Web entrepreneur delivers talk
Though a Yahoo official once dismissed Reddit’s number of users as “a rounding error,” last year the website garnered about 731 million unique visitors and 56 billion page views. Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian asked the audience to take advantage of the immense accessibility of the Internet to learn skills and reach their full potential in a lecture that filled Filene Auditorium on Monday.

Directing his comments at students, Ohanian said that failure becomes a reality for many after graduation, when grades no longer define success. Students can use the Internet to overcome some of their failures and difficulties, Ohanian said. “As long as we have access and the ability to make the most of [the Internet], we can have our ideas spread far and wide,” he said. Entrepreneurs naturally face competition, Ohanian said. He then projected a meme of Grumpy Cat, a frowning feline, garnering chuckles from the audience. Though the Grumpy Cat meme may appear silly, Ohanian said it conveys the need to conquer adversity. He urged them not be easily discouraged. “I chose this in particular because Grumpy Cat wakes up every day to more competition than we will ever have in our entire lives,” he said. “Grumpy Cat has to be better than every cat on the Internet.” The Internet fuels creativity, Ohanian said. He added that Kickstarter, a platform that uses crowd-sourcing to fund proposals ranging from games to charity projects, provides just one example of the agency that the Internet can offer individuals. Over $9.6 million have been pledged to Kickstarter projects since the website’s launch in 2009. For a program as effective as Kickstarter to have grown so quickly demonstrates the Internet’s possibilities, but it is up to young people to ensure that it reaches its full potential, Ohanian said. Rohin Dhar ’02 delivered the second half of the lecture, pulling from his experiences as CEO and co-founder of Priceonomics, which gathers data about the pricing of various consumer goods on the Internet and sells its findings to companies. Priceonomics is a startup developed through Y Combinator, which also funded Reddit. Dhar said he advises people with creative ideas to conduct low-cost experiments to flesh out their concepts without investing too much financially. While creating a startup can be discouraging at times, the slow process becomes worthwhile once you begin to gauge your progress, Dhar said. During Ohanian’s closing remarks, audience members received postcards and were asked to write a short letter to themselves, pinpointing one skill they would like to learn. After a period of several months, Ohanian said he will mail the postcards to their writers in hopes that by that time the skill has been acquired. The postcard experiment is meant to demonstrate how accessible the Internet has made learning. Reddit, a play on words intended to evoke the sentence “I read it on Reddit,” is a social news and entertainment website that was founded in 2005 by Ohanian and Steve Huffman. Users submit and vote on content, which is classified under “subreddits,” or various categories like humor, education, discussion and entertainment. The front page displays recent submissions and popular posts. Ohanian began his career as an entrepreneur with Huffman, a friend, during his junior year at the University of Virginia. The two submitted an idea to a competition sponsored by Y Combinator, a company that funds startups, for a grant to develop their venture. Y Combinator rejected their original idea but found the two men promising and hired them. Ohanian has also created other startups, such as Hipmunk, a travel planning site, and Breadpig, which provides services to self-publishers and others seeking crowd-funding. At the lecture, he said he received his first computer as a gift from his parents, who told him, “Good luck — just don’t break it.” Audience members responded to Ohanian’s use of technology in the presentation. Bronwyn Lloyd ’17 said she found Ohanian’s use of memes and jokes fun and relatable. Whitney Martin ’17, a self-identified frequent Reddit user, said she enjoyed Ohanian’s charisma, adding that his personality fit with her image of Reddit’s creator. This lecture is one in a five-month-long tour of the U.S. and Canada to promote his new book, “Without Their Permission: How the 21st Century Will Be Made, Not Managed.” The book, a Wall Street Journal best-seller, discusses Ohanian’s ideas about using the Internet and pursuing entrepreneurship. Ohanian held a half-hour book signing directly after his talk. The lecture was sponsored by Mitosis, Women in Computer Science and Rockefeller Business and Entrepreneurial Leaders.
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