Help us make the headscarf emoji happen

Read Rayouf's AMA on r/twoxchromosomes. You'll have to remind yourself that she's just 15 years old. Please share this widely and we'll update when we hear back about our proposal.

Proud to be working with @RayoufAlhumedhi and @jenny8lee on a proposal for the Unicode Technical Committee to add a headscarf emoji, for millions of women across the globe to be represented. She's doing an AMA in the @Reddit community r/twoxchromosomes right now (link in bio) and is easily among the most impressive 15 year olds I've met. Why? Emoji have become such a big part of our communication (historians are going to have fun so much fun with this) that to leave out hundreds of millions of people is glaring. As a white American man I've greatly benefited from the different perspectives I've found on communities like r/islam where people are speaking freely about feeling marginalized. Emoji may not seem like a big deal, but it's one more way for a lot of people to feel acknowledged and represented -- and that's a good thing. ⬆️

A photo posted by Alexis Ohanian (@alexisohanian) on Sep 13, 2016 at 10:39am PDT

How Reddit Got Started

Had a surprising moment on r/MildlyInteresting Reddit today--it seems Snoo ended up on this children's toy.

I got started chatting with Redditors and answering questions about the early days and how that doodle I made while bored my senior year at UVA ended up on a fake plastic credit card.

Here's an excerpt from my book, Without Their Permission that covers how Reddit got started. Since I've already typed it out before, I figured I'd just share it online.

Early Decisions

Once we were accepted into Y Combinator, we got back to studying for finals and enjoying our last weeks of college.

On 4/14/05, Steve Huffman wrote:

Paul said it would be nice to whip up a prototype. We don’t need to make anything work, but a quick page to show what our site might look like could be cool. Do you have any time this weekend?


To which I responded:

yeah man,

sat afternoon or sunday—all day sunday would work well. i have some ideas, but i’ll need to sit down and sketch some things out with ya.


There it is. Were you expecting something more dramatic? Two college seniors just agreeing to get together over their laptops one weekend. That’s how mundane starting what would become the 9th largest website in the USA is. There’s no parting of clouds or springing from foreheads—just deciding to set aside some time on a Sunday to get some work done.

We did start thinking about reddit a bit, although I didn’t come up with the name until a couple of weeks later. I promptly registered it on April 29, just a few days after my twenty-second birthday.

After graduation, Steve and I started working in earnest in a rented apartment in Medford, Massachusetts, a quiet neighborhood outside Cambridge. I’d found the place, which was subleased by some Tufts students, on craigslist; all I knew was that it needed to be on the MBTA Red Line and it had to be cheap. We’d shown up with a month’s worth of clothes (it was already furnished), our laptops, and some sketches in our notebooks, including one of the logo and one of our alien mascot (in truth, I’d created these months before we’d even figured out how the site would work. Priorities!).

Steve and I set out that June to build a website where readers, not editors, would determine the front page of what’s new and interesting by submitting links to be voted on by the community. We had no ambitions to have the president of the United States conduct a real-time interview with millions of people on our site, which he would end up doing—from Charlottesville, no less—seven years later; we just wanted to create a place where anyone at any time could find what was new and interesting online. These could be links to an article, a video, or even a photo of a cat; if users like it, they vote it up (and vote it down if they don’t). Neologisms like upvote and downvote came into existence without any forethought—I just liked the way an up-and-down arrow looked.

The first version of the site used two words a user could click on, interesting and boring. We even debated dropping the “negative vote”—whatever it’d end up being called or looking like—in favor of a binary “I like this!” button, perhaps in the shape of a star. Fortunately, we’d already had a taste for how good it felt to bring a bit of retribution to the submitter of a bad link with a click of the downvote button, so it stayed and I got back to redesigning exactly how those arrows should look—down to the pixel.

We didn’t anticipate how much people would adore getting these upvotes, but we did know that the karma score (your total upvotes minus your total downvotes) would be a great incentive, especially early on, for people to submit. And when you’re trying to build a community from scratch, you need a simple system to encourage participation. The point system was neither novel nor fancy; it just worked. Steve engineered a clever algorithm to keep links rising and falling based on their votes and time, producing constant freshness.

