December 7, 2011

Q&A, Alexis Ohanian, co-founder of Reddit, founder of Breadpig

Posted by: in North America

While researching Generation Go, one of our 10 Trends for 2012, we talked to Alexis Ohanian, a 28-year-old who describes himself as a “startup guy” who would “like to make the world suck less.” Generation Go refers to the idea that an unprecedented entrepreneurial mindset is emerging among Millennials as a response to continued joblessness or discontent with the status quo—and Ohanian embodies this ethos: He co-founded the social news site Reddit after graduating from the University of Virginia in 2005, then founded Breadpig, a U.S.-based nonprofit that sells sustainably developed products and donates the proceeds. Ohanian also helped to launch Hipmunk, the flight and hotel search site; serves as “ambassador to the East” for tech startup incubator Y Combinator; is an angel investor at Das Kapital Capital; and is a contributor for Bloomberg TV. Over email, he shared some thoughts on his own experience and that of his generation.

First, could you tell us about the book you’re working on, Without Your Permission? It seems very on topic.

I’m writing Without Your Permission because the Internet levels the playing field for all who can step on it—and not just for minting new millionaires but for anyone with an idea they want to share. It’ll be half informational (“The world isn’t flat, but the World Wide Web is”—probably my favorite quote from the proposal) and half inspirational (the most successful online innovators didn’t ask for permission—this is the kind of thing at the core of most of my public speaking).

I want this book to be a revolutionary manifesto—with doodles! Yes, I’ll doodle in it, just like all my startup mascots (Reddit, Breadpig, Hipmunk).

Why do you think such a large percentage of Millennials are drawn to entrepreneurship?

Not having studied any data on the subject, I can only speculate that it’s part necessity and part access. One of the most exciting things about growing up online is the tremendous access you have to information—both sending and receiving it. When you know the world is only a few mouse clicks away from seeing what you’ve produced, you should feel entrepreneurial.

Do you see a distrust of big institutions at all?

One needn’t look further than the recent #occupy movement. We’ve come to expect a level of transparency that most large institutions simply aren’t built for or ready to provide. One can see a photo of what their favorite indie musician had for breakfast or feel a connection with an upstart brand because they give enough of a damn to quickly assist me via Twitter when something goes wrong. The generation wants to trust, but most of these institutions have gotten by through PR, obfuscation and secrecy.

Do you think the current economic conditions have played any part in the entrepreneurial mindset?

Necessity is the mother of invention. And sometimes she has to move back into Necessity’s house to get her startup going.

How much of a social mission do you see Millennials infusing in their startups?

I don’t know. This worries me, because there’s no shortage of companies trying to whitewash a company with a bullshit social mission. I do think more of these companies will be led with a better perspective of at least not doing social harm, but I advise anyone who wants to bake in social good to be prepared to back it up with lots of data & evidence.

As a Millennial entrepreneur yourself, what drew you to starting your own businesses?

I wanted to be wholly responsible for all of my success and failure. Starting a company isn’t for the lazy, but I knew I wouldn’t last very long at a job where I was aggrandizing someone else.

Do you see any characteristics in Millennial entrepreneurs that differentiate them from their older counterparts?

Growing up online is a huge boon, because like it or not, it’s affected the way everyone consumes content. Innately understanding this is a significant advantage. I suspect all generations disregard and rebel against the status quo, but this is the first round of entrepreneurs that can get online and do something about it—simple as that. Just start.

What is the Millennial impact on the workforce? How do they change the dynamic of the workspace?

The line blurs between work and home when one has to decide if a tweet/FB post/etc. is appropriate. Suddenly that fight you had over that coworker who always leaves a mess in the kitchen becomes a new online meme.

What are some of the more exciting/encouraging things you’re seeing Millennials do with technology?

I’m biased, but Reddit’s median age is 27, and I’m impressed on a daily basis with the creative, exciting and inspiring things being done there among strangers. For instance, the holidays are approaching—have you signed up for the world’s largest Secret Santa exchange?

Do you see Millennials as a resourceful generation?

Yes, but I can’t say they’re any more resourceful than previous generations. I do think they have the lamest name, though. “Millennials”? Really? (Sorry.)

Do most startups set out to eventually be acquired? How many want to grow independently?

Those, along with announcements of fundraising, are the only ones people tend to report on (and share), but they’re more the exception than the rule. All startups aim for success, which comes from either acquisition, IPO or simply building a thriving business. All three are awesome (well, I for one would never want to be CEO of a publicly traded company, but that’s just me). If you’re hoping for either of the first two, that’s great, but your best bet is to focus entirely on building the great business. Do that and the rest will come.

