
@BenTossell Thank you, Jessica, for demanding to the other partners that they let us into YC. She had second thoughts the next morning and YC decided they would accept us, but only if we changed our idea to something in a browser (not for mobile) that "solved our problem every morning." Here's the story in a much longer form.... (ganked from my book) Somewhere in the middle of Connecticut, on an exceptionally long train ride back to Virginia, my cell phone rang. It was Paul Graham. He wanted us back, but only if we changed our idea to something else. So much for proving them wrong. We got off at the very next stop, but not before I got Paul to buy us a pair of tickets to fly back to Charlottesville that night so we could return to Boston for an hour to join him in brainstorming a better idea than mobile food ordering. The big problem with the concept was that not only did we have to persuade customers to use the product, but because this was a time before app stores, the only way to get our software on people’s phones was to make deals with mobile carriers first. That alone would’ve been an impressive feat for a brand-new company of two, but we’d also need to get restaurateurs—notoriously late adopters—on board as well. Yikes. We got back to the Y Combinator office and met with Paul Graham alone, without his partners. He told us to forget mobile for a moment and consider building something for the browser. Long before most people realized the power of online software, he knew the Internet offered tremendous potential for an idea to spread as never before. When a customer only needs a browser and an Internet connection to access your product, unprecedented growth is possible. He asked us about frustrations we had using the Internet, which had just recently seen the launch of a college-only site called TheFacebook.com. Steve was an avid reader of Slashdot, a news website with editorial oversight and a robust community of commenters as well as a moderation system. I had too many tabs open every day—they showed me a range of news websites, but I had no way to filter signal from noise. At the time, a website called del.icio.us (pronounced “delicious”; ignore the dots) let people bookmark websites online, so if you hopped between computers, your reference material followed you. An interesting by-product of this was del.icio.us/popular, which aggregated the most popular bookmarked URLs at any given time. There was something here that del.icio.us wasn’t quite getting, but we saw the potential for something bigger, which would sort not the most popular links for bookmarking but the most popular links for sharing. We hadn’t figured out functionality, but we knew the old model for news aggregation, when it was printed on a dead tree, wasn’t suited for the Internet age. In fact, the vision was best crystallized by Paul Graham in that very meeting: “That’s it! You should build the front page of the web.”
Ben Tossell@bentossell · newCo
@alexisohanian getting the book...
Vitor@vit05 · tapan.ga
@alexisohanian late for the party, but would have loved to hear your thoughts about AR. And what do you think about Audio Apps, we have space for something new?
Alexis Ohanian@alexisohanian · Co-founder, Initialized Capital, Reddit
@bentossell Thanks, Ben! There's an e-book version floating around in these comments...
Alexis Ohanian@alexisohanian · Co-founder, Initialized Capital, Reddit
@vit05 There's a lot of hype in AR right now and I'm pretty skeptical of most of it. I believe in it long-term, but short-term the only 2 companies doing hardware around this space that I could get behind are Thalmic https://www.thalmic.com/whatsnext and Meta https://www.metavision.com/ What are audio apps, exactly? Spotify?
Pierre-Marie Galite@tsunaze · mobile developer & advice giver
Hey, do you intend to do 'Small Empires' again? It was really cool!
Ryan Hoover@rrhoover · Founder, Product Hunt
@tsunaze fan of this show as well. 🔼
BrianBest@brianbest · Software Developer
@tsunaze Such a good show
Alexis Ohanian@alexisohanian · Co-founder, Initialized Capital, Reddit
@tsunaze I LOVED creating Small Empires. Had an amazing team - Stephen, Jordan, Billy, Christian, and more all made that happen for a couple great seasons. Some of my favorite episodes would have to be Atlanta with PartPic or NY with OKCUPID. That said, while I'd love to continue it, I just don't have the time right now. We looked into 'open sourcing' it for a minute...
Thomas Stöcklein@tomstocklein · FoundersFundersFuture.com
What are you favorite subreddits?
Alexis Ohanian@alexisohanian · Co-founder, Initialized Capital, Reddit
@tomstocklein Right now... r/Redskins, r/NFL, r/sneakers, r/AskHistorians, r/BlackPeopleTwitter, r/futurology... and @CDixon just turned me on to https://www.reddit.com/r/Nootrop...
Abhishek Chakraborty@coffeeandjunk · UX Designer
How did you get the initial users of Reddit? Did they like it from the very beginning, or did you guys have to tweak the product?
Alexis Ohanian@alexisohanian · Co-founder, Initialized Capital, Reddit
@coffeeandjunk In 2005, there was no social media to speak of, so no effective way to get an audience from 0 other than pitching better known bloggers to write about you. I emailed a few hundred people who had been members of a message board (PHPBB!) that I ran in college, which converted into a couple of Reddit users and pinged all our friends from college (two converted - thanks, Connor + Morgan!). Because we weren't going to attract anyone to stick around with an empty Reddit frontpage (nothing sadder than an empty Reddit community) Steve and I submitted links for the first month or so under different usernames. This helped new users understand that Reddit wasn't some kind of stripped down blog Steve and I ran, but a new kind of community platform. Our first surge of traffic that didn’t come from browbeaten friends was thanks to an essay Paul Graham wrote and gave us a great bump. People actually were using the site and a couple months in, Steve and I no longer needed to fake submissions, which was a pretty awesome feeling. It seemed like it just might work after all.
