November 1, 2013
Alexis Ohanian (COMM ’05) is a startup founder turned-investor based in Brooklyn, NY. After graduating from UVA with a degree in Commerce and History, he started a website from a small town in Massachusetts that is now considered the “front page of the internet” and is one of the world’s most visited sites. After selling Reddit to Condé Nast, Alexis moved on to start two other companies and was instrumental in defeating a bill that would have led to a significantly less-open internet.
To tell the story behind his journey into startups as well as convey a bigger idea about our world today, Alexis has written a book: Without Their Permission and was nice enough to send the OpenGrounds team a copy before it came out earlier this month.
Without Their Permission serves as part reminder and part call-to-action to a generation that is in desperate need to hear them. The crux of the book revolves around the idea that, because the internet is practically a meritocracy, anyone has an equal right to be awesome. Being “awesome” simply means pursuing a career that teaches you, challenges you, and gives you a sense of meaning. It is unfortunate that many people cannot say that about their careers.
Alexis, among many others, exemplifies how resourcefulness counts more than resources do. It no longer matters whether or not you could accumulate the most information on your own and use it. What matters is how you bring together other people and organizations into executing it. Eventually, your product/ service/organization will speak for itself and the masses decide whether it wins or not.
Hierarchy (social, academic, political) is a natural part of the world we live in, but the advent of a free internet and a collaboration-oriented culture is changing things. The way Alexis brought people together rally against the SOPA/PIPA bills and the way OpenGrounds brings people from different disciplines to work on projects are both a testament to the ideas discussed in Without Their Permission.
A group of individuals with myriad talents is a much more powerful one than individuals working on their own. There are numerousexamples, both on Grounds and beyond, where people have formed diverse and inter-disciplinary groups to accomplish what they could not on their own. OpenGrounds hopes to increase that kind of collaboration through scholarships, challenges, workshops, and more.
Update: Alexis talks about OpenGrounds in an intervew with HC Media, here.