Alexis Ohanian’s name may be synonymous with Reddit, but lately, he’s been creating some new notable partnerships. Ohanian is also half of the power couple formed with wife, tennis legend Serena Williams. The self-avowed hardcore coffee drinker also recently partnered with 1850 Coffee a heritage brand launched by Folgers. There’s also Initialized Capital, the San Francisco-based early-stage venture capital firm Ohanian co-founded. So how does Ohanian choose his partnerships and find ways to make them flourish?
Ladders caught up with Ohanian who shared tips on creating smart partnerships, finding your values and carving out a spectacular career – whether or not you’re a millennial.
Check the boxes
When asked how he chooses partnerships, Ohanian said “This is going to sound super corporate, but I think about what my values are as a person. It has to fit into this rubric. I think to myself – are these partnerships checking all these boxes? If they are, it’s a partnership I can look into.”
Don’t compromise on your reputation
Ohanian admitted one of his “least surprising” goals is “making the world suck less.” He admits that “It’s not quite as aspirational as making the world a better place, but the same idea stands.” For that reason, when choosing partners, Ohanian believes “This is a partnership that does some good. And it has to be done in a way that doesn’t compromise the reputation I’ve built for myself.”
Coming together for the greater good
Ohanian doesn’t share the zero-sum philosophy, in which people believe the successes of one person means the loss of someone else’s opportunities. “If you believe in a zero-sum world, you believe if you do well then someone else can’t. I don’t believe in that.” Instead, Ohanian says “I believe in all my partnerships creating something good for something else.”
Be worth investing in
In his guise as an angel investor, Ohanian says “I definitely didn’t aspire to be a VC. I don’t think anyone should (he chuckles). All the folks we’ve hired have been operators.” Ohanian explains operators as people “who have been there.” People who know how to “Sling code. Or they’ve done financial models or built marketing plans.” He believes these are people who understand not just their companies, but the difficulties of creating and sustaining a new business.
His startup mentality keeps Ohanian happy and engaged. “The reason I’m excited to wake up every day as a VC is because it’s a startup.” It also allows him to have more interesting downtime. “I keep thinking about the interesting conversations I have at home over dinner. I talk about the amazing founders that I meet. I love talking about all the startups. The 3 years I was working on the Reddit turnaround we went from 50 to 400 employees. Coming home from that was exhausting. Those aren’t fun stories to have at the dinner table. I relish the fact that I get to work on things that are fun now. And I want us to do it for dozens and dozens more (companies).”
Learn from your failures
Ohanian says “So much of what we do for early-stage companies is help founders avoid the landmines,” which he immediately recognizes “because we’ve seen them over and over again. And that’s a big part of our job.” He also guides startups by “providing their first 10 customers through our network or helping them close a first hire.” He describes these as “The things we can do because of our reputation. We get to make these investments in such an early stage that we’re doing a lot for the company. It’s a high leverage time to be investing in the company.”
Ain’t nothing but a number
Ohanian wants to disabuse people of the notion that new hires or new businesses favor millennials. “We’re not bias to a certain age. In popular culture, we have the idea of the millennial founder. Some of our founders are on our second or third career.”
Ohanian references a freight forwarding software company called Flexport which updates an international industry that’s been “historically managed through phone calls and a spreadsheet.” Ohanian says “They’re building something demonstrably cheaper, faster. There are few college grads obsessing about freight or old-fashioned businesses. They want to build the next Snap.
That’s why Flexport is so successful. There are very few people clamoring to build software for that.”
Work with Ohanian
Ready to turn your side hustle into the next big thing? now’s your chance. Ohanian and 1850 just launched their co-branded “Bold Pioneer “contest in which the winner receives $18,500 in funding and one-on-one mentoring from Ohanian.