Reddit’s co-founder began his speech at Columbia by making fun of its mascot.
“Really?” asked tech entrepreneur Alexis Ohanian, pointing to a projected slide of Roar-ee the Lion wearing a tuxedo. “My most important contributions to this world have come in the form of mascots, so believe me when I say you guys can do better.”
This joke set the tone for an evening filled with laughs as well as frank advice from Ohanian, who spoke to a packed Roone Arledge Cinema on Sunday night for the second stop on his 65-college tour.
Although the ostensible purpose of the tour is to promote his new book, “Without Their Permission,” Ohanian said his real motive is to encourage technological entrepreneurship and startup culture.
“Just please do something. Now is the time to get started,” he said. “Getting things done is going to matter a lot more than your GPA.”
In between jokes about Digg, bacon, Nyan Cat, “Star Trek,” and “The Dark Knight Rises,” Ohanian reassured the audience that the barriers standing in between them and “just doing something” were not insurmountable.
He told students they shouldn’t worry if they feel like they don’t know what they’re doing, and to embrace this feeling.
“If you meet anyone who tells you they know, they’re either lying, they’re delusional, or they’re not trying hard enough,” Ohanian said.
Jared Hecht, CC ’09 and co-founder of the popular group messaging app GroupMe, and Zach Sims, a former Columbia College student and co-founder of Codeaademy, a website that offers easy interactive courses in programming languages, both stressed the importance of independent initiative.
“I interviewed at Goldman Sachs and all that,” Sims said. Traditional 9-to-5 “jobs are great if you like money, but if you want to make an impact, I would tell you all to go out and start working at a startup right now. There will be no greater experience.”
Hecht said he was pleased to see the tech sector’s growing popularity at Columbia.
“If you had held this event when I was here, there would have been maybe 15, 20 kids who showed up,” he said.
When asked what Columbia can do to better support entrepreneurship on campus, Hecht said, “I think the main barriers are education, knowing that opportunities exist—guidance, really. To improve, Columbia should be investing heavily in getting undergrads into startups at any level. Not just engineers—anyone, any year, any major.”
Columbia Organization of Rising Entrepreneurs organized the event.
“We already knew he was going to be in New York, so we basically sent him a bunch of emails,” CORE Vice President Farsai Chaikulngamdee, SEAS ’14, said. “I know a lot of people here feel like finance and consulting are the only ways to go after graduation, and we really wanted to show that entrepreneurship can happen in other ways.”
Students said they enjoyed Ohanian’s speech but still expressed skepticism about the state of entrepreneurship at Columbia.
“I think we’re getting there. I think it’s a work in progress,” Nick Crosthwaite, Business ’14, said.
Others added that although some student groups encourage students to think about entrepreneurship, they feel the University could do more to support these projects.
“ADI helps, but right now that’s all our own initiative,” Dan Schlosser, SEAS ’16, said, referring to the Application Development Initiative, a student group focused on supporting and creating community among developers on campus.
“Things are getting better,” Nate Brennand, SEAS ’15, said. “But for our generation of students, Columbia really does nothing.”