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Reddit co-founder to students: embrace entrepreneurship

Unlike most speakers, Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian doesn’t mind when audiences use laptops and smartphones during his lectures.

“Even if you are using it to ignore me, to either browse Reddit or work on your startup, that is actually encouraged,” Ohanian told several hundred Northeastern students in attendance at Blackman Auditorium on Tuesday evening.

Dubbed by Forbes as “The Mayor of the Internet,” Ohanian founded Reddit in 2005 with friend Steve Huffman, building a social news and entertainment website where users submit content in the form of links or text posts.

In his talk, sponsored by Northeastern’s Entrepreneurs Club, Ohanian discussed the ease with which Internet users can share ideas with people from around the world—many of whom they wouldn’t have been able to reach 10 years ago.

“You are capable of being entrepreneurs,” he explained. “Let’s get entrepreneurship off of this pedestal. This is something you can do right now.”

Entrepreneurship is a major focus of Northeastern’s academic mission. The D’Amore-McKim School of Business offers a concentration in entrepreneurship and innovation, while the Entrepreneurs Club helps students build real companies and forge bonds with accomplished entrepreneurs. IDEA, Northeastern’s student-run venture accelerator, helps students and alumni create, develop, and accelerate new businesses through coaching, mentoring, and gap funding.

In his lecture, Ohanian reminded students that failure is an option. Before coming up with the idea for Reddit, Ohanian and Huffman worked for a year on a startup that would have enabled users to order takeout food from their cell phones. He said seed accelerator Y Combinator rejected the idea, but that it nevertheless paved the way for Reddit.

“You should never let ‘I don’t know what I am doing’ stop you from starting to learn,” Ohanian said. “We all start out not knowing. Life is going to be full of failures and set backs, but that’s OK.”

After his talk, Ohanian introduced Mike Norman, an alumnus who is doing amazing things on the Internet. Norman, AS’05, is the co-founder of Wefunder, a Cambridge, Mass.-based crowdfunding service that connects startups with investors online. Echoing Ohanian’s belief that failure is not the end of the road, Norman noted that people often draw the most strength from their darkest hours.

“Those times shape you as a person and can make you better in a number of ways,” Norman explained. “The same is absolutely true of entrepreneurship.”