This is the most global, diverse and connected generation the world has seen. Do you see any common themes or characteristics among Millennials across nations?

We’re just starting to realize a commonality that’s always existed between people worldwide. We’re all human, after all, with a core of basic common desires. It’s not a replacement for travel, but we’re capable of better understanding one another thanks to this digital window into one another’s lives and interests. Whether it materially makes a difference has yet to be seen …

Who are the Millennials’ heroes today? Who do you see as a hero?

I feel like this would be best answered with a survey. President Obama? Zuckerberg? Keyboard cat? My parents will always be on top of that list for me.

What other key trends do you see among the Millennial generation?

I’m hoping I’m not the only one who wants to do well while also doing good. We’re already seeing a lot of folks under the banner of trying to “make the world suck less,” and that excites me.

No Responses to "Q&A, Alexis Ohanian, co-founder of Reddit, founder of Breadpig"

Comment Form

New: 2014 iPad App

The Brazil Opportunity

Updates

Sign up for Email Updates

JWT AnxietyIndex

Things to Watch

  • Chinese mega-cities
    July 24, 2014 | 1:15 pm

    Tianjin

    China, home to the world’s second largest rural population, is expected to add close to 300 million more urbanites by 2030, when Shanghai and Beijing will likely account for two of the world’s Top 5 mega-cities, according to new UN research. “We are observing one of the most significant economic transformations the world has seen: 21st-century China is urbanizing on a scale 100 times that seen in 19th-century Britain and at 10 times the speed,” notes a new McKinsey paper on cities and luxury markets. China’s wealth will be concentrated in these urban areas: Over the next decade, McKinsey expects Beijing, Tianjin, Guangzhou, Chongqing and Shenzhen, in addition to Hong Kong, to join the list of “top luxury cities.” —Marian Berelowitz

    Image credit: Jakob Montrasio

  • Brands + Google Glass
    July 15, 2014 | 6:09 pm

    SPG

    As Google Glass makes its way into the hands of more people (last month it became available in the U.K.), brands are experimenting with the new possibilities that the platform affords. In March, Kenneth Cole became the first to launch a marketing campaign—the “Man Up for Mankind Challenge”—through a Glass app. Users were challenged to perform and document good deeds for the chance to win a prize.

    Starwood’s new Glass app, billed as the first such app from the hospitality sector, lets people voice-search its properties, view photos and amenities, get directions and book rooms. An array of other marketers have turned out apps for early adopters, from Sherman Williams’ ColorSnap Glass (easily create a paint chip that mirrors anything in view) to Fidelity (delivers daily market quotes for Glass wearers). —Tony Oblen

    Image credit: SPG

  • Ugly produce
    July 10, 2014 | 2:45 pm

    Intermarche

    Ugly Produce, on our list of 100 Things to Watch in 2014, is proliferating in Europe, thanks in part to government efforts to reduce the 89 million tons of food wasted in Europe each year. In France, Intermarché has been getting buzz for creating a produce section dedicated to “Inglorious Fruits and Vegetables”; a whimsical ad campaign reportedly drove a 24 percent rise in store traffic.

    U.K. supermarket Waitrose recently began selling packs of tomatoes that are misshapen or have fallen off the vine naturally. And in Portugal, Fruta Feia (“Ugly Fruit”) is a cooperative launched in late 2013 that sells unsightly produce that would have gone to waste. Per The New York Times, the group already has a waiting list of 1,000 customers. In line with one of our 10 Trends for 2014, Proudly Imperfect, watch for ugly produce to catch on with both retailers and shoppers. —Jessica Vaughn

    Image credit: Intermarché

  • The $1.25 Cube
    July 3, 2014 | 12:30 pm

    As we outline in Immersive Experiences, one of our 10 Trends for 2014 and Beyond, entertainment and narratives are becoming more enveloping in a bid to capture consumers’ imagination and attention. An immersive project from JWT Israel, a winner of the Cannes Chimera challenge, aims to help people experience what it’s like to live in extreme poverty. Once it’s created, the cube will create a multisensory experience that uses tools like augmented reality to simulate sights, sounds and smells and elicit certain feelings. Participants can exit only when the person in line behind them inserts $1.25, a metaphor for the collaborative efforts needed to fight poverty. The aim is for the cube to travel to international events like the Davos conference in order to influence global leaders. —Hallie Steiner

    Image credit: JWT Israel

  • Google’s Android Auto
    June 26, 2014 | 3:00 pm

     

    Android

    The connected car is rapidly becoming a reality. Fast 4G LTE connections are turning vehicles into hot spots that come with a data plan, while Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android are making their way onto dashboards. This week Google introduced Android Auto, with the first compatible cars expected by year-end. Apple’s similar CarPlay, which turns the car into a platform for an iPhone’s content, was announced in March and is included in new Ferrari, Mercedes-Benz and Volvo models.

