Failing and Pivoting

Alexis Ohanian

Lesson time 11:04 min

Learn from Alexis how to ignore your omnipresent distraction: competitors. Avoid obsessing over the competition and focus on your goal. Rather than replicating and reacting, be an innovator who moves forward instead.

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Topics include: Learn To Fail Fast • Pivot • Case Study: Pivoting


- There's this model of the Stanford grad, you know, perfect grades, 4.0 their whole lives, starts to start up, and ostensibly has all the quote, unquote pedigree that it might take. But as soon as they get punched in the face, which is a daily occurrence as a CEO, it's almost like there's a short circuit that happens. They've spent their entire career in education understanding how systems work and then doing whatever is necessary to check all the boxes. The problem is, entrepreneurship, starting anything, has no syllabus. There's no professor. There is only the cold, harsh reality of the market saying, more often than not, I don't actually want this. [MUSIC PLAYING] It's not my quote, but one of the greatest minds of this century once said, "sucking is the first step to being sort of good at something." This is actually from a cartoon called "Adventure Time," but I find it to be a really nice quote that sums up the mindset needed to be a successful entrepreneur. Any time anyone is doing any new thing they're going to be bad at it, even if they have every possible sort of inherent advantage. You know, they might be slightly less bad, but everyone is still bad when learning and doing a new skill. There is no blueprint and so that kind of resilience and ability to adapt is what really separates successful founders from ones who aren't. [MUSIC PLAYING] Failing fast is a crucial requirement of starting a startup because you don't have time to fail slowly. Failing slowly means your company is going to fail. You don't have the luxury of time. If something's not working, you have to recognize that quickly and try something else. Everything you do has to be about failing quickly to find that product market fit that I spoke of earlier and find the thing that an investor wants to invest in. And so running these little experiments and failing fast is so important. And it really starts to define great founders. And you see it happen in the first few months. That's why I think, for some founders who have had a whole career of academic success, like I talked about earlier, they actually struggle. Because when I say fail and fail fast, that's anathema to everything they've done their entire lives, right? Failure was never an option in school. Failure is a way of life as an entrepreneur. You might be there watching and thinking, well, I don't want to do that. Failing is not fun. That is a demoralizing thing to do. And you, Alexis, you know, you've come a long way. Failure is probably easy for you to deal with because of all the success you've had. But the reality is, there is a much greater risk to my failing on a new idea today for exactly the reason you said. And there's that proverb about the tree falling in the woods and if no one's around to hear it, does it really make a sound. If a company or a product launch fails and no one's there to see it, does it really fail? And so the advice I give to you, an...

About the Instructor

In 2005, UVA undergrad Alexis Ohanian envisioned a place online where users connect over subcultures—enter Reddit. That was only the start: From growing billion-dollar companies to championing female founders, Ohanian shaped culture. Now he wants to lead tomorrow’s innovators. Learn how to turn an idea into a startup with advice Alexis has shared with other entrepreneurs through his VC fund, Seven Seven Six.

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Alexis Ohanian

Reddit cofounder Alexis Ohanian teaches you how to turn an idea into a startup. Get the advice he’s shared through his VC fund, Seven Seven Six.

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