Alan Schaaf and Alexis Ohanian on stage Monday evening
Photos by Gracie Umana

reddit and Imgur founders inspire students to “go be great”

Zoe Graham
February 25, 2014

The Internet is catalyzing new businesses, and today’s college students are primed to take advantage of the opportunities it presents – but only if they have the courage to act on their ideas.

That was the message from Alexis Ohanian, co-founder of reddit.com, and Alan Schaaf, the Ohio University alumnus who founded Imgur. The two spoke to more than 350 enthusiastic students and community members in the Walter Hall Rotunda on Feb. 24 as part of the Center for Entrepreneurship’s Guest Lecture Series.

Ohanian started reddit.com, “the front page of the Internet,” just a year after graduating from the University of Virginia. Schaaf started Imgur while still a student at Ohio University. Both sites are among the most popular online destinations: reddit.com has 112 million monthly users and 5.4 billion page views as of January 2013; Imgur has 130 million registered users.

Ohanian noted that the word “entrepreneurship” derives from French words that mean “has ideas, does them.” Both he and Schaaf stressed the importance of following up on one’s ideas, and that the Internet enables people to do what they want to do.

Both founders said that personal failures fueled them to succeed. Ohanian recalled a meeting with top Silicon Valley executives who asked him why he was bothering them because his site’s users were “a rounding error.” Ohanian had the quote printed on a sign that he keeps in his office.

Such challenges drives both Ohanian and Schaaf to get up in the morning and make their businesses better.

“Haters gonna hate, let that be an inspiration to you,” Schaaf told the crowd. “Forget about the haters and go do it.”

“Failing is an option,” Ohanian added. “That is life. Go forth and suck.”

Ohanian is on a 77-campus tour to promote his book, “Without Their Permission.” He showed a video compilation of the many college students he has met who have successful companies. Ohio University students can follow in their footsteps, first by learning to make effective use of online resources such as Google -- and learning to write computer codes.

“Coding is the most valuable skill of the century,” Ohanian said.

He invited the audience to share their success stories with the world, creating a network of young entrepreneurs who are connected by their drive and vision.

“Innovation is not limited to a ZIP code,” Ohanian said. “Just go be great.”

An example of acting on one’s ideas is Alex Harshaw. The senior media arts studies student saw an item about Ohanian’s book tour on reddit and asked him to include Ohio University.

“I never imagined that my shot in the dark e-mail could bring the event of the school year,” Harshaw said. “Knowing I helped contribute to bring a packed room for this event is the greatest highlight of my life.”

The event was sponsored by the Ohio University’s Center for Entrepreneurship, the Innovation Center’s 3D Lab, TechGROWTH Ohio and Jackie O’s Pub and Brewery. A video recap featuring personal interviews with the speakers will be posted to the Center for Entrepreneurship’s website soon.