Reddit co-founder urges entrepreneurs to dive in during Launch Fest in New Orleans

Alexis Ohanian at Launch Fest.JPG
Alexis Ohanian, co-founder of the Reddit social news web site, speaks to New Orleans entrepreneurs at Launch Fest 2013 at the New Orleans Museum of Art on May 2, 2013. (Mark Waller, | The Times-Picayune)

Mark Waller, | The Times-PicayuneBy Mark Waller, | The Times-Picayune 
on May 02, 2013 at 6:32 PM, updated May 02, 2013 at 7:28 PM

 The co-founder of the social news and opinion web site Reddit, which reported almost 70 million visitors last month, offered a pep talk to New Orleans entrepreneurs on Thursday duringLaunch Fest, an event designed to link the energy of Jazzfest with start-ups in the city. Alexis Ohanian advised entrepreneurs to dive into their projects wholeheartedly, promote them boldly and add personal touches to their dealings with the customers who support them, including handwritten thank you notes.

“Be a little audacious,” said Ohanian, whose most famous start-up now is owned by Advance Publications, the same company that owns and The Times-Picayune. “Try doing things that your competitors, especially in the mainstream, would never do.”

He gave the examples of slapping Reddit stickers on signs in Boston, or walking around New York’s Times Square in a mascot costume for another one of his enterprizes without bothering to seek a license as a street performer. “Just kind of do it until it’s a problem,” he said.

Ohanian described eschewing what he called “the Hollywood launch,” spending little on advertising, being amenable to Reddit users making their own art with the company’s logo, embracing critics as motivating forces – “You’re going to find the haters; Hug them out.” – and starting the fortuitous chain of networking that led him to Conde Nast, the unit of Advance that originally bought Reddit.

Ohanian now serves as an ambassador for Y Combinator, a Silicon Valley start-up coaching program. And he has started a travel booking service called Hipmunk and a philanthropic fund-raising marketplace called Breadpig.

Launch Fest, timed to the Thursday session of the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival Presented by Shell and the affiliated Sync Up music business conference, also included speeches by New Orleans and out-of-town entrepreneurs, advice from representatives of investor funds and presentations by eight start-ups to an auditorium of potential investors at the New Orleans Museum of Art.

Chris Schultz, a founder of the Launch Pad business incubator that has produced the event for four years, said a goal is to introduce investors visiting the city for Jazzfest to local entrepreneurs.

Among the speakers were Dick Talens, who grew up in New Orleans and co-founded the New York-based Fitocracy, an online, social, game-inspired physical fitness program, and Patrick Comer, chief executive of the New Orleans-based Internet market research firm Federated Sample.

“I think the best way to get started is just to do it,” and not get too fixated on plans and research, Talens said. His fitness service has more than 1 million users. “We just wanted to create a cool product for people to log their workouts.”

Comer described his approach to using data to gauge the progress of his company. He keeps a monitor in the lobby of his office showing his top metric, the number of online surveys processed, which on Thursday stood above 2.5 million. He said the company is working toward 10 million, a prominent goal for the entire staff.

“Metrics have a strong emotional response,” he said. “We actually care. It’s a very personal thing.”

Eight entrepreneurs armed with slideshows touted their firms after the speeches: fundraising platform Anedot, hospital workforce productivity service StaffInsight, Internet-based restaurant worker training resource Sidework, rental service for owners of luxury properties Dreanie, tax credit marketplace eTax Credit Exchange, video-based music education application Tutti Dynamics, email management service Engine, and school substitute teacher staffing portal Enriched.

Unlike other business pitch contests that unfold throughout the year in New Orleans, no winners were announced. But the entrepreneurs, audience members and investors adjourned to a networking reception.