Interview – Alexis Ohanian, Reddit Co-Founder

November 2, 2006


I tracked down Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian today, still reeling from the Wired buy-out of the site. We talked about money, what it’s like to go through a buy-out, the future of Reddit and what he’s going to buy his mum.

Matt: Hi Alexis!

Alexis: w00t

Matt: So, Alexis, how are you feeling?

Alexis: My mom asked me that question this morning. I’ll tell you what I told her: I don’t know.

Matt: Ha! I bet it’s quite a confusing time.

Alexis: Feeling excited about getting done with all the legal wrangling and getting back to working on Reddit. Still in a bit of disbelief. I don’t feel any different.

Matt: Tell me what it’s like to get bought out. Who approached who? What was the process?

Alexis: Well, we can’t take much credit for this… We were approached by Kourosh to build in the spring. He’d heard about the site through some people and pinged me out of the blue.

I called him back, we chatted for a bit, and he said that they were interested in building a Reddit-like site for celeb news/gossip

Matt: He’d heard about reddit?

Alexis: Yep. A little alien told him? I’m not sure.

Matt: Ok, so you built him

Alexis: Yep, we got the specs from their side and built it. The whole thing didn’t take to long to get online, but once it was, they seemed pretty pleased with the result. From there, the discussions started to shift to bigger things.

Kourosh definitely got a few points when he came to our shabby apt and let us beat him in XBox. Actually, it was PS2… Soul Caliber (Steve and I have an ongoing competition with some XBox games).

Matt: So, then what happened?

Alexis: Nothing too climactic

Once we’d agreed on the terms, the lawyers got involved and we got to hear a lot of legalese for a couple months.

Matt: So, you’ve known about the buyout for some time?

Alexis: Yes, we’ve known that something was in the works for a little while, but we try not to take anything for granted.

Frankly, the only time we knew was when we were signing our final documents.

Matt: Did Wired give TechCrunch the scoop on the buyout, and ban you from writing a blog post?

Alexis: We were putting the finishing touches on our blog post.

Granted, I kinda wish ours had scored higher on reddit than the TechCrunch post, but oh well πŸ˜‰

The people have spoken.

Matt: I think that’s just because it was posted first. Weird though. Strange decision from Wired.

Alexis: I just draw the alien πŸ™‚

Matt: Did you design the alien? Where did the logo come from?

Alexis: We probably should have had a better title anyway — that’s a valuable piece of reddit advice we forgot to heed.

Yah. We’d wanted a mascot and I’d been doodling in class. Then I came home and rendered it in a copy of PSP 5.0 (shareware).

It took a few versions, but it basically hasn’t changed much since (except on all the random logo designs).

And I finally got Illustrator. Yum.

The mascot archive has all the versions, and yes, it was 100% google-inspired. Except they usually have a good reason (holiday, global event, etc) for theirs — we don’t.

Paul was actually quite opposed to the name early on, but to his credit, he’s admitted that in the end, “Reddit” didn’t turn out to be so bad after all.

Matt: Reddit is quite a catchy name I think, not a bad choice. What were the other ideas floating around?

Alexis: There were some really unfortunate ones…

Newstew/Newsstew, Newsbug, Poplex, Octopop, Popdar…

Matt: Oh dear.

Alexis: Bubbleup, Popurate…

I could go on, but my head hurts.

Matt: BubbleUp is quite descriptive, but still not great. Reddit is better.

Alexis: Glad to hear that you agree. Had to take a few licks for defending it, but everything worked out.

Matt: So, I presume I can’t ask about money, and that everyone asks you that?

Alexis: Yes and yes. πŸ™‚

Matt: I thought so. I presume that you’re not going to ever have any money worries again though?

Alexis: You know, I’ve been pretty fortunate growing up.

There are plenty of kids who had to worry about things like paying for school, etc., but all the parttime jobs I’ve worked have been for money that just ended up in my savings acct.

Matt: Fair enough, so you won’t be splurging then?

Alexis: But, hopefully, there won’t be any money worries in my future.

You know, there really isn’t much I need that I don’t already have.

I’m going to have to treat my mom to something though… just need to figure out what…

Matt: Diamonds. I’ve heard that women love diamonds…

Alexis: Hehe — you know, that’s the thing with my mom, she’s not into that kinda stuff. No bling.

I feel pretty spoiled as it is to have the family and friends that I’ve got.

Matt: I think that that’s more important than money, but I say that as a man in debt.

Alexis: Fair enuff πŸ™‚

Matt: Are you going to be staying on with Reddit then?

Alexis: You bet.

This doesn’t feel like an ‘exit’ to us — we’re raring to put our attention back on building out Reddit.

Matt: So, you’re going to be Wired employees?

Alexis: Technically, I believe we’re CondeNet employees.

Matt: What’s your job title?!

Alexis: Oh, I just learned this — we’d all been co-founders until yesterday.

“Co-Founder” Alexis is now a “project manager” — I think.

I’ll basically be doing what I do now: everything that a hacker shouldn’t have to think about or do. That ranges from PR/alien-drawing to picking up the carryout, and to be the front end for all of our interactions with clients as we keep building out our licensing model.

Matt: Yeah, I’d like to ask about that. I was talking abou this today. I guessed that your purchase price is 50M, and we think that you can bring in 2.5-5M a year advertising.

So, are you going to make money licensing white label solutiuons? If so, are you going to charge, or make money driving traffic back to Reddit and advertise?

Alexis: We are hoping to. We’ve got a few folks who are at various stages of “clienthood” (is that a word?)

Matt: Perhaps!

Alexis: This is something we’ve given–and are still giving–some serious thought to.

We want to monetize it in a way that offends/interferes with our users as little as possible

Matt: I think that’s great, and you obviously trust Wired to go along with that? They’re a good brand.

Alexis: Aye. It really feels like they (CN in general) understands where we’re coming from.

Matt: That’s reassuring for Reddit users I bet.

Alexis: At the same time, we know we don’t know everything — but we now have a fantastic resource.

Keeping the reddit community happy and healthy is paramount. They’re the ones who got us here, and CN definitely knows and wants to honor that.

Matt: Is that in the contracts?!

Alexis: “CN understands that we must keep the reddit community happy and healthy”

πŸ™‚ it should be, but it isn’t. We do have a pretty great deal of autonomy.

And all the conversations we’ve had about it have been quite encouraging.

Matt: So, it’s all on trust?

Alexis: Not entirely, but I can’t comment on any details of the deal.

Matt: Ok, sorry!

Alexis: We’ve just been well media-trained πŸ˜‰

Matt: Some spin-doctor consultant?

Alexis: Nah. They basically told us “We’re not going to be discussing the details of the deal”, and we said “OK”.

Matt: Is the secrecy short-term, or permanent?

Alexis: Not 100% sure, but I’m confident it’s permanent… or close to it.

Matt: Wow, that’s going to be hard.

Alexis: We’re pretty good at keeping secrets. We didn’t even pinky swear when acquisition talks started and I don’t think there was a single rumor floating around before yesterday.

Matt: No. I heard nothing.

Alexis: I have to go now, to see a movie.

Matt: No problem, thanks for your time.

Disclaimer: Alexis is going to be sending me a Reddit t-shirt for free, but it doesn’t make me like Reddit anymore or less than before, and didn’t influence this post. I love that alien.


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