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Reddit Co-​​Founder to Students: Embrace Entrepreneurship

Unlike most speakers, Reddit co-​​founder Alexis Ohanian doesn’t mind when audi­ences use lap­tops and smart­phones during his lectures.


January 16, 2014

Hundreds of students filled Blackman Auditorium on Tuesday evening to hear Alexis Ohanian, co-founder of Reddit and author of Without Their Permission, talk about his experiences as an Internet entrepreneur. Photo by Brooks Canaday.

Unlike most speakers, Reddit co-​​founder Alexis Ohanian doesn’t mind when audi­ences use lap­tops and smart­phones during his lectures. 

“Even if you are using it to ignore me, to either browse Reddit or work on your startup, that is actu­ally encour­aged,” Ohanian told sev­eral hun­dred North­eastern stu­dents in atten­dance at Blackman Audi­to­rium on Tuesday evening. 

Dubbed by Forbes as “The Mayor of the Internet,” Ohanian founded Reddit in 2005 with friend Steve Huffman, building a social news and enter­tain­ment web­site where users submit con­tent in the form of links or text posts. 

In his talk, spon­sored by Northeastern’s Entre­pre­neurs Club, Ohanian dis­cussed the ease with which Internet users can share ideas with people from around the world—many of whom they wouldn’t have been able to reach 10 years ago.

“You are capable of being entre­pre­neurs,” he explained. “Let’s get entre­pre­neur­ship off of this pedestal. This is some­thing you can do right now.” 

Entre­pre­neur­ship is a major focus of Northeastern’s aca­d­emic mis­sion. The D’Amore-McKim School of Busi­ness offers a con­cen­tra­tion in entre­pre­neur­ship and inno­va­tion, while the Entre­pre­neurs Club helps stu­dents build real com­pa­nies and forge bonds with accom­plished entre­pre­neurs. IDEA, Northeastern’s student-​​run ven­ture accel­er­ator, helps stu­dents and alumni create, develop, and accel­erate new busi­nesses through coaching, men­toring, and gap funding.

In his lec­ture, Ohanian reminded stu­dents that failure is an option. Before coming up with the idea for Reddit, Ohanian and Huffman worked for a year on a startup that would have enabled users to order takeout food from their cell phones. He said seed accel­er­ator Y Com­bi­nator rejected the idea, but that it nev­er­the­less paved the way for Reddit. 

 “You should never let ‘I don’t know what I am doing’ stop you from starting to learn,” Ohanian said. “We all start out not knowing. Life is going to be full of fail­ures and set backs, but that’s OK.” 

After his talk, Ohanian intro­duced Mike Norman, an alumnus who is doing amazing things on the Internet. Norman, AS’05, is the co-​​founder of Wefunder, a Cam­bridge, Mass.-based crowd­funding ser­vice that con­nects star­tups with investors online. Echoing Ohanian’s belief that failure is not the end of the road, Norman noted that people often draw the most strength from their darkest hours.
“Those times shape you as a person and can make you better in a number of ways,” Norman explained. “The same is absolutely true of entrepreneurship.”