Last night the Paulsen auditorium in Stern, which has horrible cell service and no wifi for non-Sternies, was packed full of wonderfully nerdy people who care about Reddit. Why? Alex Ohanian, cofounder of the popular site, was the in the building.
Ohanian is on his 5-month-long bus tour, which stops at 75 universities nationwide, to promote his new book “Without Their Permission” about his experience becoming a startup founder and his general thoughts on tech topics like the beloved SOPA and PIPA.
There’s always a chance that generic “college tour talks” will suck, but Ohanian did not let the audience down. Hardly a minute went by without a burst of laughter from the crowd. He even brought with him some well researched information on NYU, namely on our mascot history (which included a breakdown of bobcat mascot costumes) and our rich sports culture (haha, nonexistent). Way to hit us where it hurts.
Aside from that gentle ribbing, he spoke about his jealousy for the opportunity NYU students have been given that weren’t available to him in college. Although he is now in charge of arguably one of the most influential sites on the web, Ohanian wasn’t allowed to take an entrepreneurial class when he was at college at UVA. So now he’s visiting universities to spread his knowledge and support of the awesome opportunities we have (aka be a little less cynical, NYU).
But at the same time, college isn’t strictly about the courses you’re allowed to take; as cliche as it sounds, it’s about the journey. “75-stop-book-tour? I have no idea what the fuck I’m doing,” Ohanian said. “That’s okay. It’s about figuring shit out, and you’re probably going to suck at first.” He used the founder of HONY, Brandon Stanton, who failed out of college only to become one of the most recognized and shared photographers of our time.
Additionally, Ohanian has been using his university tour as an opportunity to interview and highlight school alums. In this case, he spoke with Lexi Lewtan, recent Gallatin grad and current Betaworks employee, who interviewed Josh Kushner at last week’s Tech@NYU keynote.
Lewtan and Ohanian spoke about how she found her way into a job and how her NYU education helped her on her path. At one point, we kid you not, Ohanian said, “magic Gallatin credits” when referencing the school. Can you say he’s our new hero?
Their conversation touched on the topic of internships, and Lewtan stressed that she sees a lot of value in these hands on experiences. Ohanian agreed that internships are awesome, but understood the less-than-ideal reality of needing to work for free to get your foot in the door. “Unpaid internships are fucked up,” he said. “If anyone ever tries to offer you one, just say, ‘Alexis says you’re full of shit.’” The crowd, again, echoed laughter; perhaps no student body knows the pain of internship like ours.
Ohanian even tried to extract some nonexistent and uncomfortable school spirit from the audience by inducing an “NYU chant” of sorts. He’s trying to collect video montages of different schools chanting their song or theme. Of course, NYU doesn’t have one. So we all lamely chanted N-Y-U. And that’ll be the memorable mark we leave on this world. Hopefully one day we’ll be juxtaposed with ASU or Cooper Union, who apparently sat in complete silence throughout their video.
Ohanian closed his talk with a lively Q and A, covering topics on transparency and politics to the openness of Reddit as a site. Post-event, he announced that he would be at West 3rd Common for some chatting and maybe a few shots — because he wasn’t already cooler than all of us had imagined.
[Photo by Brittany VanBibber]