- Alexis Ohanian, who cofounded Reddit in 2005, has been called the “Mayor of the Internet.”
- He and cofounder Steve Huffman built the company over 16 months, then sold it to Condé Nast in 2006 for somewhere between $US10 and $US20 million. Today, the company is worth $US3 billion.
- Since then, Ohanian has become a venture capitalist, has helped launch two more companies, and has fought against a bill that would have stifled internet innovation.
- In 2015, he met tennis superstar Serena Williams. The couple had a daughter together, Alexis Olympia Ohanian Jr., in 2017, and got married two months later.
- More recently, in the wake of the protests following George Floyd’s death, Ohanian resigned from Reddit’s board and called on the company to name a Black board member in his place, which it has since done, appointing Michael Seibel.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Alexis Ohanian’s path to becoming the “Mayor of the Internet” wasn’t a conventional one.
The Baltimore, Maryland-raised Ohanian initially thought he wanted to become a lawyer before an epiphany at a Waffle House made him realise he’d rather be an entrepreneur. He and his college best friend, Steve Huffman, went on to create Reddit, the online community site known as “the front page of the internet.” Today, the company is worth $US3 billion.
Since selling Reddit in 2006, Ohanian has gone on to invest in startups through his venture capital firm, fight against federal bills that would have stifled internet innovation, and marry tennis superstar Serena Williams.
Here’s how Ohanian got his start and helped build one of the cornerstones of the internet.
Alexis Ohanian was born in Brooklyn, New York, and grew up in the Baltimore, Maryland, area. He gave the student address at his high school graduation. “I was not the valedictorian, they just let anyone audition for the speech,” Ohanian wrote on YouTube.
After high school, Ohanian attended the University of Virginia. There, he met Steve Huffman, who would be his Reddit cofounder. “I was terrified that no one played video games in college. But when I arrived at my dorm at the University of Virginia, Steve [Huffman, Reddit co-founder] was playing Gran Turismo 2, and I was like, ‘Hey, what’s up?’ We lived together all four years of college, then almost five years after,” Ohanian told Inc in 2012.
Ohanian decided to become an entrepreneur junior year of college when he was about to take an LSAT practice test and decided to walk out instead. “I walked out and went to Waffle House. That’s where I had what I call The Waffle House Epiphany: I didn’t want to be a lawyer. I wanted to make a dent in the universe,” he told Inc.
The summer after their junior year, Ohanian and Huffman came up with the idea for a mobile food ordering company called MyMobileMenu and spent the following year working on it. They decided to pitch it to Y Combinator cofounder Paul Graham, who initially rejected them. The next day, Graham called them back and said he would accept them into the startup accelerator, but not their business idea. “You guys need to build the front page of the Internet,” Graham told them.
Reddit was founded and built in three weeks in 2005, a bare-bones site featuring just links and some text. The founders soon decided to add the option for comments. “We knew our business was in our user base, that that was the most important part,” Ohanian told Inc.
In 2005, Ohanian had two tragic moments affect loved ones, only a month after building Reddit, Ohanian’s then-girlfriend fell from a balcony and went into a coma (she recovered months later). Ohanian’s mother then discovered she had terminal brain cancer. She died in 2008.
By 2006, Reddit had taken off. Ohanian and Huffman decided to sell it to magazine publisher Condé Nast shortly after launch for an undisclosed amount — Ohanian will only say it was between $US10 and $US20 million.
Source: Business Insider
Three years after the sale, Ohanian left Reddit, taking a fellowship in Armenia, where his father’s family is from. He has also since helped launch Breadpig, a “geek” marketplace that donates some of its profits, and travel website Hipmunk.
In 2010, Ohanian became an outspoken opponent of the Stop Online Piracy Act, or SOPA. He helped organise anti-SOPA protests and said at the time that Congress was going to “obliterate an entire tech industry” if it passed the bill. While he was called to testify before Congress, the bill was killed before he did so.
