Making the world suck less

A few weeks ago, an Internet wunderkind paid a visit to The Oregonian to share lessons learned as a startup founder and online entrepreneur.

Alexis Ohanian, half of the two-person team that founded (the front page of the Internet) when they were undergraduates at the University of Virginia, was passing through Portland as part of a national tour to promote his book “Without Their Permission.”

It was an entertaining hour, during which Ohanian presented a few key ideas that guided him and fellow UVA student Steve Huffman during the founding of their startup and subsequent sale to Conde Nast.  The transaction made them multimillionaires just one year after they graduated in 2005 and gave Ohanian, the more vocal of the two, a platform from which to share their secrets of their success. (He turns 31 in April. And, btw, he was named after the boxer Alexis Arguello.)

His remarks that day, coupled with my recent reading of his book, provided a shot of encouragement and a big heaping of context for the digital journalism that my peers and I are doing at the Oregonian Media Group.

In addition, the book gave a useful glimpse at the mindset of a young, 21st Century entreprenohanianbookeur:

— Driven by a unique vision.

— Unafraid to take risks.

— Undeterred by setbacks.

—  Relentlessly resourceful.

— Evangelistic in marketing his idea.

— Opportunistic in establishing business relationships.

— Generous in sharing knowledge and expertise.

All those attributes and principles are tied together by a philosophy of doing this without seeking anyone’s approval – that is, “without their permission.”

“Their” being parents, employers, competitors, whatever.

In Ohanian’s world, the world isn’t flat – the World Wide Web is. And by that, he means anyone with a computer and an Internet connection has all he or she needs to exercise their freedom to experiment, create and invent the Next Big Thing.

By harnessing the power of the web, sharing content globally and dedicating yourself to solving a problem with an app or web site, anyone can make the world a cooler place to live – or, as Ohanian would put it, “make the world suck less.”


Alexis Ohanian

There’s much more that makes up this book: several examples of successful startups like airbnb, DonorsChoose, Kickstarter; a discussion of attempts in Congress to pass legislation that threatened to undermine the free and open Internet; and lots of do’s and don’ts for those hoping to establish their own online company.

“I’m writing this book to inspire as much as inform,” Ohanian writes in the introduction. “The Internet has tremendous potential for anyone who works with it. I want to lionize the efforts of some of the innovators who’ve benefited from this new medium and inspire others to join them in creating something themselves.”

For someone who’s a good deal older than those who make up Generations X or Y – the young adults who’ve grown up in an online world – “Without Their Permission” is a fast, light and informative read. Not unlike the best websites and apps , I found it useful AND easy-to-use.



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