(MoneyWatch) Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian says his goal is to harness technology in the interest of "Making the World Suck Less." But the Forbes 30 Under 30 Brooklynite wasn't always on the path to entrepreneurship. At the University of Virginia he studied business and history, and was planning to become an immigration lawyer. But Ohanian had a change of heart his junior year; cajoled his best friend to join him in starting Reddit, and convinced venture capitalist Paul Graham to invest in it. Conde Nast bought Reddit in 2006. Ohanian now sits on Reddit's Board of Directors, invests in and advises 50 tech startups and is writing a book.
Rebecca Jarvis: How did Reddit come to be?
Alexis Ohanian: Steve Huffman and I applied to [startup incubator] Y Combinator -- the first class -- with a different idea: a way to order food from your mobile phone. It was way too soon, no one had smart phones back then (though I've since invested in orderaheadapp.com which is doing it), and YC rejected us. The next day they called me back and said we could join YC as long as we came up with a new idea. That new idea was to create "the front page of the internet."
RJ: What were you doing before you started Reddit?
AO: Getting a double major in history and business at UVA.
RJ: How do you make money? How long did it take before you started making money?
AO: Advertising and a digital good called "reddit gold" that users buy for one another. We were reluctant to cover the site in crappy ads when we started, so we patiently worked advertising in about six months after we launched, once we got a deal with a legit advertising company that would sell quality ad units. Even then we kept ads to just the comments pages because we didn't want an awful user experience. We could wait that long in part because our burn rate was so low -- Steve and I kept living like college students and didn't take a salary.
RJ: What's your number one piece of advice you have for other entrepreneurs?
RJ: If you could ask anyone for advice or have lunch with anyone, who would it be? What would you ask?
AO: Jay-Z. I really hope you guys can make this happen. I'd like to hear about coming up in Brooklyn, the specific moments that had life-changing impact on his trajectory of success, and the important business lessons he learned along the way. How can we use that experience to help all the other kids growing up on the wrong side of the digital divide?
RJ: Are you hiring? How do people get hired by a start-up?
AO: We are, but we don't have a hiring page. Almost all tech startups are hiring these days and usually a jobs/careers page is the way to go, but you could also just show your hustle by emailing a founder. That's worked on me.