It’s not news that Alexis Ohanian, the cofounder of reddit, harbors suspicions about “middlemen.”
After all, since launching the website in 2005, Ohanian has regularly defended reddit as an “open platform” where people are free to post links to whatever they wish — with minimal, if any, moderation, and certainly no traditional editorial process that vets what people ultimately decide to post.
“There’s this new level of connection that happens when you can cut out middle men and replace them with software,” he said before a crowd of 100 on Tuesday morning. “It’s going to help so many … of our industries.”
Ohanian delivered his remarks at Tuesday’s Exec TechBreakfast event in Mt. Washington, just one stop on a nationwide tour he’s taking right now promoting his memoir, “Without Their Permission: How the 21st Century Will Be Made, Not Managed.” In addition to entrepreneurship, he spoke widely about Internet culture and issues like net neutrality.
The Columbia, Md., native and Howard High School graduate is heading to 75 universities across the U.S. preaching the gospel of entrepreneurship in the hopes that a new generation will use the Internet to make new products, hit it big and avoid being one of the middlemen that an Internet economy, he predicts, will continue to make them obsolete.
“The Internet’s pretty great. It’s not a fad,” Ohanian said. “We’re getting another generation excited about tech entrepreneurship.”
Of course, Ohanian had help along the way to building a site that received more than 85 million unique visitors in October. He and cofounder Steve Huffman were in the first round of the noteworthy Silicon Valley incubator Y Combinator in 2005, and each received $6,000 for being members of the program.
“We really had no clue what we were doing when we got started,” Ohanian said. But reddit became successful — it was acquired by Conde Nast in 2006 — on just $500, as Ohanian put it, with most of that money being spent on reddit stickers and t-shirts that the cofounders would post around cities and ship to reddit users.
“We were sending beef jerky to users, giving [them] hand-signed notes,” said Ohanian. “We had no excuse not too — we were a little startup in Medford, Mass.”
They were also answering feedback e-mails from website users, sending fans t-shirts, and responding in the comments sections of blogs that praised, and tore apart, reddit itself.
Ohanian’s main piece of advice to the entrepreneurs gathered in the room: to grow a company, a startup founder has “to be willing to do crazy shit, to do stuff that does not scale.”
Stuff that, perhaps, middlemen are paid to do.