Abhishek Chakraborty@coffeeandjunk · UX Designer
Can you give a few tips on building a community?
Alexis Ohanian@alexisohanian · Co-founder, Initialized Capital, Reddit
@coffeeandjunk I wrote an ebook about this a while ago and I'm not sure how useful it is today, but here's a copy: https://www.dropbox.com/s/jl704t... Let me know if it's worth the quick read. As for some quick tips.... I think the biggest one is knowing what you're about and being true to it. Steve and I were the first community managers at Reddit because we only had one community then (front page) and we handled spam, etc. We set the tone for the community with the things we posted and upvoted and were active 'party hosts' there. In many ways that was a reflection of us, if we'd have behaved differently, the community would have looked different (just like offline community organizing). Now when it comes to building a community OF communities, that's a different conversation. We realized quickly that we needed to be a platform for communities if one day we wanted to have a billion users, we'd need to support tens (hundreds?) of thousands of disparate diverse communities on one platform, which meant letting people spin up their own communities (subreddits) and lead them like we did back in the day. We still have work to do, but the team has made meaningful improvements to mod tools, decimated spam (literally down 90%), and developed strong processes & built out our community support staff.
Abhishek Chakraborty@coffeeandjunk · UX Designer
@alexisohanian Hey thanks a lot for the book :)
Uhma@deleted-594972 · Brr
Hi Alexis, Thank you for giving an opportunity to ask you anything. Russian government is putting a tight lid on their internet. Besides employing human bots ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/We... ), they are also starting to filter traffic through their KGB equipment. Question: If r/russia gets blocked by them at some point, which proxies would you recommend to use in order to visit Reddit? Will using proxy be the only option left?
Armin Konjalic@vanbossto · Humaniq
@victorpolyushko Once Reddit was blocked because u/rsocfan posted tips on how to grow drugs and reported the "illegal content" to Russian authorities. Just to see what will happen. 2 years later they have read his email and blocked entire Reddit. https://www.reddit.com/r/tifu/co...
Chirag Charlie Bansal@chirag_bansal · CEO Sweat Proof Dress Shirts
How did the idea of Reddit come about?
Alexis Ohanian@alexisohanian · Co-founder, Initialized Capital, Reddit
@chirag_bansal Answered this up here. https://www.producthunt.com/live... TL;DR We got rejected for another idea (skipping lines by ordering via your mobile phone) and they invited us back to Y Combinator as long as we changed our idea to anything that we could build in a browser (not mobile) and we built Reddit based on a conversation with Paul that encouraged us to solve our problem every morning of finding out what was new and interesting in the world.
imad chakri@imadchakri · Founder and CEO @PocketDoc
how you have exceeded the chicken-egg problem when you started Reddit ?
Aidan Breen@aidanbreen · PhD Candidate (A.I.), NUIG
@imadchakri This has been discussed before, if I remember correctly, they basically had a UI toggle that allowed them to post links and automatically create a new user for the link. Made the system look busy - kind of like a Home Alone solution to the Empty Restaurant syndrome.
Alexis Ohanian@alexisohanian · Co-founder, Initialized Capital, Reddit
imad chakri@imadchakri · Founder and CEO @PocketDoc
@alexisohanian Thank you
imad chakri@imadchakri · Founder and CEO @PocketDoc
@aidanbreen Thank you
Chirag Chopra@notthatchirag · Founder, Lucid Labs
When did you start thinking about monetizing Reddit?
Alexis Ohanian@alexisohanian · Co-founder, Initialized Capital, Reddit
@notthatchirag Not soon enough! We did once we got acquired, but now that we're independent again, we want to be as self-sufficient as possible so that Reddit can keep growing and doing all the amazing things the platform can do for as many people as possible. That means revenue. And we have a path to do a kind of native advertising that users and brands both actually love. I talked about this on IG recently: https://www.instagram.com/p/BK0r... Turns out conversations on Reddit, even when they're advertisements, are really good -- and when an advertiser can have them with communities they want to reach, they're also really effective.
Charles Kunene@charles_kunene · Co-founder & Product Designer @Obaa
Hey Alexis, thanks for answering our q's! 1. During reddit's conception, what was the type of community you thought it would be and who was your ideal user? 2. What things did reddit iterate on when it began that made it sticky to its users and attractive to new ones? 3. Did yourself and Steve Huffman have convos about how you could balance free speech but also moderate abusive and offensive content which could lead to higher churn rates and discourage potential users from signing up? 4. What are you doing now that gives you the most joy?
