Reddit Founder Visits Virginia Tech

Nov 18, 2013

A visit from an Internet guru has the entrepreneurial crowd at Virginia Tech abuzz.  Alexis Ohanian, the founder of Reddit, which people call ‘the front page of the internet,’ will speak at the University Sunday. 

Alexis Ohanian graduated from The University of Virginia but he wanted to make a point of speaking at Virginia Tech on his book tour, because he knew about the community of current and future technology entrepreneurs here.  Drew Stegmeier, past president of the Entrepreneurs club at tech, is one of them.

 “A big part of his message and the title of the book is, “Without Their Permission; How the 21st Century Will Be Made Not Managed “ and basically just for people to go out and do stuff. You don't’ need anybody’s permission, just go do stuff," said Stegmeir.

That’s because in the age of the Internet, Ohanian writes, there are fewer barriers to reaching millions, even billions of people.  It is the medium that makes the difference he argues, because there are no longer gatekeepers telling you, you can’t try to write a hit song, publish a book or market a new invention. Stegmeier says that’s exactly the message the students he mentors, need to hear.

“A lot of students have this potential, VT is a good school there’s lots of potential here but they might need a little boost to take that leap and we’re hoping Alexis can provide that boost.  There’s already a lot of involvement, but there’s maybe 10, 20 times more people who want to be involved but don’t quite know what to do or how they can get started and with just a little bit of motivation, wow, boom, I can go do anything. And then they’ll just go do it.”

The book lays out how Ohanian went from a college kid with an idea to a millionaire.  …And how the website known as Reddit went from the back of a napkin idea to one of fifty most visited sites on the web.  So what exactly is Reddit?

"The core thing behind Reddit is that users up-vote and down-vote content so it’s curated by users and the community..So for example a twitter tweet might get retweeted a million times if Justin Beiber tweeted something but say Joe Shmow posted someone on Reddit and he doesn’t have a million twitter followers but he might have something extremely relevant to say.  And everyone else on Reddit can up vote or down vote his post based on the relevance or how interesting it is to them.”

Kind of a democratization of the national and international conversation; In his book Alexis Ohanian leans heavily on the voice of his Alma Mater’s founder. He says that resonance with Thomas Jefferson is intentional.  

 “ I start of with “TJ” and don’t worry because I went to UVA I can call him “TJ” and I end with TJ because we as a society are still striving for those ideals. And we have a technology, a tool that embodies – whether it’s all people are created equal or or all links are created equally, those are ideals we can all get behind," said Ohanian, who is wary though of efforts to curb Internet freedom.  Something he is fighting hard to prevent.

"Because it’s not just a place where one can access the world’s  information. It’s not just the world’s largest library, it’s also the world’s largest stage and it’s infinite and ever growing and the upside is we have a tremendous weapon at our disposal."

Alexis Ohanian’s new book is called “Without Their Permission; How the 21st Century Will Be Made, Not Managed”

Alexis Ohanian will be at Burris Hall on the Virginia Tech Campus, Sunday evening, Nov.17th, at 7p.m. The public is invited.

We had help with this report from Pierce Sprague of WUVT.