Alexis Ohanian Makes the World Suck Less

John Ruiz arranged for some of Kansas City's fledgling tech entrepreneurs to meet reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian.
John Ruiz arranged for some of Kansas City's fledgling tech entrepreneurs to meet reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian. | Source

Snoo is Reddit's Mascot

Ohanian created the alien known as Snoo, the website's well-loved mascot that has been featured in many predicaments.
Ohanian created the alien known as Snoo, the website's well-loved mascot that has been featured in many predicaments. | Source

Reddit Co-Founder Alexis Ohanian

Alexis Ohanian and his college roommate Steve Huffman, co-founded the website reddit in 2005. The popular website known informally as the "front page of the Internet" was acquired by Condé Nast a little over a year later, turning the two young men into seemingly overnight millionaires not so very long after the dot com bubble burst a few years earlier.

Since then, Ohanian has stayed busy with an impromptu mission statement he offered in response to a professor's questions about why he was in college. In the hot seat, he answered that he wanted to "make the world suck less."

Reddit has an enormous fan base that generates billions - with a B - of monthly views. Ohanian still serves on reddit's board of directors, but has gone on to participate in philanthropic projects and other business ventures.

I first heard of reddit when fellow hubber Alocsin wrote his article on how reddit viewers were responsible for sending thousands of hits to his page in a single day, only to get banned from reddit altogether for posting links. I later discovered that by creating my own forum on reddit, (I would be able to post articles without getting banned.)

As a speaker for Big Kansas City 2013, redditor John Ruiz invited Ohanian to enjoy some social time with some fellow redditors from one of the site's forums, an invitation Ohanian gracefully accepted. I was thrilled to have an opportunity to attend, observe, and learn from an accomplished entrepreneur.

Keep reading to learn what it was like to brush shoulders with Alexis Ohanian and other young, enterprising midwesterners who are intent on changing the world.

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Google's First Fiber Customer in KC is an Entrepreneur, Too

Think Big Kansas City Brought Ohanian to the Midwest

Big Kansas City is a group devoted to bringing start-up businesses, technology, and investors together.

"Big" events are scheduled in Nebraska and Iowa as well as Missouri, an area conceived as the Silicon Prairie because affordability, lower taxes, and existing infrastructure make these areas ideal for technology-based entrepreneurs to launch their businesses. Plus, there is tremendous support for start-ups from the Marion Ewing Kauffman Foundation and other organizations in the area.

Kansas City in particular is an exciting area for many of these entrepreneurs now that Google has launched the world's fastest Internet service here.

Tickets for the 2-day conferences can run as much as $500 to attend the 2-day event, a price that's out of range for many college students who have great ideas, some skill levels to carry those ideas forward, but who lack access to the people who can fund them.

Maybe that's what prompted John Ruiz to seize the opportunity to invite Alexis to grab some famous Kansas City Barbecue. He invited fellow KC redditors to attend, too. Although I run my own business, I wasn't quite the typical attendee, but I was excited to meet them.

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The Kauffmans are well revered in KC for their philanthropy. We met at the Kauffman Education Center. Everyone had a chance to introduce themselves and their discuss their business or start up ideas.
The Kauffmans are well revered in KC for their philanthropy. We met at the Kauffman Education Center.
The Kauffmans are well revered in KC for their philanthropy. We met at the Kauffman Education Center. | Source
Everyone had a chance to introduce themselves and their discuss their business or start up ideas.
Everyone had a chance to introduce themselves and their discuss their business or start up ideas. | Source
Virtual Freedom: Net Neutrality and Free Speech in the Internet Age (Stanford Law Books)
Virtual Freedom: Net Neutrality and Free Speech in the Internet Age (Stanford Law Books)

Alexis Ohanian is a vocal advocate for free speech and intellectual property protection on the Internet. This book highlights why this is an important and relevant topic for everyone today.

 
Technology Entrepreneurship: Creating, Capturing, and Protecting Value
Technology Entrepreneurship: Creating, Capturing, and Protecting Value

Technology is vital to future entrepreneurs - even if their start up business is not based on technology! This textbook provides an in-depth look at the things that will affect entrepreneurs in the coming years.

 

Kansas City Entrepreneurs and Start-Ups

While we waited for Alexis to arrive from the airport, his fans mingled. I wish I had a better memory or had taken notes so I could make sure to tie the right name with the right business, but here's my best shot at it:

BaconReader's founder attended. BaconReader is an Android mobile phone ap that lets users access reddit from their cell-phones with a user-friendly interface.

Tim, a young man from Ithica, New York, had just taken a new job a few months earlier, leaving his wife and child behind to help launch a specialty orthotics company that will be launching in a few weeks to provide custom shoe inserts and other products designed to alleviate pain and promote good health.

