Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian on parental leave, artificial intelligence and ‘hustle porn’

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Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian on parental leave, artificial intelligence and ‘hustle porn’

Reddit co-founder and new dad Alexis Ohanian sees your Instagram posts bragging about how hard you work.

“It goes without saying if you want to be an entrepreneur, if you want to be successful at your career, you have to work hard,” Ohanian said during a recent Q&A. “The problem is when people misconstrue the act of flexing on social, or showing off on social as a kind of work. Bragging about self destructive behavior over the long term is stupid. Worse that it’s dangerous.”

Ohanian speaks from experience. He co-founded Reddit in 2005, and the website has since become one of the most-visited destinations on the internet ahead of Twitter and Yahoo, according to website analytics service Alexa.

Ohanian, a known but low-key figure in the technology industry for years, is now better known to the general public as the husband of tennis superstar Serena Williams and dad to Alexis Olympia, who turned one in September. He is currently a managing partner at the venture capital firm Initialized Capital.

In an interview, Ohanian spoke about what it’s like to be a father and why he decided to become a brand partner and spokesperson for Unilever-owned Dove Men+Care to bring attention to parental leave. Ohanian also touched on why it might be hard to discern the truth on the internet in times to come, why “hustle porn” is wrong, and why rest is critical to good performance. This interview has been edited for brevity.

Q: Why are you supporting paid paternity leave?

A: I’ve been a proud taker of parental leave, and at the time I really just wanted to get the word out as a means of encouraging other men to take advantage. Very few men have access to paid leave policy in this country.

Dove has built a brand around supporting dads. So when they said they wanted to support paid parental leave in particular, I got excited. They, to their credit, have launched a $1 million commitment for dads to take their time off during this important time.

Q: Did you take off?

A: We had 16 weeks at [Reddit], and as the founder I wanted to set the bar by taking full advantage of it, and I’m back to work. This is a life-changing event, and what more employers are realizing is that their people are not going to perform at their best unless they know the home front is secure and taken care of, and that’s what this offers.

Tech is one industry. It is overall pretty advanced on the leave policy and still not enough is done. For so many Americans, there isn’t even an opportunity for paid leave, so this is all a step in the right direction.

We can start to turn the tide and actually get a real win here. This country needs something with bipartisan support to rally around, and so far whether it’s the president’s State of the Union, Ivanka Trump has spoken out about it, and a number of Democratic and Republican senators and representatives have talked about this being an issue they want to solve.

Q: You talked about “Hustle Porn” and working very hard in tech culture. Can you talk about the feedback you’ve got on it?

A: I have had a really resounding response from people who have appreciated the fact that this is a really unhealthy farce. It goes without saying if you want to be an entrepreneur, if you want to be successful at your career, you have to work hard. The problem is — and I dubbed it “hustle porn” — the problem is when people misconstrue the act of flexing on social or showing off on social as a kind of work. Bragging about self destructive behavior over the long term is stupid. Worse that, it’s dangerous.

Being a high performer in whatever career you have requires a tremendous amount of physical and mental stress at work, and every human has a breaking point. You look at the people who are succeeding in our society, I would argue it is sport. What you’ll find is every single one of them has an important value placed on rest, has an important value placed on taking time away, because that recovery time is as important or more important than the actual work you are putting in.

I feel like there’s a ripple effect now, because it is dangerous when so many people are sacrificing themselves, physically and mentally, to the point where it is not just hurting them, it is also hurting their businesses. The dialogue around it is changing. People are seeing everything now from therapy to executive coaching become less stigmatized and, more importantly, embraced. We backed a company, Torch, that is building a software solution for executive coaching within companies and making it as easy as possible to get access to, and it continues to change the discussion.

Q: Misinformation on the internet is a big topic right now. Do you have thoughts on what the tech companies are doing to combat it?

A: Right now, we have a really important opportunity for media literacy, for education, that still isn’t part of any curriculum. We are at a point in the next few years where it will actually be very hard because of artificial intelligence software. It will be very hard to discern truth, and you’ve probably seen a few of these videos.

You’ve seen the one with President Obama. They did the voiceover and had him saying some funny stuff. Technology is going to be one of the biggest challenges here. Because what we’re seeing is more and more advanced mechanisms to potentially create artificial content using artificial intelligence, and I think this is going to need to come back to heightened media literacy among all of us. But it will be a major issue for us to have to deal with in the next 10 years in society.

Q: You’re an investor in tech companies. Can you name a few companies that you’re interested in?

A: To the point about artificial intelligence, I do think we’re at a turning point now with the technology where automatable jobs are routine work, work that software could do better, cheaper and faster. We’re at a turning point where artificial intelligence is going to be able to do a lot of this work. It’s going to be imperative that people are investing in skills that are non-routine skills — everything from being an engineer to being a barber. The non-routine skills will continue to be valuable. They are the jobs that artificial intelligence won’t be able to do. Elon Musk will disagree with me, but I don’t see that being anywhere in the foreseeable future.

We’ve been backing self-driving car companies like Voyage, which are helping retirement communities, people who have little mobility, helping them with a self-driving taxi service. This is a great example of how we can make people’s lives better and safer. We’re seeing Standard Cognition, which is going to compete head-to-head with Amazon Go, letting people do self check-out.

This is going to be rolled out in the next decade and we’re going to see a huge shift as a result because a lot of labor is going to be affected. Overall, it will make people’s lives better. It’s why those non-routine skills are imperative to learn. I’m also looking to try to invest in companies that will scale opportunities for those people, from engineering or any kind of creative pursuits.

Like I said, being a welder or a barber, those are the skills that are going to continue to have value in the new economy, and that I don’t think artificial intelligence will touch

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