You may know him as a founder, investor, defender of the internet and a Washington Redskin-er . And pretty soon, you’ll know him as an author.
Alexis’ first published book, Without Their Permission, is slated to hit a marketplace near you October 1st. Alexis and the various companies and founders described in this book didn’t need permission to start their venture. And now, the Chief Swine Defender is here to tell you (and very well I might add) that you don’t need permission either.
Alexis (yes, spelled like the girls name) was kind enough to send me an advance copy of his book. And after digesting its awesomeness, I must say that Alexis continues to cook with bacon (read along, youngins). Here are some specific lessons that stood out to me.
“Two college seniors just agreeing to get together over their laptops on weekend. That’s how mundane starting a Top-50 website is.”
Alexis Ohanian splishy-pants his way into the tech scene as one of the founders of reddit. As Ondi Timoner and the good folks at A Total Disruption show in this brilliant behind the scenes view of reddit, Alexis and Steve Huffman began working on the site as college seniors.
Before I joined the tech world early last year, I was like most folk whom believed that building a giant Internet community was a privilege reserved for the lucky few. It was almost as if Jesus himself had to anoint you as a Chosen Disruptor. But as Alexis highlights in WOTP, success doesn’t require a magical formula. It’s a hard process that takes hours, and hours. Of building, receiving feedback, iterating and repeating until you have something that people actually want.
But what happens when you THINK you have something that people want…but there is already something similar in the market?
Well, you’re shit out of luck. JK, no you’re not. The Internet has leveled the playing field and chances are if you have a legitimately good idea then others will too. There will always be competition, you just have to do it, and do it better. And above all, like Alexis says, you have to ignore them. When reddit was rolling out, their biggest competitor was the established Digg.
Digg was founded by Kevin Rose, a Tech Celebrity who came him with a good sized following. Alexis and Steve on the other hand, where unknown kids, seemingly punching above their weight class.
By all means and purposes, Digg should have one the battle but reddit prevailed because it ignored Digg and focused on building it’s own product.
Alexis comments in the book that “…it doesn’t behoove you to be looking back at competitors because you’ll find yourself lulled into replicating and reacting instead of innovating and moving forward. “
Reddit focused on speaking to users, receiving feedback from users and making changes that positively affected users.
Reddit’s approach paid off, as they became one of the largest internet communities and in 2006, was acquired by Conde Nast Publications. Digg on the other hand, slowly fell off the map before quietly getting acquired for $500,000 in 2012.
To this day, reddit remains one of the most successful companies to come out of the Y Combinator Program.
Y Combinator, or YC for short began in March of 2005. Led by Paul Graham, Jessica Livingston, Dr. Robert Morris and Trevor Blackwell, YC was named as the top accelerator program in 2012. While reddit came out of the first batch of YC companies, it’s not the only notable one. Other startups to graduate from the YC bootcamp include Airbnb, Dropbox and Bop.FM (you’ll know about them soon enough…).
Besides offering tutelage and mentorship throughout the 3 month cycle, YC offers the priceless value of a vast network of alumni, partners and extended mentors.
Over the years several accelerators and incubators have sprawled up all over the world. And while they may be different in name, the share the same goal, to foster and develop top tech talent and ideas. Whether it’s YC or 500 Startups, one can see the value of an extended community of people ready to help out.
“Particularly in the internet industry, there is a strong desire to distribute information, not lock it up.”
So what if tech isn’t your forte? Can you still get plugged in? YES! By all means seek out meetups and conferences that share your interests and passions. I have friends that are active members of entrepreneurial, finance and coaching communities. No matter the sector, you should always seek out like minded individuals. These are the people that will give you the inside scoop on trends and opportunities. In fact it was following this advice that allowed me to find and get my dream position in tech.
For a while after university I moved back home to Modesto, CA. Not quite the hotbed if you’re into the tech scene. However, I participated online the best I could and I attended conferences when I could. I even discovered that people I was close with were into the same scene! One of these friends, Stefan Gomez, was living out in the bay area working in the industry when I approached him for advice about getting my foot in the door.
At the time, Stefan had an empty room in his Sunnyvale residence. Being the kind hearted awesome friend that he is, he invited me to come live with him while I got situated. He even offered to let me live rent free and make introductions to his already established friends. I took him up on his offer (I will FOREVER be grateful for Stefan’s generosity, guidance and above all, friendship) and picked up the few items that I owned and made the move to the bay area with no job and no idea of what the future lay for me.
One overcast-y April day in 2012, I joined Stefan for lunch near his office in Palo Alto. As we enjoyed a tasty and carby lunch at NOLA’s, Stefan ran through his mental rolodex of people he could introduce me to.
“We’re not hiring in marketing unfortunately, but I have friends at Facebook, Google and TuneIn I could introduce you to” Stefan began.
“Cool man, are all those nearby?” I asked as I was still getting acclimated to the new geography.
“Yea, plus Palantir and Waze are across the street from Color. I don’t know anyone there but maybe you could look.” Stefan replied.
I remember my head perking up as he mentioned Waze, as I had heard of them before. Palantir? Not so much.
“Waze is here? I thought they were Israeli or something?”
“Yea, I think they are, but they have an office here. It’s literally down the street.”
I peered outside to the corner of Hamilton and Ramona, and while I couldn’t make out what the building said, I took Stefan’s word. Not one to waste time, I took out my cell phone and began researching the company. As I perused their site, I saw that had a position available that matched my background. I got excited as the more I read, the more I realized that I could be a great asset to Waze.
A few seconds later, my phone crashed, or restarted or something. I sat there for a second before I excused myself from the table.
“Hey, I’ll be back…I’m going thata…Waze.”
I walked down the street and into the darkly lit Waze office. I gentleman greeted me near the entrance. I introduced myself, explained how I found the position and how I could be an asset. The man named Mikhel gave me the contact card of the the person doing the hiring and urged me to call that day.
One thing led to another and before you knew it, I was flying back and forth from Israel as a member of the Waze Sales Team. That NOLA’s lunch was easily the best lunch I’ve ever had.
Some people call it luck, but smart people call it having the right skills at the right time (maybe that’s luck too) but either way I would have never gotten that position if I had waited for permission and not given it to myself.
My story and the countless examples in Without Your Permission highlight how the playing field has changed. Now anyone with a connection, a plan and ambition can make their vision a reality. From knowing what to build, to reaching out to journalists, Without Your Permission acts like a blueprint that allows you to navigate the waters of the World Wide Web as effectively as possible.