Posts by Author Alexis Ohanian

Zero Lives Remaining - Reflecting on the last 10 years since losing my mom


System of a Down blaring on my stereo, I scrawled this on my bedroom wall at some point in my angsty teens. I noticed I’d always played video games better when I was on my last life. Back when video games were hard, you’d get a finite number of lives before it was game over and there was nothing like being on that last life to sharpen your focus.

I didn’t realize at the time just how important that idea would become to me, but it hit me within the first few months of founding Reddit. I’ve written about what transpired, but only recently have I started talking about the effect that losing my mother — after a three year long battle with brain cancer — had on me.

Last week was the 10-year anniversary of her passing. I called my dad like I do every year on this day and we caught up, shared memories, and remembered her. A lot has changed in the last year; she would have been so happy at my wedding. (We had it on her birthday.) Mom would be giving my wife’s mom some serious competition for Junior’s biggest fan. She’d also be really happy for me to be back working alongside Garry Tan at Initialized.

This seemed like a good time for reflection. As entrepreneurs, we are all so busy “crushing it” that physical health, let alone mental health, is an afterthought for most founders. It took me years to realize that the way I was feeling— when working on Reddit was the only therapy I had — was depression.

It was a thick fog that always lingered, muting good feelings and amplifying bad feelings. It showed up just before my mom was diagnosed, because my then-girlfriend had a serious accident while studying abroad; and it settled in for the next few years. I don’t recall when it went away, but it was sometime after mom passed. I felt lighter again. Someone turned the volume back up on life.

I haven’t felt it in a long time and I’m grateful for it, but it doesn’t take losing a loved one to feel this way, especially with the pressures of entrepreneurship. When you’re struggling, talk to someone. It can be a professional, a family member, or even a stranger can be helpful in getting you into a better headspace (that’s one reason why we invested in 7cups).

We’re all a work in progress.

Executives Need Coaches, Too

I only got an executive coach three years ago and it’s easily been one of the most valuable investments I’ve made in myself professionally, and personally. We often push founders to executive coaches and consistently check-in with them in good times and bad to make sure they’re taking care of themselves.

And why shouldn’t executives have coaches? The greatest athletes in the world all have coaches. They’re the only professionals who have real, quantifiable, undeniable wins and losses. The rest of us are bullshitting each other by ‘keeping score’ using revenue numbers, headcount, or valuations — athletes actually win or lose every day they go into work.

I’d argue every profession, especially if you’re trying to be the best, should have some form of coaching. And that makes me bullish on a company like Torch, providing those services at scale. One day, it will seem absurd to be an executive, or even a manger, and not have a coach — as absurd as it’d be to see a basketball team take the court without their coaches courtside.

You’re going to need to keep growing as a leader and getting outside perspective and guidance is a natural part of the process. Take care of yourself because you’re not getting uploaded to the cloud anytime soon. And when things do get hard, which they will, you especially need to prioritize your well-being.

Take Ownership Of Your Most Valuable Asset

Yourself. That starts with exercise and wellness for your body and your mind. I waited until I was going to be a father to start taking this seriously. That was idiotic. Moderate the garbage you’re putting into your body and commit yourself to a healthy routine — you don’t need any equipment to do a wide range of bodyweight exercises or go for a run. Founders especially will forget this because we’re so busy out-grinding one another.

Your environment has an outsized effect on your outcomes. It’s not just the people you surround yourself with (remember: you’re the average of your five closest friends) but also the places where you spend your time. Your work, your home, that amazing spot where you finally use some of your vacation time… get yourself out of situations and away from people who are not making you better. You only need an internet connection to change your perspective in a minute (see the community at r/getmotivated).

Our time is all going to be up at some point and when you’re (hopefully) looking back on it, the people and experiences you have in your life will be what you cherish or regret. I know because I saw it firsthand and getting that privilege at 22 meant I could live those years of boundless energy and optimism with some of the wisdom of someone much older.

You’ve got one life remaining, don’t squander it.

Alexis, Fully Initialized

Today, I’m very excited to return to Initialized Capital as a full-time General Partner alongside my longtime friend and collaborator Garry Tan.