A couple of video producers were on hand, one with a professional camera setup he used to film introductions.

An adorable couple that had met Alexis previously when he toured through the area on a 9-day circuit (and whom Ohanion clearly remembered) described their company's technology for prescription and pharmacy management, while another gent said he creates flying robots.

Local celebrity Danny Boy from 96.5 The Buzz morning show (listen here), a popular rock radio station, has intriguing ideas for keeping radio a vibrant advertising medium by employing an ap that will cost advertisers less to use while increasing audience engagement for their products and services.

A couple of others were like me - soaking in the atmosphere and seeing what we could learn.

Ohanion's arrival was a bit late, and he must have been hungry. He'd flown from the east coast and hadn't had dinner yet. It was nearing 9:00 p.m., something close to his internal clock's midnight, but he took the time to listen to every single person's story and ask a few informal questions of them before heading out to grab some grub.

Ohanian's First Taste of Kansas City Barbecue

Alexis Ohanion enjoyed a sandwich at locally famous Gates BBQ, known for its trolley-car ambiance and shouting employees.
Alexis Ohanion enjoyed a sandwich at locally famous Gates BBQ, known for its trolley-car ambiance and shouting employees. | Source

What Alexis Ohanian is Like

The first thing that struck me about Alexis was his easy demeanor. This guy seems about as easy-going as a person can be! He seemed genuinely interested in what each individual had to say and had a knack for making them feel important.

John said he was going to have to leave to take his teen brother home because he had school in the morning. "No! You've got to stay! I'll write a note to his principal!" (And he did!)

I offered Ohanian a ride to the restaurant, since he'd mentioned taking a taxi to his hotel and then to join us. The cab driver got lost, he said. Yeah, right. Then again, maybe it's possible in a city where so many buildings and memorials are named after the Kauffmans.

He accepted my offer. During the few minutes he was in my car, he described his one previous trip through KC - a fun, event-filled whirlwind of events, punctuated by drinking bouts, and ending in exhaustion after a 9-day, non-stop tour. When I mentioned that I'd once done something similar, travelling from Missouri to California, back to Missouri, and on to Georgia within ten days, he sounded amazed and as I'd already seen him do with others, focused the attention away from himself, as if my story was the only thing that mattered at that moment.

It was hard to hear the many conversations taking place even though our group was the only one in the dining room. Everyone paid attention to Ohanian's encouragements.
It was hard to hear the many conversations taking place even though our group was the only one in the dining room. Everyone paid attention to Ohanian's encouragements. | Source

What Stands Out About Alexis

Besides his ability to make a room full of people feel like they are the only one there that matters, Ohanian has a few other traits that would-be entrepreneurs could benefit from adopting. His passion and humility serve to encourage others to follow their dreams, and make them believe anything can happen.

He described the early days of creating reddit - how he and co-founder Steve Huffman bonded over video games, how they e-mailed their friends, created fake user profiles to give reddit a more established appearance, and capitalized on trending topics in a way to give users control. He eased his ongoing projects - Hipmunk, Breadpig, and his upcoming book due out this fall - into the conversation in ways that invited people to use them without making them feel backed into a corner.

He said, "reddit was a way of letting Internet users decide what was important." By letting users vote topics up or down, and placing the hottest topics on reddit's front page, the site earned its nickname as the Internet's front page. Today, users can create forums of their own, and so far, the number of "subreddits" edges closer to 200,000.

He also talked about the importance of technology in the coming years, telling the younger Ruiz that at 13, he was already ahead of the curve because he was learning programming code. "I wish I'd learned it at your age," he confided.

Although he has endured his share of agonies as he became an entrepreneur, his positive attitude and joyous demeanor are a model of how to be casual, classy, and committed.

He recommended two ways for budding entrepreneurs to learn coding without going back to school. "If you like playing games and want to learn coding, check these sites out," he told me.

I expect to be spending plenty of time on them.

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Comments 4 comments

GoodLady profile image

GoodLady 3 years ago from Rome, Italy

Sounds like an encounter of a life time. Thanks for telling us all about it.

Wonder what that orthotics company is called that 'Tim' is launching? Voting and sharing.


jellygator profile image

jellygator 3 years ago from USA Author

It was a lot of fun.

Tim never did mention the name of his company, I don't think. I posted this article on the forum they are in, so hopefully they will all provide me with the filler I'm missing.


Natashalh profile image

Natashalh 3 years ago from Hawaii

Wow - so cool! Reddit annoys me sometimes, but it's awesome you got this opportunity! It sounds like Ohanian is a pretty cool, down to earth kind of guy.


jellygator profile image

jellygator 3 years ago from USA Author

He is! I'll be interested in hearing him speak next time he comes to town. In a social environment like this, there wasn't too much of that.

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