The most pivotal product decision we made seemed much less important at the time but was our first big fight. I really wanted “tags” as a way to categorize content, and Steve insisted we let users launch their own reddits within our network (we’d call them subreddits). Just like WordPress was a blogging platform for online publishing, reddit would be a platform for online communities. It didn’t seem important at the time, but Steve was absolutely right and it’s a damn good thing he won because that decision would ultimately drive reddit’s success where all of our then competitors failed. We combined this simple point system with the ability for anyone to create a forum for an online community to share and discuss links—from NFL fans (r/NFL) to corgi lovers (r/corgi). The resulting network is a black hole of productivity worldwide.

We applied essentially the same model to our commenting system, which as a result generates the best discussions on the Internet. We added that commenting system a few months after we launched and I still remember Steve promising “something awesome” as he dashed off to get started building it—boy, did he deliver. I wish more people copied the reddit commenting system so I wouldn’t have to question my faith in humanity every time I watch a YouTube video and glance at the comments. But we started, as all startups do, with only ourselves as users.

I came up with the name reddit (as in, “I read it on reddit”) while I was in the Alderman Library at UVA one day, but we didn’t settle on it until just a couple of weeks before the launch. It was almost reditt, but fortunately I asked my friend Melissa Goldstein which bastardization made more “sense.” She chose wisely, and I stuck with reddit from then on. Yet it nearly became something else. Thanks, Melissa.

Excerpt from my bestselling book, Without Their Permission: How the 21st Century Will Be Made, Not Managed.

"Just one brilliant, terrible idea"

Why we do what we do. Read this great piece by Ben Evans on VC that applies to founders as much as it applies to investors.
Indeed, all of this applies to entrepreneurs even more than it does to VCs. Just as VCs would like only to do the deals that succeed, so would entrepreneurs. But entrepreneurs only get to do one at a time (normally). So an entrepreneur is committing years of their life to just one brilliant, terrible idea, that probably won't work, but if it does, will be enormous. And around half of those commitments fail - there are lots of risks, and lots of ways that these attempts can fail, without it being anyone's fault. If you take a normal, mature company to zero in a few years, you probably screwed up, but if a startup doesn't make it, generally that's just the risk you took. Pulling a company into reality out of thin air, through sheer force of will, isn't easy. But you're only reading this because of the entrepreneurs who took that bet. This is how invention works.
Take that bet. Create a legacy.

My infamous talk at Howard High school that got me removed from the building by the Principal

14 years ago, I gave the Howard High Class of 2001 Commencement Speech.

This was my chance to say the things I wish I'd known to say back then. Unfortunately, I was told by the Principal that she was embarrassed by my language and told me I would never be invited back. This is the same language I use in most of my talks and in my bestseller, Without Their Permission, so it's how I addressed this room of Juniors and Seniors. Needless to say, I was disappointed when my dad & I were escorted out of the building by order of the Principal. I wanted to stay and take some more selfies with students, but so it goes.

I've since gotten tremendous support via facebook, twitter, instagram and reddit -- including from many of the students and their parents. Thank you. I'm going to keep speaking my mind and you all will go and be amazing, just be true to yourself and give lots of damns about whatever it is you do.

And even though I'm never coming back: Go Lions.

July 11, 2005 - the day we learned about digg

I know I've told this story on stage more than a few times and even wrote about it in my bestseller, Without Their Permission, but sometimes even basic truths needs repeating. Sunlight will always win in the end.

I wrote this email minutes after discovering digg, which was three weeks after we launched reddit. I still have it and revisit it for a laugh from time to time. We were so young. Steve and I had just graduated from UVA a few weeks earlier. This was almost 10 years ago. Wow.

You can tell I was nervous. As soon as I learned about them, I sent this company-wide email out (to Steve) and we took an emergency meeting in the conference room (kitchen) to discuss the venture-backed, celebrity-founded, Silicon Valley startup that would be our chief rival for the next few years: digg.

Fortunately, we'd already launched (back on June 23rd) and Steve & I were building something fundamentally different -- a platform for communities, rather than a single community's democratic frontpage.

I'm so proud of how a little project two naive college kids started grew to become the platform that sets the global agenda, but we have so much more to go and now we have a much larger and more capable team of amazing people with whom to do it!

Onward to the next 10 years.