By 2015, things had taken a turn, both for Reddit and Ohanian and Huffman’s friendship. Reddit had become independent in 2011, and it was being overtaken by racist trolls and had been through multiple CEOs. Ohanian and Huffman had drifted apart, but decided to work on their friendship and return to Reddit to help lead a turnaround.
That period of time wasn’t without controversy, however. Yishan Wong, one of Reddit’s former CEOs, has said that Ohanian was behind the decision to fire a popular employee in 2015. The firing caused an uproar that resulted in then-CEO Ellen Pao stepping down.
“When the hate-train started up against Pao, Alexis should have been out front and centre saying very clearly ‘Ellen Pao did not make this decision, I did,'” Wong wrote on Reddit at the time. “Instead, he just sat back and let her take the heat.”
In 2016, Ohanian cofounded venture capital firm Initialized Capital with Garry Tan. The early stage fund has $US500 million in assets under management and has invested in more than 200 companies. The firm says women make up half of its investing team.
Ohanian dated microbiologist Sabriya Stukes for five years. The couple met in college and broke up sometime around 2015.
That same year, Ohanian met tennis superstar Serena Williams at a hotel in Rome when Ohanian sat down at the table next to Williams’ outside by the pool, according to a 2017 Vanity Fair profile.
Source: Vanity Fair
Ohanian and Williams’ first official date took place before the French Open in June 2015. According to Vanity Fair, Williams invited Ohanian to Paris to see her play and they ended up walking around Paris for six hours before the tournament began. Ohanian ended up becoming a fixture at Williams’ matches, often showing up in the stands to watch her play.
Source: Vanity Fair
By April 2016, Ohanian knew he wanted to marry Williams. “I felt like a door had been opened to a person who made me want to be my best self,” Ohanian told Vanity Fair.
Source: Vanity Fair
Ohanian proposed on December 10, 2016 at the same hotel where he and Williams met in Rome. Williams announced the engagement on Reddit: She had Ohanian draw her a customised version of Reddit’s alien logo, “Snoo,” and called herself the “future Mrs. Kn0thing” (Kn0thing is Ohanian’s Reddit username).
In early January 2017, Williams and Ohanian found out they were expecting a baby together, right before Williams was scheduled to play in the Australian Open. (She went on to win the Australian Open while she was eight weeks pregnant.)
Source: Vanity Fair
Ohanian and Williams welcomed a baby girl, Alexis Olympia Ohanian Jr., on September 1, 2017. The couple got married two months later at the Contemporary Arts Centre in New Orleans.
The family now lives in a $US6.7 million home in Beverly Hills, California. The couple reportedly has a combined net worth of more than $US189 million.
Since the birth of his daughter, Ohanian has become an advocate for paternity leave. In a 2019 New York Times op-ed, he explained why it was so important that he took paid leave following Olympia’s birth. “I took my full 16 weeks and I’m still ambitious and care about my career. Talk to your bosses and tell them I sent you,” Ohanian wrote.
Source: The New York Times
Ohanian also started a new podcast called “Business Dad,” where he interviews other celebrity dads, like “Patriot Act” host Hasan Minhaj and retired NBA star Chris Bosh.
Source: Alexis Ohanian/Instagram
In early June, Ohanian quit the board of Reddit in the wake of the nationwide protests following the death of George Floyd, a Black man who died in police custody. Ohanian called his resignation “long overdue” and said his decision was spurred “as a father who needs to be able to answer his black daughter when she asks: ‘What did you do?'” He called on Reddit to name a Black board member, which the company has since done in appointing Michael Seibel.
Ohanian also recently shared a story about the months preceding the founding of Reddit when police found him passed out in his car while drunk and high. “Because I was white. I walked away + started Reddit, not jail time,” Ohanian tweeted. “I’m grateful for that police officer’s tolerance with me + disgusted that it’s so obviously not (never) been afforded to everyone just because of their race.”
Source: Business Insider
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