The Front Page of the Internet: An Interview with reddit Co-founder Alexis Ohanian

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There aren’t many people alive today who can say that they’re a co-founder of one of the top 50 most visited websites on Earth. One of those few people is Alexis Ohanian, co-founder of,a user-generated link site that has become “The front page of the Internet.”

Ohanian wrote a book entitled Without Their Permission: How the 21st Century Will Be Made, Not Managed (Business Plus, October 1, 2013), which is essentially a handy guide for anyone looking to establish their own tech startup. It covers all of the necessary steps, from conceiving the idea to obtaining funding. Ohanian also regales the reader with the story of how his own site, reddit, came into being and how it became what it is today.

One of the things that Ohanian stresses in his book is keeping the overall design of an initial idea relatively simple. In a recent exclusive email interview, Ohanian talked about the challenges of maintaining simplicity.

“This was a daily struggle. In hindsight, there are plenty of features we shipped that we should have killed off when they weren’t getting traction, but so it goes. Many of our biggest ‘features’ actually came from building simple tools and letting our users do the brilliant stuff – e.g., “AMA” [Ask Me Anything] and self posts,” said Ohanian.

In Without Their Permission, Ohanian discusses some of the threats that the open internet faced, especially with regard to SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) and PIPA (Protect IP Act), and how reddit worked against the passage of these laws and was eventually successful. Ohanian also discusses net neutrality, and how it could help secure the existance of a free and open internet.

By email, Ohanian stated “Net neutrality was a big one. That’s why we fought so hard for it (both me personally, reddit as a company, and the reddit userbase). We made great progress with the FCC’s latest ruling.”

One of the obstacles budding entrepreneurs face is getting the word out about their product. In the interview, Ohanian discussed how reddit overcame this hurdle in its earlier days:

“…we were building an inherently social product. If it wasn’t successful enough for people to tell other people about it, we were going to fail anyway.”

On a personal note, Ohanian said that the process for writing his book had its challenges:

“The hardest part was making time for it. I’d do bits and pieces here and there over the months but things really got productive when I took a week off, locked myself in a room with a laptop, my cat, and no internet, and just wrote.”

Without Their Permission is a fascinating read for any aspiring tech entrepreneurs who seek inspiration and support for their endeavors.

(The first eight readers who tweet a link to this article to @thewpwire can pick up a free copy of Ohanian’s book from Mr. Cadorette’s classroom.)