Full Interview: Reddit Co-Founder Alexis Ohanian on Success, Inspiration and Bill Murray

Rafe Needleman
Editorial Director, Yahoo Tech
March 10, 2014

AUSTIN — Reddit is one of the most influential sites on the web. Started in 2005 as a place for creating discussions and sharing ideas, it’s grown to become one of the most influential gathering places online, with 112 million users. I had a chance to interview the co-founder of reddit, Alexis Ohanian, at a Tech Mix event here during the South by Southwest festival.

While reddit is a gigantic forum for ideas and discussions, it’s not a mainstream site. In this interview, Ohanian explains reddit for those who aren’t (yet) using it, as well as how the company has grown in its short history.

Yahoo actually talked with Ohanian in the site’s early days. The person Ohanian met with dismissed reddit’s traffic as a “rounding error.” Ohanian took inspiration from this criticism, and it’s spurred him on ever since.

Reddit eventually sold. Condé Nast (publisher of The New Yorker, Wired, and Vanity Fair) acquired the company in 2006. The sale made Ohanian a very wealthy young man (he was 23), which allowed him to pursue causes he saw as important to him and the growth of technology overall.

Along the way, he says, he took inspiration from other self-starters like Warren Buffett and Jay-Z, more so than other technology pioneers.

Ohanian has been on the road to promote a book that came out of his reddit experience, Without Their Permission: How the 21st Century Will Be Made, Not Managed. He’s been focusing his book tour on college campuses, trying to get students to just start something.

“The job market sucks,” he says. “Many in this generation are taking control of their lives. That’s what the book [is] about.”

Keeping the Internet open
Ohanian saw the SOPA and PIPA bills in 2011 as threats not just to his own business, but to the Internet and startups in general. He, and a legion of followers on reddit and elsewhere, successfully fought to get representatives to withdraw their support from these bills. But, he says, the fight is not over.

Ohanian says we’re “at the beginning” of these battles. He points to the conglomeration of Internet access that may occur if Time Warner and Comcast complete their merger, as well as other “reasons to be pessimistic.”

More about reddit
Reddit is famous for its “AMA” (Ask Me Anything) and “IAMA” (I Am A …) threads. Ohanian says that while his favorite AMA so far has been Bill Murray’s, it’s the IAMA posts from non-celebrities that he finds fascinating: ER nurses, train conductors and trash collectors. “You get these insights,” he says.

For more from Ohanian on reddit, startups, and how his in-the-margin doodles go on to become site logos, watch the full interview.

Check out Yahoo Tech for more great Tech Mix interviews from SXSW!