August 25, 2011
As a preview to this weekend’s SocialDevCamp Chicago keynote address, Tech Cocktail connected with Alexis Ohanian, whose accomplishments include co-founding reddit, launching Hipmunk and serving as their head of marketing, YCombinator ambassador and an active angel investor with Das Kapital Capital. A very busy entrepreneur, Alexis also recently launched Breadpig, a company that creates geeky products donating proceeds to individuals and charities who “make the world suck less”.
Alexis will be presenting “Building Big Little Communities” – a crucial topic for the conference’s audience of startups, developers and marketers who do everything from building support from within the industry to launching a new technology, securing buy-in from investors or generating interest and conversation among your target market.
Tech Cocktail (TC): With your diverse experience launching new companies, has your personal definition of community changed as your career has taken you from startup to success to angel investor?
Alexis: Nope. It’s actually all based on the approach I took with a simple web forum I started and ran in college. It was a janky, phpBB forum, but cultivating a strong community comes down to a lot of non-technical approaches — basically a combination of hustle and candor. People get excited when they see others giving a damn, it’s contagious. People are investing their time in these communities whether they’re online or offline, because the relationships are just as real.
TC: How does a startup community evolve from company’s inception through maturity and possible acquisition?
Alexis: It becomes more mainstream, but if you can continue to enforce the early behavior (not necessarily top-down, but reward and incentivize older members to set examples for new members) it stays true to its core. I think reddit had over 20M uniques last month and for all that mainstream-ness (top 50 website) redditors still exchange geeky Secret Santa gifts with total strangers on redditgifts.com — we’re 6 years old and post-acquisition, which is pretty exceptional.
TC: What advice do you have for a startup that needs to balance the demands of launching a company while fostering the community surrounding it?
Alexis: You always want to launch first, since you need a website for a community to gather around. But once you’ve launched, if you want to make something special that excites and engrosses, you’ve gotta build a product that encourages it and invest time with those early users concurrently.
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