Professional Development

‘We’re all figuring it out as we go along’: Reddit cofounder Alexis Ohanian on what he learned from failure

Ohanian was the commencement speaker for Johns Hopkins' virtual graduation this week. Hear the story of the ill-fated My Mobile Menu, and how it helped lead to Reddit.

Alexis Ohanian was the commencement speaker for JHU's virtual graduation.

(Screenshot via JHU/YouTube)

Some of the most successful tech companies of the social web seemed to come out of nowhere. But for many entrepreneurs, they weren’t even the first venture they pursued.

Addressing graduates as the headline speaker for Johns Hopkins University’s virtual commencement on Thursday, Reddit cofounder Alexis Ohanian talked about his first company after graduating college.

It wasn’t Reddit.

Founded in 2004, it was called My Mobile Menu — with the acronym MMM, or “Mm-mm-mm” — and it set out to let users order food from a cell phone, pre-smartphone. It was also a “total failure,” Ohanian said.

“We worked on it for a year and a half of our lives and then were told it would never work. And those investors were actually right,” he said.

But the story of failure taught him lessons that helped when he was starting Reddit. And on Thursday, it offered a lesson for the Blue Jay grads.

“As an entrepreneur, you’ll get told things won’t work. As a person out in the world, you’ll have the door slammed in your face, you will face setbacks all the time,” he said. “And the reality is, those are learning opportunities. Those are chances to find progress where the world tried to throw you a roadblock.”

Ohanian, who grew up in Columbia, said he’s often faced with reminders that he doesn’t know everything.

“Anyone who acts like they do is just lying. We’re all figuring it out as we go along. And I’m grateful for the fact that I was given opportunities early on to be able to fail, he said.

So when looking at other’s success, remember: “There is no Reddit without ‘Mm-mm-mm,'” Ohanian said.

Check out Ohanian’s full speech below:


Companies: Johns Hopkins, Reddit
People: Alexis Ohanian
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