10 Interesting Things We've Learned About Reddit Co-Founder Alexis Ohanian
The entrepreneur and investor is all about making the biggest impact.
Alexis Ohanian is just 34-years-old, but he has had many different careers since he came to Silicon Valley in the mid-2000s. He co-founded Reddit, is a bestselling author and has had successes building companies in the world of ecommerce, travel and venture capital.
He is also part of a veritable power couple with his wife, tennis phenom Serena Williams, whom he married last year. The pair have a baby daughter, who is less than a year old, but already has more than 300,000 Instagram followers.
From the beginning, Ohanian has been on a mission to “make the world suck less.” Read on for 10 interesting things we have learned about the serial entrepreneur.Related: Reddit's Alexis Ohanian on Dealing With Tragedy While Starting a Business
His high school odd jobs taught him a valuable lesson.
In high school, Ohanian worked at Pizza Hut in roles including dishwasher, waiter and cook. At the 2015 Entrepreneur 360 conference, Ohanian revealed what he learned from the experience: “One of the cooks could have screwed up the pizza, but as far as that customer is concerned, it is your responsibility, it's your fault. It may not be your fault, but it is your fault,” Ohanian said. "It taught me a lot about customer service that I still use to this day."
He decided to become an entrepreneur at a Waffle House.
You can find inspiration in some of the most unexpected places. That was what happened to Ohanian after he decided to bail on the LSAT and found himself in need of a new direction. “I was going to be an immigration lawyer. I had this romantic idea of helping people get citizenship,” Ohanian told The New York Times. “But then I realized how much I hated what I was doing, so I went and got a waffle instead. It was at a Waffle House I realized I wanted to start something.”
He became a millionaire when he was 23.
Ohanian founded Reddit after he graduated from the University of Virginia. He launched the company in Boston with his college roommate Steve Huffman and it was one of the first startups to go through the Y Combinator program. The business was bought by Condé Nast in 2006, just a year after it began.
His first idea was a bust.
Before Reddit, Ohanian and Huffman had an idea to create a mobile food ordering platform that they called MyMobileMenu. After a year of work, the pair pitched it to Y Combinator founder Paul Graham. Graham wasn’t a fan of the idea, but he was interested in what they brought to the table -- so they were accepted into the program.
Reddit was built in a less than a month.
After getting into Y Combinator, Ohanian and Huffman set about creating their second chance idea. “We built Reddit in three weeks. It was just web links and text submitted by users, with Interesting or Uninteresting buttons that you could click on underneath. Simple: That's all it was,” Ohanian told Inc. “After a contentious debate, we added comments. We knew our business was in our user base, that that was the most important part.”
He’s not afraid to try something new.
After Reddit was sold, Ohanian didn’t limit himself when it came to trying new ventures. He volunteered with microfinance platform Kiva in Armenia, where his dad’s family is from. He co-founded Breadpig, a site that sells geek interest-themed merchandise, travel deals site Hipmunk and a venture capital firm called Initialized Capital. He also became a partner at Y Combinator, and was vocal advocate for net neutrality. In 2013, Ohanian published his first book, Without Their Permission: How the 21st Century Will Be Made, Not Managed.
He’s a new dad.
If you follow Ohanian on social media, you might have noticed that he’s added a “Sr.” to his name, thanks to the arrival of his first child with wife tennis superstar Serena Williams, Alexis Ohanian Jr. He told Fortune that his experience with his newborn daughter has crystallized his stance on parental leave. “I was a believer before, but now I wholeheartedly believe that every single dad should take it,” he said.
He thinks its a good idea to let other people take the reins.
Ohanian left Reddit in 2009 and returned to the company in 2015. In an interview with Fast Company, he explained why he thought it was the best decision he could have made for both the company’s evolution and his growth as a leader.
“We left on great terms. For an executive who is a few years in, vested, has experience, but feels like the next opportunity at that company isn’t right, or going to be there soon enough, it’s a chance for her to go spend some time leveling up,” Ohanian said. “But at the same time [it’s an opportunity to be] broadening and hopefully getting exposure to things outside of their comfort zone, and then coming back eventually with more experience.”
He’s open about mental health.
In a recent blog post, Ohanian reflected on his trajectory in the 10 years since his mom lost her battle with cancer, less than a year into Reddit’s existence.
“As entrepreneurs, we are all so busy 'crushing it' that physical health, let alone mental health, is an afterthought for most founders. It took me years to realize that the way I was feeling -- when working on Reddit was the only therapy I had -- was depression. It was a thick fog that always lingered, muting good feelings and amplifying bad feelings.” Ohanian wrote. “I don’t recall when it went away, but it was sometime after mom passed. I felt lighter again. Someone turned the volume back up on life. I haven’t felt it in a long time and I’m grateful for it, but it doesn’t take losing a loved one to feel this way, especially with the pressures of entrepreneurship. When you’re struggling, talk to someone.”
He wants to find the next big thing.
In February, Ohanian shared that after three years back at the helm of Reddit, he had decided to step away again to focus on his work at Initialized Capital. The firm, founded in 2013, has invested in companies including Instacart, Zenefits, Coinbase and Patreon.
“We aspire to be the kind of investors we wish we’d had when we were founders,” Ohanian wrote in a blog post. “As a new father of a five-month-old little girl, I want to make sure the world she inherits is as great as possible. This depends on the entrepreneurs of today and tomorrow building companies that truly matter.”
Nina Zipkin is a staff writer at Entrepreneur.com. She frequently covers leadership, media, tech, startups, culture and workplace trends.