Reddit cofounder Alexis Ohanian says we need to move past ‘hustle porn’ and have a more realistic understanding of what it takes to be successful

Reddit and Initialized Capital cofounder Alexis Ohanian speaks at Business Insider's 2018 IGNITION conference.

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Reddit and Initialized Capital cofounder Alexis Ohanian speaks at Business Insider’s 2018 IGNITION conference.
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Jin S. Lee

  • Entrepreneur and investor Alexis Ohanian spoke against the popularity of an online “success” culture promoting constant exhaustion.
  • He said his experience building Reddit and working with his cofounders taught him successful businesses require mental and physical well-being.
  • He said his wife, Serena Williams, taught him that while periods of intensity are necessary, rest is just as important.

Go onto Instagram and search for success-related tags or check out some of the top “influencers,” and you’re sure to find plenty of material espousing the virtues of forgoing sleep and working on a 24-7 schedule.

Reddit and Initialized Capital cofounder Alexis Ohanian calls this “hustle porn,” and he finds it not only toxic but incorrect.

“It’s obviously a ton of work to be an entrepreneur. It’s insulting to even have to say that – everyone knows that,” Ohanian told Business Insider’s US editor in chief, Alyson Shontell, at our 2018 IGNITION conference. And he acknowledged that building a business requires late nights. “But if you’re pushing four hours of sleep every night, the quality of your work is going to plummet pretty damn quick, and there’s value to things like rest, there’s value to things like having someone to talk to, whether it’s an executive coach or a therapist or both.”

It’s advice that applies to all entrepreneurs, but it also applies anyone who has an ambitious approach to their career.

Read more: Reddit cofounder Alexis Ohanian issued an ominous warning for Facebook: ‘We’ve hit peak social’

The year Ohanian and his cofounders started working on Reddit in 2005 was especially difficult for him. His girlfriend at the time had a nearly fatal accident that put her in a coma. Then, two months later, on the same day he learned the family dog died, his mom had a seizure that led to a diagnosis of terminal brain cancer. She died in 2008.

“There were some dark months there, like living in the middle of an interminable fog. Upon reflection, I was probably suffering from depression for most of that startup. If you happened to meet me during that time, you probably wouldn’t have known it,” Ohanian wrote in 2010, the year he left Reddit.

In that essay, he credited the grind of building a company with helping him get through it, but eight years later, he sees things differently. “I didn’t talk to a therapist or an executive coach for many, many years after my mom passed,” he told Shontell. “And what I was doing to myself was coming at the expense of my physical and my mental health, and ultimately making our business less great.”

Ohanian’s wife, tennis legend Serena Williams, helped him appreciate this, he said. “One of the most important parts of her training that you rarely see is the fact that when she is not training, she’s off,” he told Shontell. “Like off. Her business stops, she shuts everything off and creates time for herself.” It’s not as exciting as a montage of her intense physical regimen leading up to a match, but it’s as important.

He said this same concept applies to business. Everyone needs down time, and similar to the way athletes have coaches and trainers, everyone should seek help from others during their struggles.

“And frankly, I don’t know a single unicorn founder, a founder of a billion-dollar company, that spends any of her time posting hustle porn on Instagram,” Ohanian said. “Correlation or causation, up to you, but I think it’s really important that we start being a little more authentic about what it takes in order to be successful, and a big part of that is taking care of yourself.”

Ohanian’s interview begins in the video below around 2:37:36.