    Car-based app ecosystems will provide relevant info (traffic, maps, vehicle diagnostics, restaurant suggestions) and entertainment, combined with safety precautions like voice control. As we outline in our mobile trends report, connected cars—complete with Internet hot spots, a suite of apps and sensors that communicate—will eventually link up with drivers’ homes, mobile devices and other gadgets to form a seamless system. —Marian Berelowitz

    Image credit: Android

  • American Eagle Outfitters’ recycling boxes
    June 19, 2014 | 3:45 pm

    American Eagle

    In a bid to create a more closed-loop production cycle, retailers including Puma and H&M are partnering with I:CO, a Swiss reuse and recycling firm that sets up collection points in stores for used clothing and shoes. The latest retailer to link up with I:CO is American Eagle Outfitters, which has added collection boxes in all its North American stores. Customers who participate in the “Live Your Life. Save Your Planet” initiative get a $5 credit toward AEO jeans. Any proceeds gleaned from the program will be donated to the Student Conservation Association.

    “The vision is for all products to be designed with future uses in mind, so materials can be 100% reused in a truly endless cycle,” explains a post from I:CO on American Eagle’s blog. An array of brands are taking steps toward a similar vision, as detailed in our upcoming report on the circular economy. —Marian Berelowitz

    Image credit: American Eagle Outfitters

  • Marriott’s #LoveTravels
    June 11, 2014 | 1:45 pm

    Americans are now largely open to seeing LGBT characters or couples in ads, as recent JWT research confirmed, and thus “advertising is coming out of the closet, with visible and innovative LGBT Pride campaigns from a diverse range of brands,” writes GLAAD’s Rich Ferraro in Brandchannel. One of the more notable campaigns this Pride month is Marriott’s #LoveTravels, featuring portraits of people including gay NBA player Jason Collins, transgender model Geena Rocera and two dads with their kids. The campaign includes print and display ads and building wraps at five Washington, DC, hotels; a microsite details the individual stories.

    “This is one of the most diverse and inclusive campaigns to have ever run in mainstream advertising,” writes Ferraro. Meanwhile, rival Hilton has revamped its LGBT-focused site and is hosting a wedding reception at the Beverly Hilton for the co-plaintiffs in California’s Proposition 8 gay-marriage court case. —Marian Berelowitz

  • Vogue’s shoppable Instagram
    June 4, 2014 | 2:36 pm

    As we outline in Everything Is Retail, one of our 10 Trends for 2013 and Beyond, shopping is shifting from an activity that takes place in physical stores or online to a value exchange that can play out in multiple new and novel ways. Instagram, a platform ripe with potential, is among those new ways. Vogue’s Instagram feed is now shoppable for consumers who have signed up with rewardStyle’s Like to Know service; liking certain images triggers an email with instructions on how to buy featured items.

    RewardStyle tells DigiDay that more magazines will be signing up shortly. Other firms helping brands monetize Instagram include Soldsie and Hashbag. —Marian Berelowitz

  • Ethically sourced electronics
    May 29, 2014 | 10:45 am

    Last year’s launch of Fairphone, an ethically sourced and produced mobile phone, put a spotlight on the raw materials in our digital devices. Currently taking orders for a second batch of 35,000 phones, the Dutch company ensures that minerals come from conflict-free areas so they’re not helping to fund armed groups. Now a two-minute spot from Intel showcases the company’s commitment to using conflict-free minerals in its microprocessors. Intel’s website delves into the issue, and CEO Brian Krzanich also spoke on the topic at this year’s CES.

    Alongside sourcing sits labor issues, another ethical consideration that Fairphone addresses. Expect more tech companies to start improving their track record when it comes to how their products are made. —Will Palley

  • ‘Look Up’ and the ‘Heads-Up Movement’
    May 20, 2014 | 3:45 pm

    As noted in our new mobile trends report, people are developing a love-hate relationship with our phones. We’ll see a “heads-up movement”—something we forecast in our 100 Things to Watch for 2014—as people try to become better attuned to their real-life environment. The video “Look Up” from Gary Turk, a British writer-director, dovetails perfectly with this idea, with lines like “Look up from your phone, shut down the display, take in your surroundings and make the most of your day.”

    After its release in late April, “Look Up” quickly went viral; it’s now accumulated some 38 million views, approaching the numbers racked up by last year’s similarly themed “I Forgot My Phone,” and inspired a few parodies. —Marian Berelowitz

  • RSSArchive for Things to Watch »