Why you shouldn't be in Silicon Valley: reddit cofounder Alexis Ohanian - Technical.ly Philly

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Dec. 3, 2013 8:30 am

Why you shouldn’t be in Silicon Valley: reddit cofounder Alexis Ohanian

There's a "monoculture" that pervades the Valley, he said, where people build startups to solve the problems of one specific set of people. But if you're elsewhere, you can create something that caters to your community.

Alexis Ohanian, cofounder of Reddit. Photo via Flickr Creative Commons, taken on April 26, 2008, by Flickr user Scott Beale.

If you want to build a startup, you don’t have to be in Silicon Valley to do it. Actually, maybe you shouldn’t, said reddit cofounder Alexis Ohanian.

There’s a “monoculture” that pervades the Valley, he said, where people build startups to solve the problems of one specific set of people, namely, those living there. But if you’re elsewhere, you can create something that caters to your own community.

“Use the assets you have here,” he said.

Ohanian, whose memoir Without Their Permission was published this fall, brought his book tour to Philadelphia yesterday, stopping at Drexel (for TechBreakfast), Penn and First Round Capital‘s University City headquarters. Find some of the highlights of his talks below.

  • “More and more of these startup communities are finding their swagger.” – Ohanian’s take on “rise of the rest,” the phenomenon of non-Silicon Valley tech scenes growing. Snapchat “legitimized” Los Angeles, he said, though he admitted he hated saying that, and the Iowa-based online payment startup Dwolla “put Des Moines on the fucking map.” (Ohanian’s not the first person to suggest that Philadelphia needs a huge success to bolster its standing in the tech world and push its tech scene forward.)
  • “We’re living in a world where you can out-care your competitor.” While it might be hard to scale, the personal touch matters, something that bigger, faceless companies can’t provide (think Ohanian’s travel startup Hipmunk versus Kayak). Build that into your user experience, he said. Ohanian also said that for the first five years of reddit, he sent out reddit T-shirt to users personally. “It makes a difference,” he said. DuckDuckGo founder Gabe Weinberg, who moderated Ohanian’s talk at First Round Capital, agreed about T-shirts, saying that DuckDuckGo makes it a habit to personally send out T-shirts to organizations and people the startup interacts with.
  • On the word ‘entrepreneur’: “I want to get this word off its pedestal. Anyone who has ideas and does them is an entrepreneur.”
  • “Technology has outpaced the people who are regulating it.” We need more technologists at the table when it comes to developing laws around technology, he said. Maybe some tech community leaders should get into politics.
  • Ohanian said he never expected redditers to create real-life reddit meetups and movements, like Global reddit Meetup Day or Restore the Fourth. “Like many things online, the hashtag, the at-reply, [the real-life reddit community] was created by users. … It’s amazing to build something that allows people to self-organize.”
  • If you’re a consumer-facing business, get out into the community, he said, but it doesn’t have to be the startup community. Get out to anywhere where there are lots of smart people, like gatherings of lots of college students.

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