Skip to content

The Entrepreneur’s Blueprint for Content Creators

Alexis Ohanian, reddit’s co-founder

On a book tour for “Without Their Permission,” Alexis Ohanian (co-founder of reddit) shared how his “blueprint for aspiring entrepreneurs” relates to marketers and advertisers. His motto and mandate: “Make things people want.” 

The following is my account of his conversation: 

Tom Friedman has a clever title in talking about globalization (i.e., The World Is Flat)… but the internet is much flatter than the world could ever be. As a technology, it is just transferring ones and zeroes. It is instant and vast, and connected to every single human being who has a connection. It is going to make it much easier for people to bring great ideas into the world. That’s why I wrote the book: I just want to see people achieve their maximum level of awesome. 

At the same time, the internet has a lot of noise. We have some good tools for finding the signal… reddit, Twitter, Facebook. But they are not perfect. Some people are going to have a lot of success building other platforms that help us discover what is interesting to us… what is good and what is cool, and what is new and funny or what have you. But it’s really on us to always be making good stuff. 

As content creators, only your mom is really going to care about what you’ve made. Everyone else has to be convinced.

If we focus on adding value to people’s lives, I really do believe that things that should have an audience will.

Somewhere out there there’s someone who spent her life obsessing over staplers. (I’m making this up, of course.) There’s probably a community of people who love staplers… vintage staplers. There is someone out there who, by all accounts, should be able to actually make a living being an authority on this particular thing. If there’s a community out there for it, the internet will be pretty good at connecting her to the people who obsess over staplers. She could be the Anna Wintour for the stapler world. It sounds absurd, but this stuff is happening right now.

I don’t actively use Pinterest, but enough friends of mine have used it for planning weddings and told me they’ve stumbled upon amazing content curators who have been world changing with how helpful they were. With the flattening of the internet, you will absolutely see more of these niche communities rise up and sustain content creators, sustain tastemakers in a way that just wasn’t possible before. Content creators a generation ago were limited to people who had all the resources. Today, someone really can just start taking photographs and three years later be one of the most viewed photographers in the world (see Humans of New York).

Right now the mechanisms for monetizing are crude. What users really want is to reward the tastemakers, the creatives, the curators, for the great stuff they do. It’s going to inspire other entrepreneurs to say, “Let’s do better than banner ads and referral links.

I’m an investor in a platform, Patreon. They’ve looked at Kickstarter and said, “What if we could find a way to get people to subscribe to creatives and tastemakers who they really like and just pay them money to produce original amazing content every week?” Jack Conte of Pomplamoose is already getting $6,000 per video based on crowd-funded contributions — with subscriptions that start for as little as a dollar. It’s cool to me because it’s a new approach to monetization that is not at odds with the user base.

Native advertising (sponsored content) is not the end game… but at least it is getting advertisers in the right mindset, which is, “Make things people want.” Advertisers need to think this way. They can’t get away with being lazy. We’ve been advertising the same way for a hundred years, but the 20th Century playbook just can’t last in a world where users have ultimate power. The back button is the enemy. Content creators have to be better than a cat photo. I think of that when I wear my marketing hat and ask, “How do I get people to love Hipmunk or reddit or any of this stuff?” If you’re not actually creating something that people want, they’re going to go right back to cat photos. They’re going to ignore you or worse, they’re going to hate you. So, step it up.

reddit, decoded

The social news and entertainment site Alexis Ohanian co-founded in 2005 has more than 80 million unique monthly visitors and 4.7 billion monthly page views. Redditors (reddit editors) up-vote and down-vote content, thereby deciding what content makes it to the front page on the site (the so-called “front page of the internet”). Content is also organized into topic areas called “subreddits.” Over time, redditors accumulate points (called karma) if their content, links, or comments are upvoted. More karma, more influence. 

Reddit is perhaps best known to non-redditors for the site’s live AMAs or “Ask Me Anything,” in which a famous or infamous person invites users to ask anything in a fast-moving conversation among thousands. Bill Gates’s AMA, for example, spawned 27,000 comments. But AMAs also include those who simply capture the imagination, such as Allena Hansen, who was severely mauled by a bear but managed to drive herself to get help. The conversations can be both touching and absurd, but because of reddit’s up-vote/down-vote methodology, even massive threads like these are easy to navigate.

This article originally appeared in the February 2014 issue of Chief Content Officer. Sign up to receive your free subscription to our quarterly magazine.