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Author, Entrepreneur Ohanian: ‘Just Build The Simplest Possible Solution’

Without Their Permission by Alexis Ohanian
Without Their Permission by Alexis Ohanian

(Editor’s Note: Author Alexis Ohanian and iSchool alumnus Wiley Cerilli are speaking at Syracuse University tonight. The talk, hosted by the School of Information Studies, is at 6 p.m. at the Sheraton Syracuse University Hotel and Conference Center. Ticket information is here. )

Alexis Ohanian writes in his book, “Without Their Permission: How the 21st Century Will Be Made, Not Managed,” that “execution is everything.” The book’s focus is that with the low barrier-to-entry for online startups, ideas are not worth much, and there is little excuse for not starting. As Ohanian writes, “The only advice I can give that I guarantee is true is that you’ll never succeed unless you try. Just please start.”

Ohanian visits Syracuse University tonight. The talk, a stop on his current bus tour, is hosted by the School of Information Studies (iSchool).  The author will talk about his book and the culture of entrepreneurship. Also appearing with Ohanian is iSchool alumnus Wiley Cerilli. Cerilli is also an internet entrepreneur who sold his startup to, and now is CEO, of Constant Contact.

Without Their Permission is broken into three main sections. First, Ohanian tells the story of how he and his co-founder, Steve Huffman, started the “front page of the internet,” reddit.com, from their dorm room. The social news and entertainment website now is considered one of the largest social sites online. Next, he gives practical advice about what budding entrepreneurs need to know when they want to put an idea into action. Finally, he writes about anything else anyone might want to do online, including the emergence of crowdfunding for good. 

Reddit Alien
Reddit Alien

Reddit is one of those internet companies that started in a dorm room and eventually went on to make its founders millions of dollars. But it wasn’t easy, Ohanian tells. From passing up more stable jobs, to changing the course of their idea when they needed an investor, to posting content from different user-names in reddit’s early days, Ohanian and his co-founder Huffman did what they needed to do to succeed. 

Though the barrier to entry was relatively low when reddit started, Ohanian says it is lower than ever now. It is inexpensive to host a website online, and there are plenty of places online to learn to code, he says. No one needs to give anyone permission to start.

Perfection isn’t the goal–usefulness is, writes Ohanian. “If you’re not a little embarrassed by what you’ve launched, you waited too long. It need only be good enough to be useful. There’s no big secret. Just build the simplest possible solution to a real problem.” He mentions that anyone looking to start a business online should look for something that doesn’t work well online, and figure out a way to fix it. 

Ohanian and Huffman’s original idea was not reddit. They started their venture by thinking about a way to order food via mobile, so it would be ready by the time someone walks into a restaurant.

In today’s world, that idea would work. When they were developing the idea, though–before the iPhone was created– mobile options were not as available. Nonetheless, the pair pitched their idea to an investor, who liked their smarts and initiative, but didn’t think the idea would work. He tasked them to come up with something different. Eventually reddit, a service that compiles the best content on the web, was born. On the way, Ohanian listened to investors and improved the service, but also pushed forward on aspects of reddit he believed in – like the name and the logo/mascot. 

businesinsider.com
businessinsider.com

Maintaining dedication to the service you are building is key to any business’ success, according to Ohanian. He writes, “don’t be afraid to show your users that you give a damn. It should shine in everything you do, from the design of your website to the way you respond to feedback e-mails.” The object is to give more damns than your competition, and magic will happen, he contends. Someone who has the passion to start can do so easily online. This person can create a business, or start a crowdfunding effort, or fix a problem, the author says.

The ability to improve lives online is almost endless, according to Ohanian, and that is why his priority now is to keep the internet open and free. He lead an internet revolution of sorts when policy-makers threatened that by trying to end net-neutrality. In 2012, Ohanian took a bus tour around the country discussing the importance of internet freedom. His Syracuse appearance is a stop on another, current bus tour to promote his book, through which he continues to talk about internet freedom and entrepreneurship. 

Have you read Without Their Permission? What did you take away from the book?  Share your thoughts in the comments.

Sam Edelstein

Sam is an alumnus of the iSchool's Information Management and Data Science programs, and works as the City of Syracuse's first Chief Data Officer. Sam loves to talk all things Orange, tech, and travel. Connect with him on Twitter @samedelstein.

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