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Inside the rise of Alexis Ohanian, the cofounder of Reddit and husband to Serena Williams

Avery Hartmans,Erin Snodgrass,Hannah Getahun   

Inside the rise of Alexis Ohanian, the cofounder of Reddit and husband to Serena Williams
Alexis Ohanian.Lucy Nicholson/Reuters
  • Alexis Ohanian rose from University of Virginia student to Reddit cofounder in a matter of years.
  • The entrepreneur is also known for his marriage to tennis superstar Serena Williams.

Alexis Ohanian's path to becoming the "Mayor of the Internet" wasn't a conventional one.

The Baltimore, Maryland-raised Ohanian initially thought he wanted to become a lawyer before an epiphany at a Waffle House made him realize he'd rather be an entrepreneur. He and his college best friend, Steve Huffman, went on to create Reddit, the online community site known as "the front page of the internet." Today, the company is worth billions.

Since selling Reddit in 2006, Ohanian has invested in startups through his venture capital firm, fought against federal bills that would have stifled internet innovation, and married tennis superstar Serena Williams.

Here's how Ohanian got his start and helped build one of the cornerstones of the internet.

Ohanian was born in Brooklyn, New York, and grew up in the Baltimore area

Ohanian was born in Brooklyn, New York, and grew up in the Baltimore area
Alexis Ohanian.      Reuters/Jason Reed/File Photo

He gave the student address at his high school graduation. "I was not the valedictorian; they just let anyone audition for the speech," Ohanian wrote on YouTube.

He attended the University of Virginia, where he met his Reddit cofounder

He attended the University of Virginia, where he met his Reddit cofounder
Alexis Ohanian in 2014.      Vince Talotta/Toronto Star via Getty Images

While at university, Ohanian met Steve Huffman, who would be his Reddit cofounder.

"I was terrified that no one played video games in college. But when I arrived at my dorm at the University of Virginia, Steve was playing Gran Turismo 2, and I was like, 'Hey, what's up?' We lived together all four years of college, then almost five years after," Ohanian told Inc in 2012.

The summer after their junior year, Ohanian and Huffman came up with the idea for a mobile food ordering company called MyMobileMenu and spent the following year working on it.

They pitched it to Y Combinator cofounder Paul Graham, who initially rejected them. The next day, however, Graham called them back and said he would accept them into the startup accelerator but not their business idea. "You guys need to build the front page of the internet," Graham told them, according to Inc.

Ohanian and Huffman built and founded Reddit in just three weeks in 2005

Ohanian and Huffman built and founded Reddit in just three weeks in 2005
Ohanian, left, and Steve Huffman.      Reddit

The then-bare-bones site featured just links and some text in its first iteration. The founders soon decided to add the option for comments.

"We knew our business was in our user base, that that was the most important part," Ohanian told Inc.

That same year, however, Ohanian was struck by two tragedies. His then-girlfriend fell from a balcony and went into a coma. She recovered months later.

Around the same time, his mother was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer. She died in 2008, according to The Baltimore Sun.

Ohanian and Huffman sold Reddit to Condé Nast in 2006.

Ohanian and Huffman sold Reddit to Condé Nast in 2006.
Alexis Ohanian said the Reddit sale was between $10 million and $20 million.      Noam Galai/Getty Images

The site had taken off, and its two cofounders decided to sell it to the magazine publisher shortly after launch for an undisclosed amount.

Ohanian has said the sale was between $10 and $20 million, Business Insider previously reported.

Three years after the sale, Ohanian left Reddit, taking a fellowship in Armenia, where his father's family is from. He also helped launch Breadpig, a "geek" marketplace that donates some of its profits, and travel website Hipmunk around this time.

Ohanian waded into internet advocacy in 2010

Ohanian waded into internet advocacy in 2010
Alexis Ohanian speaks at The University of Toronto in 2014.      Vince Talotta

He became an outspoken opponent of the Stop Online Piracy Act, or SOPA. He helped organize anti-SOPA protests and said at the time that Congress was going to "obliterate an entire tech industry" if it passed the bill.

Ohanian was called to testify before Congress, but the bill was killed before he could do so.

He later formed the Internet Defense League, an organization that worked to inform and mobilize website users against oppositional legislation, describing the group as a "Bat Signal for the internet" in a comment to Forbes.

By 2015, things had taken a turn for both Reddit and Ohanian and Huffman's friendship

By 2015, things had taken a turn for both Reddit and Ohanian and Huffman
Reddit cofounders Steve Huffman, left, and Alexis Ohanian.      Zach Gibson/Getty Images; Reuters/Tony O'Brien

Reddit became an independent subsidiary of Condé Nast's parent company in 2011. But in the following years, the site was overrun by racist trolls and multiple CEOs filtered through.

Ohanian and Huffman also drifted apart. But the former friends came back together in 2015, determined to work on their friendship and help turn around Reddit, the duo told NPR.

That period of time wasn't without controversy, however. Yishan Wong, one of Reddit's former CEOs, has said that Ohanian was behind the decision to fire a popular employee in 2015. The firing caused an uproar that resulted in then-CEO Ellen Pao stepping down.

"When the hate-train started up against Pao, Alexis should have been out front and center saying very clearly 'Ellen Pao did not make this decision, I did,'" Wong wrote on Reddit at the time. "Instead, he just sat back and let her take the heat."

Ohanian co-founded a venture capitalist firm in 2016

Ohanian co-founded a venture capitalist firm in 2016
Alexis Ohanian and Initialized cofounder Gary Tan.      Justin Sullivan

The rising tech star started Initialized Capital with Garry Tan that year. The firm prided itself at the time on its investing team, which was 50% female.

