2 Tips for Starting a Business on the Internet from Reddit's Co-Founder

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Alexis Ohanian describes himself as a "start-up guy with the aim of making the world suck less." The 30-year old entrepreneur and investor is the co-founder of reddit, a vocal supporter of open Internet initiatives, and author of the just-released Without Their Permission: How the 21st Century Will Be Made Not Managed.

Ohanian has two simple thoughts for today's entrepreneurs starting a business on the internet: Make sure you're offering something people want, and then go ahead and give it a try. With the cost of websites and online stores negligible or free, there's no excuse for a young person with an idea not to go ahead and gain some real-world experience.

A transcript follows the video.

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Brendan Byrnes: I think one of the great parts of the book is there's a lot of advice for entrepreneurs that might be coming up, especially in the Internet space. What do you tell them when they ask you for advice and -- I think just as importantly -- what's one of the biggest things that they do wrong, and they can fix?

Alexis Ohanian: Yeah. You know, the first step, and the thing that everyone has to do right on the Internet is make something people want.

It seems really obvious, but the Internet is such a tough marketplace because everyone is a click away from going back to a cat photo, or going back to whatever else they were doing. You have to win them over, and do it quickly, and do it by making something people actually want.

You can throw -- and we've seen plenty of these kinds of companies -- millions of dollars in advertising for a website or a service, and in the end if it's not useful no one's going to use it. At the end of the day, how many ads did it take to convince you to use Facebook or Twitter? It wasn't marketing or advertising that convinced you to use these services. It was their value.

The other thing that I just can't do enough of is encourage founders to actually launch, to actually go ... I try to help founders as much as I can, but so many of us we won't even take meetings with people who still just have an idea, because everyone has an idea.

We all have great ideas. No one ever says, "I've got this terrible idea." No, everyone has great ideas, but what makes a difference, especially online, or just in life, is actually doing it; getting that first version out there.

We have a screenshot of the first version of reddit. Literally, the first version of reddit in the book, and it is awful looking. I mean, I could argue reddit's still not the prettiest website at the party, but it was embarrassingly bad. But that's OK, because no one's looking. So launch.

Byrnes: You're saying that ... I think a lot of people struggle with the, "I have this idea, but I don't know whether to go for it or go all-in." I guess your message is you don't necessarily have to go all-in.

Ohanian: Right.

Byrnes: Just at least try something small and make a little bet there and go for it.

Ohanian: There are so many side hustles going on right now. Again, because the cost is so low -- the cost of starting an Etsy store is zero. It's a little bit of time. It's a few photos with a nice camera, and the stuff you were making anyway -- that we're seeing more and more people dabble.

Then especially for college students; we have so much invested in those four years. We spend a lot of money, student loan debt continues to increase, so unfortunately there are not many ... I actually haven't even found a curriculum in the country that is really preparing people for this 21st century world.

I'd love to see founders -- along with going to football games, and watching your team get beaten, in my case -- do that. But also be doing stuff. Launch your first Kickstarter. Raise $500 for a thing you care about because you actually get the experience of taking an idea and actually doing it. There are fewer and fewer excuses not to.

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