Insights from Reddit Co-Founder Alexis Ohanian

Me (left) and Alexis Ohanian (right)

Last year when I was in San Francisco, I got to listen to a talk by Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian. He’s a really nice guy! :) Here are some of the pretty insightful things that he said:

The Taxonomy of Reddit

At first Reddit was a hodgepodge of content, it wouldn’t appeal to every user. We knew we wanted to have different tags. While Steve was thinking of writing code, I was thinking about getting users. I thought: it was easier to grow community when people put multiple tags when they upload a link, for example 3 tags.

Steve was like “no, we should just have one tag”. Each community was going to be a very distinct community and culture, with different conversations. For example, for a Warriors VS Cavs game, the NBA community would have very different posts compared to the Warriors community or the Cavs community. Going back to the first principle — what is going to make this product special?

It was going to take longer to grow that network because of the decision to have only one tag, but it was what helped Reddit’s community grow. What didn’t seem like an important decision turned out to be really important.

Lesson learned: Go for the product decision that provides a higher quality experience even if it is slower in building users.

Reddit vs Digg — the second mouse gets the cheese

We launched in June 2005 — with $12k in funding. At Demo day, we raised $70k in funding. Literally 3 weeks after launch, I stumbled on Digg. I emailed Steve: “We need to talk”.

Digg had lots of funding from Silicon Valley. We were clearly the underdog.

However, we knew we had a different notion of what our product should be. We wanted to build communities and build a real platform for communities.

The press didn’t treat us well, TechCrunch even declared us dead. As founders, it’s very hard to not take that personally.

We knew we were right because we actually cared about our users and what they wanted.

Lesson learned: There is an advantage to being first, but there is no guarantee of success.

Learn to Delegate

We thought that as founders we knew best. We spent too much time thinking about these minor details that we felt that only we as founders could get right. We didn’t spend enough time on hiring great people that could do these stuff. Can we really trust someone to do X and Y? Yes, we can.

The Power of Pseudeonymity

Our identity is not just what is on our driver license. The power of pseudonymity is different from anonymity. It’s a permanent record of your ideas, experiences, and things. For some people, that identity means much more than their actual name.

We have an offline example of this — we sponsored drag-con. At drag con it really materialized — people’s pseudonyms were much more important than their real names. Pseudonyms were vital for people expressing their fullest self.

Facebook, instagram, twitter — these platforms let us show one aspect of ourselves. But as humans when we think about connection — that historically takes a lot of time, or some extreme experience, it usually doesn’t scale very well.

On Reddit, you can talk about your sexuality that you can’t on facebook, you can talk about the problem you have with your relationship, or you can share a photo of cat with cat lovers.

We are all complex people, we are not just one version of ourselves. We want to have a discussion with friends who are bronies, but also those who are home-bros. We are still that same person, just different versions of ourselves. We are multiple selves, and pseudonymity allows us to fully express that.

The One Thing I would Put on a Billboard

I would put a quote from a video game, for all the people who need to see it: “Lives remaining: 0”

Live up to whatever you want to do — I wish more people took that approach. For those of us who have the opportunity to be our fullest self, I hope they take it.

Tips for Building a Strong community

You have to have people who care about making this thing live up to its fullest potential. It’s a very non-techy thing. Community organizers online are among the most popular people.

We focused on the submitters — the 1 % of users who did everything — submit, vote, comment. We knew if we could understand them and make them happy — we had the content.

My favorite question that I like to ask people

What is their spirit animal?

For me, my spirit animal is a black bear. Black bears are more chill — they can’t be tamed but they are not going to kill you.

Hope you find these notes interesting/somewhat of use! (:

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