It was a night of memes, millionaire know-how, passionate creativity, and indispensable advice. Sunday, October 6th, the Columbia Organization for Rising Entrepreneur’s hosted an event which brought reddit co-founder and webshow host, Alexis Ohanian, to the Roone Arledge Cinema – along with two other notable new-tech moguls and former CC students, Jared Hecht CC ’09 and Zach Sims
CC 2012. /r/corgi, /r/foxes, /r/koalas, and /r/redpandas lurker Zachary Hendrickson was there to meet his idol.
Though billed as a nationwide book tour, Ohanian’s real message was less about himself and more about the amazing potential of entrepreneurship in the Internet Age. But his personal story is nothing to scoff at either. Having just graduated from the University of Virginia in 2005 with a degree in History, Ohanian and his roommate Steve Huffman, founded reddit,
a social news website (like you don’t know reddit.) It was acquired within a year by Conde Nast, and has gone on to be one of the most popular sites on the Internet. Ohanian’s other side projects include the travel website hipmunk and social enterprise site breadpig. With such an incredible story to tell it would be easy for the now 30 year-old tech giant to come off as arrogant or self-aggrandizing, but Ohanian’s story as told by him was full of humor and lent to the general impression that he was much more comfortable in a room full of twenty-something college kids than uptight executive types. Ohanian certainly echoed my feelings, later saying, “We did this because we wanted to live like college kids forever.”
This notion that there was nothing separating all of us from the type of success that he achieved was fundamental to Ohanian’s message, and a point that was further driven home by the inclusion of Jared Hecht, founder of GroupMe, and Zach Sims, co-founder of Codecademy, to the presentation. One of the first things Ohanian did was to ask the audience members whether or not they knew how to code. A significant portion of students raised their hands, and Ohanian was shocked, responding, “Congratulations! You all have job security for the next century!” But luckily for all of us silly scholars of the humanities, according to Ohanian, the ability to code is the most accessible and widely available skill in all of history. Thanks to resources available through the Internet, most of you reading this right now have everything at your disposal to come up with an idea for that great new thing that everyone will want to use and the resources to make it a reality. The example of Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook was given to illustrate that even the greatest of products can spring from the most humble of origins – Zuckerberg learned to code via the Internet. Hecht and Sims had similar opinions, stressing the importance of working for a startup. Zachary Sims, who would have graduated from Columbia College in 2012 had he not dropped out to pursue tech stardom, went so far as to say that what he learned working for startups was more important than anything he ever learned in class. Ohanian would eventually punctuate their praise of Internet entrepreneurship with a rather witty critique of Thomas Friedman’s popular novel, The World is Flat, stating, “The world isn’t flat. We figured that out a long time ago. The world isn’t flat, but the World Wide Web is.”
The traditional pathway for content to reach consumers is via gatekeepers, people with money and power who decide what should be made and what shouldn’t be. But in the new world of Internet entrepreneurship, anyone can create a product and ship to an audience that appreciates their work. Whether an up-and-coming fashion designer is using Etsy to access new markets, or a graphic novelist is using Kickstarter to fund their dream project, or whether some kid in a dorm room wants to write a blog dedicated to trans-issues that are being overlooked by main stream media, everyone is free to do as they please. And often for free. The Internet Age is the ultimate creative tool for those who seek to use it. We all have the power to create and find success for ourselves. No one ever has to ask permission again. So, what are you waiting for? Go start something! After all, “Entrepreneur is just French for, ‘Has ideas, does them.'”