Here’s a little history first. Initialized launched in 2011. Before that, Garry and I were having success as angel investors and founders kept telling us we were providing more value than other much better funded investors.

Before long, we’d raised $7 million for our first Initialized fund, which made seed investments into startups like Instacart and Coinbase. We were on to something.

Since then, we have grown to manage more than $250 million, which is invested in companies that are now worth more than $20 billion (including six unicorns, or startups that are worth over one billion dollars). We’ve recruited a remarkable team of partners, and built a ton of software to scale all of the traditionally high-touch, and less scalable parts of the venture business to better serve our founders.

We want to be the first check and we want to do the work — we aspire to be the kind of investors we wish we’d had when we were founders. And after more than three years of serving back at Reddit, my first “baby” is in a much better place and has a great team in place.

Now I’m back at Initialized with even bigger ambitions than when we started. As a new father of a five-month-old little girl, I want to make sure the world she inherits is as great as possible. This depends on the entrepreneurs of today and tomorrow building companies that truly matter.

Photo credit: Chuck Revell

Why Initialized Capital Invested in Open Listings

Buying a home has gotten easier, faster & more attainable with software

Homebuyers don’t want an agent. They want a home. Here I am in my home, thanks to Open Listings.

In 2015, I needed help buying a home in San Francisco and turned to the founders of Open Listings. It was quick and painless. I knew what I wanted, and they were able to get me that home on my terms.

A few months ago, we caught up with them again in LA to talk about their business, and it became quickly obvious that they had made a lot of progress. What these founders have done since graduating Y Combinator in the Winter of 2015 is remarkable. They’ve built a product that delights customers — they closed over 64 homes last month alone — and saved buyers millions. (Open Listings splits 50% of the commission with homebuyer, which is $8,000 on average).

It’s a win-win situation for their buying agents as well. The key? Efficiency.

Traditional agents normally spend 80% of their time looking for new clients or driving potential buyers around. Since buyers come to Open Listings directly and browse homes on their own time, agents only have to focus on getting offers accepted. This allows them to pass the savings along.

With housing prices steadily increasing, this commission refund is real money for the young families, first-time homeowners & immigrants that turn to Open Listings. As house hunting becomes more digital, software efficiency should save buyers time and help make home buying more affordable. We continue to be excited by founders who show relentless discipline and commitment to making something people love. They’ve done the hardest part, and now it’s time to focus on growth. The Initialized team is thrilled to roll up our sleeves and dive in.

It certainly doesn’t hurt when one of us is already a very happy customer.

Go ahead, start househunting!

Why Initialized Capital Invested in AdQuick

We love the idea that file-cabinet industries are doomed. People are used to world-class software for taking photos of their kale salads at lunch, but come back to the office to do their jobs using terrible or no software. That’s an opportunity. You can see the theme in our seed investments investments like FlexportOpenDoor, and Bellhops. Today we’re announcing that we led the seed round in AdQuick.

Buying out-of-home advertising is no exception: information asymmetry, multiple phone calls, and dozens upon dozens of emails and attachments. And it’s a $40 billion global business that’s not going away if you believe we will keep leaving our homes. It’s also the only growing traditional ad medium.

Wasted time, human error, and unnecessary costs can be curbed with software and Adquick was the first of these companies promising that future who actually delivered a quality software product in the present. I’m no stranger to buying billboards, so the concept resonated with me immediately, but it wasn’t until Garry and I sat down with the founders (former Instacart [Fund I] employees) that we saw how diligent they’d been with little to no funding.

We’ve seen pitches for this business for almost a decade, but this was easily the most impressive technical execution and at a remarkably early stage.

Starting a company in the internet age means you don’t need to open a factory, you only need to open a laptop, but far too few founders have as much to show for it as Matt, Fahim, and Connor did. A modern, searchable map interface combined with unique tracking data to help marketers show elusive ROI on out-of-home ads made this a really formidable pitch despite only being a 5 month old business.

It helped that I’ve ordered some outdoor advertisements, but the reference checks ranged from incumbents like H&R Block to upstarts like OVO all came back effusive. If a range of customers, who learned about you organically, love your b2b product that much and you’ve only just begun — we’re interested.