Without Their Permission by Alexis Ohanian


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Success comes making the extra effort to engage your audience in a genuine and meaningful way. Learn how to persist and thrive from one of the founders of reddit.


13 lessons from…

Without Their Permission

– by Alexis Ohanian –


1) Execution is everything

Ideas are worthless. Far too often, founders are so enamored of perfecting their ideas that they don’t want to tell people about them. And then when they launch, they’re suddenly put in the position of having to tell their idea to everyone who’ll listen. You need something to actually talk about – and test.

2) Be compelling

The Internet is fickle and ruthless. Attention spans are short, and there’s always a cute cat video just a click away. That means you’ve got to be compelling. And you’ve absolutely got to make something people actually want or they’ll never stick around, let alone come back.

3) Identify genuine need

Start with a real problem. The thing is, sometimes people don’t realize they have a problem. You’ve undoubtedly encountered products or services that have frustrated you. Keep a notepad handy and write down whatever is upsetting you. There’s a good chance you’ll find a business in those notes.

4) Solve the hard problems

Another starting point is to have an idea that very few people other than the founders can actually build. These technical feats provide a natural defense against competition: remember, every hard problem you solve drops a massive obstacle in front of anyone who’d want to replicate you. Certain problems haven’t been solved because none of the few people smart enough to do so have made it happen.

5) Learn all about the industry you’re going into

If you’re not willing to really understand the industry you’re aspiring to reinvent, don’t bother starting a startup. Having industry experience is not only invaluable for building a great product or service, it also shows investors the dedication a successful founder needs to have.

6) Listen to early feedback

Once you’re up and running, spread the word and start watching how users interact with what you’ve built. Listen to how they’re talking about it. This is key. Those first hundred or so people who are willing to take a chance on a product they’ve never heard of are golden. Treat them well and get to the root of whatever problem it is that you’re not currently solving for them.

7) Give a damn

Give a damn about everything you’re building. Take pride in the products you make, the service you provide, and the company you build. Give more damns than anyone else, because there aren’t a lot of things a startup has going for it, except that its founders and employees certainly care more than the competition. And that makes all the difference.

8) Surprise and delight your customers

Many of us interact with the Internet through beautifully designed hardware that is ultimately still robotic, no matter how shiny. A chance to surprise and delight someone by doing something a little exceptional goes a long way because it provides a smack of awesome humanity upside the head.

9) Ignore your competition

If you’re solving an interesting problem, or just having success, there will always be competition. Online, the marketplace of ideas is so fluid that new entrants can have tremendous success in a short period of time (and existing players can fall off just as fast). In any case, it doesn’t help you to be looking back at competitors because you’ll find yourself lulled into replicating and reacting instead of innovating and moving forward.

10) Love your haters

When we launched reddit, I made a note of the exceptionally bad feedback we got. I printed out all our most vitriolic and negative feedback and created a ‘wall of negative reinforcement’ beside my desk. I loved all the negative feedback. I wanted to know exactly whom I’d be working to prove wrong.

11) Start with a strong team

You cannot succeed with a broken team, so hire wisely and fire quickly. Those first team members, whether they join as founders or employees, have a tremendous impact on your company’s fate. One ideal quality in an employee can be best summed up as ‘Gives a damn.’

12) Practice your pitch

You’d better be able to explain your company in an engaging and understandable way within a few sentences. Speak sincerely, not like a salesman, and hack away at the words in your pitch until they are as few and as jargon-free as possible. Explain it to the executives like they’re five.

13) Don’t dwell on the past

Once you get press, make note of it and then get rid of it. I heard a football coach talk about this once in an interview. Feel good about the win for twenty-four hours, and then get your mind off it and think about next week. Same goes for losses, too. But I especially don’t want to dwell on past accomplishments. Complacency, especially in this industry, is toxic.