In 2017, The New York Times launched a live student series, “Get With the Times,” that brings students together to discuss challenges that are currently facing the world. Alexis Ohanian, co-founder of Reddit and start-up Initialized Capital and University alumnus, spoke at the Darden School of Business Wednesday night as part of this initiative at an event titled “Innovate like a Boss with Alexis Ohanian.”
Hundreds of students flocked to the Darden School of Business to attend the event, which was free but required registration. Ohanian shared the stage with New York Times business reporter Sapna Maheshwari.
“Tonight we are going to talk about entrepreneurship, responsible innovation and technology — areas that are at the heart of the Darden experience,” said Darden Dean Scott Beardsley, who introduced Ohanian before the talk began.
Ohanian’s creation of Reddit began at the University on a desktop computer in Alderman Library. Though a busy undergraduate student at the McIntire School of Commerce, Ohanian had several other ideas flowing through his head outside of coursework.
“At that time it seemed like [Reddit] was not a big deal because it just seemed like a college project … we really did not know what it was gonna be,” Ohanian said in an interview with The Cavalier Daily. “There is something kind of liberating about being able to have an idea for ... how the world should be but not feel required to know all the answers”
Ohanian said that he wishes other entrepreneurs took this approach and would realize that their assumptions of how they will get to their desired end goal will sometimes be wrong.
During the "Innovate Like a Boss" event, Ohanian explained that one of the main reasons he chose to create a start-up venture was not only because it was the next best alternative after a terrible LSAT experience but also to make himself more marketable to future employers who may have asked about his previous ventures.
Ohanian dove into other issues he believes should be addressed in the start-up world such as paid maternity and paternity leave and the importance of taking care of oneself.
“I think all American workers deserve [equal pay] but more importantly, I think we have companies that can start taking initiative now while the federal government catches up,” Ohanian said. “I took all 16 weeks to see the birth of my daughter, and I enjoyed every moment of it but internationally that [time] is embarrassingly small.”
He elaborated that watching the birth of his daughter — during which his wife, tennis legend Serena Williams, nearly died giving birth — made him realize that every moment of his life matters, and both men and women should be there during the entire process of taking care of a newborn child.
Another issue Ohanian touched on was the role of free speech on Reddit, a web platform that, according to Ohanian, takes into account its users right to expression and the type of content the company wants on the website.
“I think one of the best things in the last four or five years or so was the turnaround of Reddit,” Ohanian said. “We made a conscious effort to draw a line in the concepts we just simply don't want on the platform ... the hard part becomes enforcement, and I think we we did benefit a lot by prioritizing things like a trust and safety team, and and we even created an anti evil team.”
Ohanian acknowledged that in order for Reddit to truly be a home for everyone he needed to be able to construct guidelines. He thought that tightening the security policy and then making sure to enforce it with software and with human skill was crucial.
As the talk concluded, students asked Ohanian a variety of questions. From his favorite Reddit threads to his University experience, Ohanian talked about how he once feared sharing his ideas to the world –– one of his biggest regrets.
“No one cares … we need more people to feel comfortable creating and sharing,” Ohanian said.
During the interview, Ohanian provided another piece of advice, emphasizing the importance of who students spends time with during their experience at the University.
“My advice would be, be a little selfish,” he said. “Spend time with people … [who] in some way are going to help make you a better person.”
In addition to his creation of Reddit and Initialized Capital, Ohanian’s conversation with Maheshwari revealed a few snippets of his personal life, which he feels connected to despite his hectic schedule.
“I went to Minneapolis to watch the [Championship] game, and honestly, I am still floating,” said Ohanian.
Ohanian also discussed making time to spend with Williams, daughter Alexis Olympia Ohanian Jr. and her Instagram-famous doll, Qai Qai.
After the talk, first-year College student Jessica Wang remarked that Ohanian seemed more down-to-earth than she expected.
“I had listened a few podcasts with Alexis, but attending the live interview with him was an entirely different experience,” Wang said in an email. “He’s an incredibly funny guy and seems really easy going as well. I think most people left the talk wishing they could be best friends with him.”