Posted January 14th, 2014 by Engineering

Reddit Co-founder to Aspiring U of T Entrepreneurs: Failure is an Option

Alexis Ohanian and Yuri Sagalov

Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian (left) joins Yuri Sagalov, U of T Engineering alumnus and AreoFS co-founder (right).

Before co-founding one of the Internet’s most popular websites, Alexis Ohanian suffered some pretty big failures. The biggest was My Mobile Menu, a mobile app that could allow users to order food before arriving at restaurants.

It was an idea ahead of its time (smartphones were still rare) so when Ohanian and partner Steve Huffman pitched the notion to venture capitalist Paul Graham he was quick to reject it.

Ohanian and Huffman conceived Reddit and the rest is Internet history. The popular social news site had 100 million visitors in the last month alone, clicking through five billion pages of articles, photos and videos.

“Sucking is the first step to being sort of good at something,” explained Ohanian to over 300 University of Toronto students this week, hosted by the U of T Engineering’s Entrepreneurship Hatchery.

Ohanian eagerly recalled his post-university days of inventing Reddit, encouraging students to, “start having ideas and do them. Don’t let ‘I don’t know what I’m doing’ stop you from doing it.”

Ohanian was joined by U of T alumnus, Yuri Sagalov (EngSci 0T8 + PEY), who recently co-founded AeroFS, a start-up offering a file syncing and storage tool for businesses that need increased online security.

“My advice is to build something that you’re passionate about,” urged Sagalov, who hasn’t been immune to failures either. During an early funding pitch, he once had a potential investor get up and walk right out of the room. AeroFS overcame these early hurdles to attract investment from the likes of Reddit’s Ohanian and others.

Joseph Orozco, Executive Director of The Entrepreneurship Hatchery, said failure is okay, as long as it’s not the end. “This is the time to take the risk. And if students have an idea, the Hatchery is a great place to start.”

Now in its second year, the Hatchery boasts a team of experienced mentors and 48 student entrepreneurs. Students are hatching ideas like Air Xposure, an affordable way to take aerial video using helicopter drones, and Modly, a portable lighting system for smartphone photos.

The Entrepreneurship Hatchery will continue to grow in its new home in the Centre for Engineering Innovation & Entrepreneurship (CEIE) a dynamic new environment that will foster creativity and inspire 21st-century learning and innovation. CEIE is set to break ground later this year.

Ohanian’s visit to U of T kicks off the second leg of a North American tour promoting his new book, Without Their Permission: How the 21st Century Will Be Made, Not Managed, which includes 77 university stops.

“Why 77 universities?” Ohanian finished, “because this is what I wish I’d been told when I was in school.”