Alexis Ohanian@alexisohanian · Co-founder, Initialized Capital, Reddit
@charles_kunene Sure thing, Charles! 1. When we started there was just one community (and only one frontpage) and Steve and I were the two community leaders, so we just wanted to cultivate a place where there'd be relevant and entertaining content and interesting discussions. But we knew within a month that the only way it'd really be successful is if we built a platform for many diverse communities, which is why we allowed anyone to build their own. 2. We really focused on voting + sorting tools to make sure that content was always good and fresh. We did the same thing with comments, which were pretty innovative at the time and to this day are one of the things that makes the site really special. The commentary is often as good or better than the original content. 3. Not really. We were the first mods, so we just banned users who broke our community rules. Once we launched the platform, we had some loose guidelines, but abuse wasn't really a problem because we weren't very big. When we came back a year ago (and now we're at 250 MAU) we absolutely needed to take another look at our content policy and the community teams + tools we had to enforce it. It's a process, but we've made good progress (Only .02% of all content on the site is reported by users). 4. Spending time with loved ones. Sleeping in. Going on adventures.
Brandon Hassler@brandonhassler · Founder, Market Campus
If Reddit never existed and you had to launch it in 2016, would you go about the growth/marketing any different?
Alexis Ohanian@alexisohanian · Co-founder, Initialized Capital, Reddit
@brandonhassler Mobile first. And we'd have the advantage of using all the existing social media networks to encourage people to share our best content for us, so that'd be a higher priority. Right now, social sharing on Reddit is pretty underutilized even though the content is some of the best on the net (and often ends up being turned into a blog post by a media site - many of which are using our content embeds - that 'goes viral' on places like FB, etc).
Thomas Stöcklein@tomstocklein · FoundersFundersFuture.com
Alexis, I really enjoyed reading your book "Without Their Permission". Are you currently working on another book?
Alexis Ohanian@alexisohanian · Co-founder, Initialized Capital, Reddit
@tomstocklein I am not. I sometimes get inspired and record a voice note that I file away for another book one day...
Jourdan Bul-lalayao@jourdanb21 · Co-Founder & CTO, Jobox
Hey Alexis! Thanks for chatting with us here on Product Hunt! How did you go about building a successful (by your definition, whatever it may be) core team and culture at reddit starting from its first employee? What was the toughest challenge that you faced, and how did you overcome it?
Alexis Ohanian@alexisohanian · Co-founder, Initialized Capital, Reddit
@jourdanb21 Glad to be here, Jourdan! We didn't do a lot to build culture in Reddit 1.0 (we sold 16months after starting) but we're doing a lot now since Steve (CEO) and I came back last year. We did get super fortunate in that our first hire was Chris Slowe, another YC founder who went back to grad school after his 3 mos at YC and had 2 spare bedrooms. We moved in with him and a month later we were begging him to help us on Reddit. He's a big part of our mental model for how we think about great hires -- high talent and low ego. The toughest challenge during Reddit was not actually business-related: http://alexisohanian.com/keep-ca...
John Pagley@johnpagley · Internet Marketing Director
Do you and your team use Product Hunt to announce new versions of Reddit?
Alexis Ohanian@alexisohanian · Co-founder, Initialized Capital, Reddit
@johnpagley Absolutely! I submitted the Reddit native app to PH when we launched it. It's a great platform for launching things (FD: I'm an investor in PH). I've already talked Ryan's ear off when it comes to feature recommendations, but I think every company will be investing more in PH over time as this becomes as or more important than places like the AppStore or GooglePlayStore to engage with your audience around releases (and help new people discover you). https://www.producthunt.com/tech...
John Pagley@johnpagley · Internet Marketing Director
@alexisohanian Thank you! This recommendation coming from you means a lot. Yes, I think HP is definitely a valuable source for new released products. After spending more and more time on PH I've discovered dozens of helpful products that I wouldn't have found otherwise (on the app stores). I'm new to PH, but I already love it! If only more people knew about it. My team and I are soon to launch a new blog. My content team will be writing great things about PH and hopefully help expose its value. Do you have a suggestion of where I can find shareable PH benefits and features that I can give to my content team?
Paul Golebiewski@paulgole · Product Designer
Any advice on SAAS start-ups? As well as any advice on starting a start-up in Canada?
Alexis Ohanian@alexisohanian · Co-founder, Initialized Capital, Reddit
@paulgole It's a good time to be doing SAAS. Everyone in the workforce now uses world class software daily (e.g. Instagram/FB on their smartphone) and thus has world class consumer software standards when they go to work on less-than-great software (or worse). Unlike consumer, lots of your planning can be done with spreadsheets once you've found product market fit, so when you've hit that next level, get your people together and plan a strategy for getting the sales machine going. Obsess over hitting those numbers and making your sales cycle as short and efficient as possible. Read up on https://www.saastr.com/ I've only invested in a couple Canadian companies, but the tax incentives are quite helpful. Combine that with access to a lot of people you're selling to and proximity to a great pipeline of talent from a strong university and you can do a lot. There are some great startup towns in Canada - tho none have the depth and breadth of savvy+bold early stage investors that the Bay Area does, that will come in time as more big exits happen.
Emily Hodgins@ems_hodge · Operations @ Product Hunt
Hey Alexis! Thanks for being here today 🙌 What is success to you?
Alexis Ohanian@alexisohanian · Co-founder, Initialized Capital, Reddit
@ems_hodge Hello, Emily! IMHO, success is being able to do what you love.