The Email I Sent Steve That Kicked Off reddit

(You can read more about this in my bestseller, Without Their Permission)

I spent a formative summer after my junior year abroad in Singapore, competing on behalf of UVA at an international Technopreneurship Conference (oh, bless the Singaporeans and their "technopreneurship" conferences).

One of my favorite teachers, Professor Mark White, invited me to go on this all-expenses paid trip. I even turned down an internship at Ogilvy because I like free travel even more than I like unpaid internships in the most expensive city in America.  It was there in Singapore on our first night that I pitched Mark the idea Steve and I had cooked up for our startup.  Mark’s was the first unbiased feedback I'd gotten on the idea (my parents had always been ludicrously supportive of whatever I told them I was up to) and he thought we'd be able to pull it off.

His optimism may've just been a combination of the jetlag and the Singapore Slings, but I was thrilled.

I wrote Steve this email the very next morning.  Here it is in its original form for authenticity. Please forgive all the typos; those keyboards in Singapore aren't QWERTY.  Apparently there's also a button on those keyboards that kept inserting "bro" everywhere -- sorry about that. In fact, imagine a great big [sic] around this whole thing.

hey bro,

i'm in singapore at this technepreneurial seminar, and am basically spending a week learning how to create a tech start-up.i spoke to Mark White (a professor in the comm school, the guy who took me to South Africa, and who recruited me to come here, as well as a generally good guy and technophile) over some drinks last nite, and pitched him on our idea...from his feedback—and let me remind you that he gets pitches every couple of months from students, and was very candid and honest with his thoughts, but basically said it was one of the best he's heard, period.

Not only that, but he wants to be on the board of directors, and already knows some people to hit up for starting capital...

I've got plenty of more details, but I am seriously considering putting off law school for this, but i need you, and we'll both need to be doing this full time for about a year to get it off the ground....but the potential he saw was in the millions my friend...we need to talkseriously.i am coming back the 20th so if we could have lunch around 1pm i could meet you whereever you'd like... let me know.

honestly, this is the kind of thing that could change our lives—and his motivation has really spurred me.but i need you and the same kind of commitment.

Small Empires: Season 2 is HERE

We're back! I'm super proud & excited to share episode one of SEASON TWO of Small Empires. Huge upvote to everyone on the team at The Verge for putting together what I already know will be an amazeballs season. I couldn't do it without you.

Dear viewers, there's still time to revisit all of Season 1 -- I'll be here when you finish.

This Season we're touring North America to revisit some of the best stops from the Without Their Permission bus tour to profile startup communities, one of their startups, and the folks who make them awesome.

First up, Atlanta!

NYRD Radio: For creators, by creators

I've started a podcast & here's a sneakpeak! Not just the people making the next reddit (or similar platform) but the people who will make those platforms awesome (e.g., artisans on etsy, creators on patreon, filmmakers on vhx). The internet enables entrepreneurship on a scale the world has never seen before and we're all writing the blueprint as we go.

Join me for weekly conversations (subscribe on iTunes) with some of the most awesome creators in the game (Episode 1 stars Baratunde Thurston!). We'll talk about how they hacked it to get here and where they're going. Every episode also features Office Hours where I work with an entrepreneur through their challenges -- guests could be a veteran CEO planning a huge product launch or a high school student figuring out how to best launch the crowdfunding campaign for her art.

If you'd like to do on-air office hours with me, click here to sign up. 

This is going to be unlike anything your ears have heard before and -- like everything I'm doing these days -- I hope it scales all the ideas I preach. The future favors the creators.

I want you to be one of the ones who changes the world. Don't worry, I'll take credit for it ;-)

Speaking of which, there's just one week left to apply for the Winter batch of Y Combinator. Do it!

If you're not ready yet, I hope you're tuned in to the free class Y Combinator is teaching at Stanford (How to Start a Startup) and a shoutout to my alma mater (University of Virginia) for a very generous profile on me in the latest alumni magazine.

Similarly, I made the CNBC Next List alongside some awesome entrepreneurs: Elon Musk, Sal Kahn, and Marissa Mayer to name a few.

Time to earn it. I'm headed back to the hustle. Let me know how you like NYRD Radio (leave a review!!) -- it's the only way I know what to improve.