That same year, Ohanian met his future wife, tennis superstar Serena Williams

That same year, Ohanian met his future wife, tennis superstar Serena Williams
The couple met in 2015.      Earl Gibson III/Getty Images

He had previously dated microbiologist Sabriya Strukes, whom he met in college. The couple broke up sometime around 2015, according to Vanity Fair.

Ohanian met Williams in Rome when he sat next to her outside by a hotel pool. She was there to play her first match in the Italian Open, the outlet reported. He was there for a conference.

The couple's first date took place before the French Open in June 2015. According to Vanity Fair, Williams invited Ohanian to Paris to see her play and they ended up walking around Paris for six hours before the tournament began. Ohanian soon became a fixture at Williams' matches, often showing up in the stands to watch her play.

Ohanian told the outlet he was certain he wanted to marry Williams by April 2016.

"I felt like a door had been opened to a person who made me want to be my best self," he said.

Ohanian proposed to Williams in December 2016

Ohanian proposed to Williams in December 2016
Alexis Ohanian and Serena Williams at the Met Gala.      Photo by Getty Images

He proposed at the same hotel he and Williams had met at in Rome. Williams announced the engagement on Reddit: She had Ohanian draw her a customized version of Reddit's alien logo, "Snoo," and called herself the "future Mrs. Kn0thing," referencing Ohanian's Reddit username.

In early January 2017, Williams and Ohanian found out they were expecting a baby together, right before Williams was scheduled to play in the Australian Open. She went on to win the Australian Open while she was eight weeks pregnant.

The couple welcomed a baby girl in 2017

The couple welcomed a baby girl in 2017
Alexis Ohanian (center), Olympia Ohanian (left), and Serena Williams.      Charles Krupa/AP

Alexis Olympia Ohanian Jr. was born on September 1, 2017.

Two months later, Ohanian and Williams got married at the Contemporary Arts Center in New Orleans.

In August 2023, the couple welcomed their second daughter, Adira River Ohanian.

Since the birth of his daughters, Ohanian has become an advocate for paternity leave. In a 2019 New York Times op-ed, he explained why it was so important that he took paid leave following Olympia's birth.

"I took my full 16 weeks and I'm still ambitious and care about my career. Talk to your bosses and tell them I sent you," Ohanian wrote.

Ohanian also started a podcast called "Business Dad," where he interviews other celebrity dads, like "Patriot Act" host Hasan Minhaj and retired NBA star Chris Bosh.

Ohanian stepped down from Reddit's board in June 2020

Ohanian stepped down from Reddit
Reddit cofounder Alexis Ohanian at IGNITION.      Jin S. Lee/Business Insider

Amid nationwide protests following the death of George Floyd, a Black man who died in police custody, Ohanian quit the board of Reddit, calling his resignation "long overdue."

He said his decision was spurred by him being "a father who needs to be able to answer his Black daughter when she asks: 'What did you do?'" He called on Reddit to name a Black board member, which the company did by appointing Michael Seibel.

Ohanian also shared a personal story from before he founded Reddit, saying police found him passed out in his car while drunk and high.

"Because I was white. I walked away + started Reddit, not jail time," Ohanian tweeted. "I'm grateful for that police officer's tolerance with me + disgusted that it's so obviously not (never) been afforded to everyone just because of their race."

Ohanian has continued to keep a foot in the investing world since leaving Reddit

Ohanian has continued to keep a foot in the investing world since leaving Reddit
Ohanian.      Andrew Couldridge/Reuters

In 2020, he was the lead investor in Angel City FC, a new franchise in the National Women's Soccer League, which began playing in 2022.

Ohanian ended his partnership at Initialized in June 2020 but announced a new venture capital firm called Seven Seven Six the following year. Forbes reported that the company's debut fund closed at $150 million.

The firm sought to prioritize investing in startups led by underrepresented communities like women and people of color, Seven Seven Six partner Katelin Holloway previously told Business Insider.

By mid-2021, Seven Seven Six made 20 investments in startups like Pearpop — an influencer marketing platform.

Williams reveals she's pregnant at the 2023 Met Gala

Williams reveals she
Serena Williams and Alexis Ohanian at the 2023 Met Gala.      Taylor Hill/Getty Images

Williams, wearing a black Gucci dress and pearls, showed off her baby bump while standing on the red carpet beside Ohanian at the March 2023 Met Gala.

"Was so excited when Anna Wintour invited the 3 of us to the Met Gala," Williams shared in an Instagram caption.

Williams also revealed that she had to keep the pregnancy a secret from her daughter Olympia until the day of the Met Gala.

"Olympia does not know right now that I am pregnant, so the big reveal will be at the Met, and then before we leave, I'll tell Olympia," Williams said in a video clip shared on Instagram "The reason I haven't told her is because she can't keep a secret."

Ohanian and Williams welcomed their second child in 2023

Ohanian and Williams welcomed their second child in 2023
Williams and Ohanian in July 2023      Megan Briggs/Getty Images

Ohanian announced the birth of his second daughter, Adira River Ohanian, in an Instagram post in October 2023.

Ohanian called Williams "the GMOAT" — or the greatest mother of all time.

Ohanian added in the post that Williams has "now given me another incomparable gift" and that he will "never forget the moment I introduced [Olympia] to her baby sister."

Ohanian scores a Cybertruck

Ohanian scores a Cybertruck
Screenshot from X of Cybertruck Delivery Event

On November 30, during Tesla's Cybertruck Delivery Event in Texas, Ohanian was the third in line to pick up his futuristic electric truck.

Ohanian later revealed to The Verge newsletter that he was a fan of the car and said that the Cybertruck "handles even better" than his Tesla Model X.

Ohanian also revealed that he enjoys the ample legroom in the car.

"As a big fella, this is the first car that really feels comfortable to me," Ohanian told The Verge.

This article has been updated since its initial 2020 publication.

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