“You should call it 360scope. And get rid of the little bug guy” was PG’s advice to reddit cofounder Alexis Ohanian. “But reddit turned out to be a great name, and ‘the little bug guy’ has turned into one of the most important parts of the reddit community.”
“Sometimes your investors know best. Sometimes they don’t. Even Paul Graham is wrong sometimes.”
Alexis is on a 175 stop tour for his new book, Without Their Permission. On Monday night he stopped by Seattle’s Town Hall to be interviewed by Geekwire’s Todd Bishop. Topics ranged from the silly - alternative names for reddit (Ooglyaboo) and his favorite Star Trek captain (Picard, no hesitation) - to the more serious topics of his book - entrepreneurship and politics.
The thesis of Without Their Permission is that the Internet enables people to be fully in control of their destiny. You don’t need permission from a movie producer to decide if your film gets created or not. You don’t need a publisher to release a book. You don’t even need a travel agent to book your flight anymore.
You just need a laptop, an internet connection, and the will to act.
And it’s not just for young, white, educated men from San Francisco or NYC either. A laptop and that internet connection puts an African American high school dropout from Detroit on equal footing with everyone else. You could be a farmer’s wife in Armenia. Or a retiree in Argentina.
Alexis believes, and is dedicating his life, to making sure the gift of the Internet allows anyone, anywhere, to take control of their life… without anyone’s permission.
Crowdfunding platforms like Kickstarter are a great example. In 2012, Kickstarter gave more money to the arts than the National Endowment for the Arts. “That’s kind of sad… but also kind of awesome.” The internet allows artists to create the art they want to create and get it directly to the people who want it.
There was a lot of great advice for entrepreneurs from his time running reddit, Hipmunk, and Breadpig, his interactions with Paul Graham and YCombinator, and his time as an investor and advisor to over 60 companies. Below are some select quotes and insights from the interview:
Some key insights:
“You’re going to know your users better than an investor or an advisor. They don’t spend all day every day thinking about their customers - but you do.”
“When we found out Digg had launched 6 months before us, already had investment, and was in Silicon Valley… we freaked out a little bit. But Paul said ‘Your competition won’t defeat you. You will defeat you.’ After that, we stopped freaking out about Digg and just did our thing. And look how well that worked out…”
He explained that the best way to raise money from investors was to scare them. Not in a physically violent or abusive way, but make them terrified that you are the next Google and they might miss out on it.
The things that are “scaring” him right now are new forms of access to capital (example: Kickstarter) and Bitcoin (Todd Bishop pointed out that Seattle is home to Cheeze Wizards - a gourmet Grilled Cheese truck - which is the first food truck that accepts Bitcoin).
When asked if he regretted selling reddit so quickly (16 months, I think he said) and not holding out to sell for much, much more, Alexis responded with a quick and definitive “No.” After a thoughtful pause, he added with a smile “Though that may just be a coping mechanism.”
People on the Internet Freedom Bus Tour were constantly asking Alexis when he’s going to run for political office. I fed the question to Todd, who asked Alexis. Alexis looked down, took a moment, composed himself, then said “Okay. You know what, fine. I’d like to take this moment to hereby formally announce (pause) that I am NOT running for office anytime soon.”
“But,” Alexis continued. If he did, “it would totally be as a troll. I’d show them how a campaign COULD be run. Show them what’s possible. Announce that I’m only running for one term, support mandatory term limits as a primary part of my platform, raise campaign funds on Kickstarter. I’d use a publicly accessible Google doc to track all campaign finance transactions and be 100% transparent. I’d want to show the world how a political campaign COULD look, if you actually wanted to be of the people and for the people.”
“Although,” he chuckled. “Being in Congress must be a pretty sweet job. You can shut the Government down for a few weeks and still get paid!”
In 2012, Kickstarter gave more money to the arts than the National Endowment for the Arts. “That’s kind of sad… but also kind of awesome.”
The very first subreddit was made for Joel Spolsky, then from Joel On Software, and was located at joel.reddit.com.
Alexis concluded by pointing out how ridiculous of a world we live in, all thanks to the internet:
“We may not have flying cars and jetpacks, but we’re living in the future. Last week I was riding in a car in Portland, ordering a giant velvet hamburger hat from my mobile phone, and it’s showing up in Brooklyn the next day. That’s the internet for you.”
Without Their Permission is available now, and check out Alexis’s tour dates to see if he’s coming to a city or University near you. It was a fantastic event, he is a great speaker, and it’s worth going out of your way to attend.