The Career Setback That Led Alexis Ohanian to Start Reddit

The road to success is often paved with rejection.

Alexis Ohanian: Y Combinator Rejected Us

You’ve probably been there. You’re under consideration for the perfect job. You crush the interview and hit it off with your would-be boss. You even figure out you have that random friend in common from way back when! Then you get the call. "Sorry, we're going in another direction." Devastation.

Reddit’s founders know the feeling. As college students, Alexis Ohanian and Steve Huffman started a company called My Mobile Menu, or MMM. They pitched the idea to Y Combinator, the then-new startup breeding ground.  

“We went up to interview with them in Boston and gave the interview of our lives, just nailed it,” Ohanian said during an interview in the Bloomberg GO green room. “We were going to change the world with MMM. No one was going to wait in line again because you could just order from your phone.”

That’s not exactly what happened. Rejection came swiftly, and it hit Ohanian hard. They got the bad news that evening, and it “sucked,” he confessed. But in a twist of fate, Ohanian recalled,  Y Combinator’s Paul Graham telephoned the next morning. “He said, ‘Listen, we still don’t like your idea, but we like you guys. ... And if you’re willing to change your idea ... come up with something new, we’ll fund you.’” 

What came out of the subsequent meetings and conversations was Reddit, today the ninth-most-popular site in the U.S.

Ohanian and Huffman aren’t the only super-successful people who faced setbacks in their early careers. Walt Disney was rejected for a newspaper cartoonist job at the Kansas City Star. Steven Spielberg tried and failed to get into USC’s School of Cinema Arts—twice. Even Oprah Winfrey was fired as a local TV news anchor in Baltimore before she made it big with the Oprah Winfrey Show.

So the next time you hit a speed bump in your career, remember that the road to success is often paved with rejection, and don’t let the small stuff distract you from the big opportunities. Your next break could be a phone call away.

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