Starting a business changed Alexis Ohanian’s life. Now he’s looking to spread the word. Ohanian reaped millions after selling Reddit, the social news site he co-created while in college, to Condé Nast in 2006. Since then, he has become an outspoken critic of government regulation of the Internet and an enthusiastic cheerleader for all things start-up. His new book, Without Their Permission, touts the benefits of entrepreneurial thinking. He recently spoke with Inc.’s Christine Lagorio.
Your book claims that anyone can start a company. Do you really believe that?
Not everyone can be or even wants to be an entrepreneur, but everyone should want to be entrepreneurial. I’d rather err on the side of encouraging entrepreneurship. When I go online and see the resources a start-up founder has today versus what we had back when we started Reddit, it’s orders of magnitude greater. It’s very empowering.
Have all those resources made starting a company too easy? There are a lot of start-ups that go nowhere.
Perhaps there are too many start-ups, and maybe as an investor and an advocate, I am in some way responsible for that. But I find nothing wrong with having an idea in popular culture that basically boils down to, “Work really hard to develop a valuable skill, make things that people enjoy, and then grow that idea by hiring lots of people.” That’s not a bad thing to have in the zeitgeist.
Much of your focus is on college students and recent graduates. Why is that?
“I have a start-up” is the new “I’m in a band.” In fact, starting a company is probably easier than starting a band. Young people have such a great opportunity. They don’t have dependents, their room and board are inexpensive, and they have a lot of free time. I get a little jealous just thinking about what they can accomplish.
Any advice you would give new entrepreneurs?
The people you start your business with are crucial. One mistake I often see is when founders decide to work with friends because they get along well socially. My co-founder, Steve Huffman, and I are an example of when it works out well. But we see lots of entrepreneurial endeavors littered with people who were good friends but who were not compatible when doing business together. It causes a lot of drama.
Are you done founding companies?
I can’t say never, but I have no interest in doing another start-up. There are things I would have done differently, but overall, I’m really satisfied. It’s also a lifestyle decision.
I don’t work much less than I did as a start-up founder, but I’ve got less mental anguish. Start-ups are for crazy people. I should know; I was one.