Reddit’s Alexis Ohanian Says ‘Get On With It!’

January 20, 2014
Alexis Ohanian

Alexis Ohanian

“It’s always a gamble.”

When someone whose net worth recently skyrocketed into the millions of dollars utters this pearl of wisdom, it’s hard to accept.

“Sure, easy for you to say,” you think. “You’re on the other side!”

But when I recently had the chance to meet Reddit co-founder and champion of creative entrepreneurship Alexis Ohanian, the adage’s truth rang both liberating and refreshing.

Truth is, we’re growing accustomed to the Cinderella-style success story gracing the technology headlines: Someone has an idea, idea becomes reality, idea catches on, idea is bought by [insert name of publicly traded corporation here] for millions or billions.

But what Ohanian reminded his audience during a recent appearance at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis is that we tend to forget that all of these ideas were at one point just that: an idea.

Getting from idea to reality requires actually doing more than coming up with the idea. That’s what all these success stories have in common: Yes, they had great ideas behind them, but imagine if all these great ideas never had action behind them. And that, more than anything else, provided the backbone for Ohanian’s presentation on creative entrepreneurship.

Rather than embark on a lengthy treatise about Reddit’s guaranteed model for success, Ohanian’s presentation instead took the limelight off himself. He instead turned it on those in the position that he was in less than 10 years ago whilst launching this crazy little thing we now know as Reddit. He called a Minneapolis startup to the stage to help him discuss the challenges facing them and that faced more widely-known startups like Kickstarter and Reddit. Above all, Ohanian’s humble, yet eloquent presentation reminded us that the painful simplicity of just doing it should be a freeing agent rather than a limiting one.

Ohanian was the first to admit that as ideas move from idea state to reality, he will benefit from them. But the truth is, we’ll all benefit from these ideas. The more ideas can move from initial thought to reality, the more these simple, profound concepts can benefit us all. Inaction means you’re not helping anyone – least of all yourself, but also the community of people around you.

It’s a simple, yet important reminder. Take a look at how the three examples below fed off each other to create new possibilities. These three examples have dramatically changed how we conceive of arts funding and publication online. To echo the theme of Ohanian’s presentation, who says you have to have permission? Get on with it! They did!


Kickstarter: A no-brainer here, and likely most widely-known of the bunch. Based on the simple idea that projects should have a place to garner funds from supporters online.


Patreon logo

Patreon: A more recently-launched example, it takes the concept of arts patronage and puts it more democratically in the hands of those who wish to support artists of their choosing on a subscription- or project-based model. Think Kickstarter meets classical models from 12th-century arts patronage.



Pomplamoose: A songwriting duo had the idea that they’d post their stuff on YouTube and let the viewership drive its numbers (hence, its revenue, which was supplemented by Kickstarter above). Who would have thought it possible in a sea of videos? And hey, Jack Conte, half of the duo, went on to form Patreon above.