Alexis Ohanian is turning off your comments.
Well, not literally. The 39-year-old Reddit co-founder and multimillionaire investor is one of the architects of social media, after all, and he has a reputation to uphold. But metaphorically, he’s done with the “quasi-anonymous” online noise — some of it helpful, much of it not — that has both paved his enormously successful career path and bombarded him daily for years.
“It's ugly now in tech. There's a lot of cynicism,” Alexis Ohanian laments during a Zoom interview with Money. Dressed casually in a dark sweater, he speaks softly but purposely, flashing the smile that has made him a winning personality among competitive Silicon Valley bosses. (It doesn’t hurt that his wife — and the mother of their 5-year-old daughter, Alexis Olympia Ohanian, Jr. — Serena Williams is one of the most lovable athletes on the planet.)
Ohanian is explaining how he’s “evolved” to become the positive-minded, proud #BusinessDad we see today, after running and then leaving in protest the colossal company he helped create.
And by extension, he’s also explaining how his mission has changed. What once cleverly read “making the world suck less” on his personal website now declares something far bolder, much less funny: Ohanian wants to be known for “making this world better — much better.”
“I think I leaned too much, early in my career, on things like humor or self-deprecation because I didn't want to sound too audacious. And I might have gotten that wrong,” he admits. “Because now I'm just trying to speak as plainly and frankly and earnestly as I can. And whether people believe it or not, or whether people are annoyed by it or not... I don't really care anymore.”
He, and the rest of the world, are still trying to figure out how he got here.
Ohanian’s tech rise started with a waffle.
Born in Brooklyn, New York, to an immigrant German-born mother and an Armenian father, Ohanian grew up in the suburbs of Baltimore. After a precocious adolescence making money as a website developer on the PC he convinced his parents to buy, he attended the University of Virginia with plans to enter law school.
But his direction veered when he left the LSAT 30 minutes in to head to a nearby Waffle House in Charlottesville, Virginia.
“While I was eating my waffle, I thought, ‘Gosh, if I don't want to be a lawyer, I probably should not be a lawyer,’” Ohanian says. So he went back to his apartment to “figure out what I was going to do with my life.”
In 2005, Ohanian co-founded Reddit, where he took on different roles over the years, making his split with the company in 2020 particularly dramatic. In the wake of the police killing of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man, and subsequent protests that roiled the U.S., many companies sought to curry public favor with statements in support of Black Lives Matter. Ohanian took a step most in his esteemed position would never: He quit.
“I believe resignation can actually be an act of leadership from people in power right now,” Ohanian wrote in his announcement. “To everyone fighting to fix our broken nation: do not stop.”
He urged Reddit to fill his board seat with a Black director and pledged to use future gains on Reddit stock to help the Black community, primarily by curbing racial hate.
By walking the talk, Ohanian got immediate results. The same month as his resignation, Reddit named its first Black board member, Y Combinator chief Michael Seibel. (It has since added another Black board member, Paula Price.) It also put in place a more vigorous ban on hate speech.
There were “a couple family dinner discussions” before the resignation, Ohanian says. But it was overwhelmingly a gut decision. He’s very aware of the fact that he’s married to a famous Black woman and fiercely devoted to his role as the father of a young Black girl.
His reasoning, in the end, was simple. He needed to put his money where his mouth was.
“At some point, my daughter is going to grow up and run some searches and read about things. I just couldn't live with that dissonance anymore, because I knew that we had tolerated communities like this for too long,” he says. “And so I made it known.”
Ohanian is now ready to stake his reputation on the new company that has become his baby: Seven Seven Six, better known as 776. It’s part for-profit VC firm with a focus on crypto (its portfolio includes the alternative asset trading platform Alt) and part nonprofit. The latter entity, known as the 776 Foundation, launched earlier this year with a 10-year, $20 million fellowship program that bankrolls young thinkers who opt out of college to design creative climate solutions.
The 776 Foundation’s “work and legacy will be around combating inequity,” Ohanian says. Rather than incentivizing a university education, climate change “was an obvious place to start” because “nothing else we do will really matter if the planet is unlivable.”
Ohanian’s plan doesn’t end there. He’s among the loudest business leaders supporting universal paid parental leave. He’s worked behind the scenes to push for a nationwide policy ensuring it, believing that it’s no longer a “question of if, it's just a question of when” paid family leave is federally codified.
Dads, he’s quick to note, must make a collective effort to reshape the thinking about working fathers who take time off to dedicate themselves to a critical period of child-rearing.
“My wife would hate me for describing it this way, but we think of our family like a startup,” Ohanian says, laughing. Here’s what he means by that: According to the dominant tech philosophy, a CEO who has been around since day zero building the fundamentals is obviously better than a CEO who swooped in at the end.
His argument to other dads: “Well, what kind of CEO do you want to be, sir?”
While it was “weird” coming to terms with his separation from Reddit, a kind of tech “child,” his actual flesh-and-blood kid made things plain. He’s grateful for the refreshed perspective, courtesy of Williams — a changemaker in her own right who recently retired from tennis with $450 million in career earnings and runs the investment firm Serena Ventures — and little Olympia — who’s recently made a splash on Instagram, where she has 650,000 followers.
“I went from being accountable to millions and millions of strangers on the internet” for coding bugs to gaining “clarity that came from becoming a dad,” he says. “Especially to a daughter of color, and especially with a mom, who… I have a front row seat to the shit that she deals with.”
Ohanian’s visionary streak hasn’t gone away. Sure, he might not dream of winning on the tennis court, but he does hope to be victorious as a father figure who uses his wealth and ever-growing influence to shake the status quo.
“I want to make sure that there's just as many people who go up to my daughter and tell her how proud they are of her dad, and that the things that her dad did were remarkable” as her mom, he says.
That starts with 776, which as both a VC firm and foundation expressly deploys capital to build the better, different world he wants to see. He challenges himself to “double down” on what’s effective and ditch what isn’t. The real work of helping people has only just begun; Ohanian says he’s “absolutely doing this for the rest of my life.”
Audacious? Maybe. But he’s getting comfortable with that — and listening to the people in his life who really matter, rather than the hordes who don’t.