How did Alexis Ohanian start Reddit? Soon-to-be billionaire’s surprising confession

Anastasia Santoreneos
·3-min read
Tennis - Australian Open - Melbourne Park, Melbourne, Australia - 28/1/17 Alexis Ohanian, fiance of Serena Williams of the U.S., reacts ahead of her Women's singles final match against Venus Williams of the U.S. REUTERS/Issei Kato
Alexis Ohanian: Soon-to-be billionaire’s surprising confession. Source: Getty

Alexis Ohanian may have co-founded a well-known multibillion-dollar company, but you’d probably recognise him for something else: being tennis champion Serena Williams’ husband.

And, he wants you to know he’s fine with that.

Responding to a tweet last week, Ohanian said: ‘I’ll be a self-made billionaire one day and most people will still know me as Serena’s husband (or Olympia’s dad) and that’s fine by me’.

But in actual fact, Ohanian co-founded one extremely popular online forum: Reddit.

As of February 2021, Reddit is worth a whopping US$6 billion (AU$7.78 billion), thanks to a surge in popularity from the WallStreetBets and GameStop commotion earlier this year.

The company boasts more than 50 million daily active users, and saw a 90 per cent surge in advertising revenue year-on-year, according to Reuters.

But Ohanian is no longer in the driver’s seat.

In fact, he and his co-founders sold Reddit nearly 15 years ago for a slither of its valuation: US$10 million.

On November 2 last year, Ohanian tweeted: “Halloween is always a surreal holiday for me, because on Halloween 2006, we sold Reddit to Conde Nast. The deal was months in the making and I wish I’d had more advisors around the table giving me more perspective on the sale.”

How did Alexis Ohanian start Reddit?

Ohanian, who’s been called ‘The Mayor of the Internet’, met his co-founder, Steve Huffman at university, where they bonded over video games.

But in his junior year of college, he walked out of his LSAT practice test and went to Waffle House. “That’s where I had what I call The Waffle House Epiphany,” he told Inc. in 2012.

It was there Ohanian said he decided he didn’t want to be a lawyer, but wanted to “make a dent in the universe” instead.

When the co-founders realised entrepreneur and computer scientist Paul Graham was making an appearance locally, they sought to get in touch and pitch a mobile food-ordering business to him.

While Graham rejected their idea, he liked the co-founders, tasked them with building “the front page of the internet”.

Reddit was built three weeks later.

Why did Alexis Ohanian sell Reddit?

Ohanian met a reporter from Conde Nast, the parent company of Vogue, at a Halloween Party.

“Founders are supposed to be not at all interested in selling,’ Ohanian told Inc.

“But there is a price at which a founder can't help being interested.”

In a thread on Twitter in 2020, Ohanian said he thought he’d made the right choice.

“I thought I was getting away with something because for 16 [months] worth of work, I was getting more money than my parents had made their entire working lives,” he said.

Ohanian’s mother had also been diagnosed with terminal brain cancer a few months into founding Reddit, and tweeted that “the idea of rewarding her life-long unflagging confidence in me with a $10 million exit was tremendously appealing”.

What does Alexis Ohanian do now?

Ohanian remained at the company for three years, and in 2014, when the then-CEO Yishan Wong resigned, he returned as executive chairman. His co-founder, Huffman, came back as CEO in 2015.

He’s since resigned from the board of directors, and these days runs his own early-stage venture capital firm, Initialized Capital.

Ohanian said he hopes to guide “the next Alexis Ohanian, 22 and wide-eyed” to make better decisions.

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