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Victoria Faraci is a graduate student in the English Department at the University of Waterloo, currently on a co-op term as a Communications and Marketing Assistant at the Conrad Business, Entrepreneurship and Technology Centre.
On November 22, I headed off to dinner to meet Alexis Ohanian, founder of Reddit. He was at the University of Waterloo to promote his new book, Without Their Permission. The dinner was arranged for students in the Master of Business, Entrepreneurship and Technology (MBET) program to have a private meet-and-greet with Alexis at the Grad House before his guest lecture (one of the many perks of being an MBET student!). I tagged along and was a bit nervous that as an English student, I would be put on the spot to answer some business questions ... but luckily, it was just a low-key and fun night, thanks to Alexis.
The night went really smoothly, the grad house prepared a wonderful dinner for us and there were even professional photographers on site anxious to take our photos when our guest of honour arrived. Oh, to be a famous entrepreneur.
Once Alexis arrived we started a great conversation. He was very interested in the MBET program and the ventures that our students are working on. He even asked each student to give him a one-minute pitch about their startups. This happened to be a particularly scary one minute for me as I was exposed as the honorary MBET student that I was.
Later that evening, we all ventured over to the William G. Davis Computer Research Centre (DC) for Alexis' talk. It was a lively event, so to give you a taste for what it was like, I'll share with you some great advice that Alexis gave to the room full of student entrepreneurs:
1) “You’re either incompetent or you’re waiting for it to be perfect.”
Alexis didn’t say this directly to us, but told us a story where executives at yahoo told him and his business partner, Steve Huffman, that they were holding onto their product (reddit) for too long before launching it, and it was for one of those two reasons.
2) “Don’t care about your competition.”
Alexis really tried to enforce that entrepreneurs should do absolutely everything to please their customers. Spending valuable time and energy worrying about competition is counter-productive. The real focus should be on the client, the customer, and/or the consumer.
3) Embrace critics…love them…use [them] as fuel for motivation.”
4) "Sucking is the first step at being good at something."
Alexis constantly told the audience that even after eight years, he still feels like he doesn’t know what he is doing. “Go along and figure it out” was a piece of advice that I clung to during his lecture.
5) "It doesn’t matter where you start but you got to start somewhere."
Simple yet sage advice. Especially to a room of students that was full of business ideas! If the audience members followed this advice, I'm sure we'll see a host of new startups pop up in the next few weeks!
The evening was just another example of some of the awesome opportunities available to entrepreneurial students here at the University of Waterloo, especially in the MBET program. I was happy to represent the Conrad Centre at the private dinner where I could meet Alexis and then attend his inspiring talk. Until next time!