Alexis Ohanian’s Live AMA at Capital Factory

Alexis Ohanian, founder of Reddit and author of Without Their Permission, held a live AMA at Capital Factory.


  • How did Reddit start out?
    • Things we have to remind people is that Reddit is that it started out by two guys who just got out of college who didn’t know what they were doing.
    • If anyone acts like they know what they are doing, they are probably lying.
    • Please, what you see at Reddit now is 8 years of decisions, bad decisions, and process.
  • How do you leverage an accelerator to raise money?
    • Demo day brings people who are wealthy and are excited to invest in some great ideas, management teams.
    • Lot of work in getting funded is building hype.
    • Optimize the value when you working on closing with a potential investor.
    • Prioritize a list of investors that are best fit for you and your situation.
    • Just go down that list and work on building momentum.
  • Advice for starting up a company?
    • Writing code or getting users to the point where it is a relentless pursuit.
    • It’s everything to the culture, to the work attitude.
    • During office hours, you want to not just get your questions answered, but be able to generate more guided questions.
    • The best thing to learn is to know which advice from smart investors or founders to ignore.
    • Until you learn the how to generate revenue, you have to be ego-less about the business.
    • Great founders are those that able to care to work on activities that don’t scale early on. They are willing to do little things that need to be done.
    • Anyone who is willing to be your first 1,000 customers are amazing. Find ways to delight them because I am never one of those people and I think they are amazing creatures.
  • Are you happy about the Reddit alien as a brand? What impact did it have over this many years?
    • Branding comes second, the product comes first.
    • The best encounter we see where we see that there are humans behind this cold desktops and mobile devices.
    • A great brand will not save a mediocre company. See Pets.com sock puppet.
    • You can give a great service and then a good breand.
    • I’ve seen a half-dozen Reddit alien tattoos.
  • What’s your decision to not to make a mobile app?
    • We built a good mobile app, not a great mobile app.
    • The focus hopefully is going to be on an API and letting developers build those mobile views.
    • Alien Blue is a better user experience since it exposes sub edits better.
    • I don’t think we will ever pull a Twitter in how we treat developers, but at this point we want to support the API and developers.
    • Unless you’re on someone’s home screen you are pretty much irrelevant and you have to do something amazing to be on someone’s homescreen.
  • What did you start Reddit in the early times to get traction?
    • We just submitted links ourselves under different usernames since we wanted to let new users know how the system works.
    • We emailed our friends asking them to submit links.
    • A month later we added comments and people thought that would doom site.
    • A leaderboard feature was a great idea as it allowed people with just the top 5 users of the day was a key driver to get people on.
    • This movitated people to generate links, content.
    • We would know there was a problem with the leaderboard cause we got a lot of email from users letting us know.
  • How did you create the culture?
    • The best thing we did was never put advertising above the user experience.
    • The day Digg put an ad for Egg McMuffin on half of their home page, we knew we were winning.
    • We would go above and beyond the users for weird stuff.
    • The memes of rMexico are animals and I have no idea what they mean.
    • We had to be the best party hosts we could, otherwise why would someone create rMexico?
  • What was your defining the moment when you realized you had traction?
    • Reddit has doubled every year, there was never a moment we had traction.
    • If I had to say, it was a month in and the site was working.
    • We would show up in the morning and people had posted new items.
    • With Hipmunk, it’s mostly UX. We aren’t showing you results no human would want to take.
    • Hotels is where the money is because the margins are so high.
    • For every Instagram there are a hundreds or thousands of similar products that we will never hear from because they will never get enough traction.
  • How did you start our financially and raise capital?
    • We got US$12k from ycombinator.
    • Then we raised US$70k from our seed round and we were thrilled. (It was 2005 after all.)
    • User experience matters when you expect people to create content.
    • We are making a push to Reddit gold.
    • We are using the same model to advertise online that we use to advertise in papers a 100 years ago. Why is that?
    • We’ve seen that subscription model can work, but we don’t want to load users down with ads.
  • As an investor, how does someone get you to invest in their money?
    • If you go to someone that is investor, and ask for money you will get advice.
    • If you go to an investor and ask for advice, you will get money.
  • How did you get involved in this book?
    • I gave a talk about a whale at TED and publishers wanted me to write a book about that, but felt it wasn’t the right fit.
    • The book is about how important the Internet is to everyone, not just job creators or web builders.
    • The resources are so much better now cause for people who are starting out now who want or would want to start a business.
    • Currently supporting the book on a 100+ city bus tour of college towns.
    • If you never see college students react to a t-shirt cannon, you would think we are shooting money.
  • How did you get involved with HipMunk?
    • If you got an itch or complaint and no one seems to be solving it, that’s a great place to build a startup around.
    • HipMunk was started because the founder was frustrated with Kayak and how it would list duplicate flights or flights no human would want to take.
    • Alex invested as the GUI was grafted onto the site and he could see how everything came together.
    • If the majority of Americans that take one trip, we need to be in their heads. That’s what fare alerts.
    • Twitter, Facebook, Groupon have made it okay to email the hell out of people.
    • We want to make content that helps people. That’s why we have city guides and actually give tips to people via social media on their trips.

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