Alexis Ohanian - Founder, Seven Seven Six Ep #52

| 29:55 | E52

Episode Summary

Live from Breakpoint 2021, Alexis Ohanian sits down with Raj Gokal to discuss web3 and the $100 million fund to support decentralized social media projects on Solana. 00:10 - Intro 2:20 - Announcement of Seven Seven Six and Solana Foundation collaboration 9:53 - GM, Twitter, #FreeRaj 14:31 - Discussing Web 3.0 and the future of decentralized social media 18:04 - User experience and building on Solana 22:48 - New types of governance and delegation 25:59 - How crypto can change the way we see the world DISCLAIMER The information on this podcast is provided for educational, informational, and entertainment purposes only, without any express or implied warranty of any kind, including warranties of accuracy, completeness, or fitness for any particular purpose. The information contained in or provided from or through this podcast is not intended to be and does not constitute financial advice, investment advice, trading advice, or any other advice. The information on this podcast is general in nature and is not specific to you, the user or anyone else. You should not make any decision, financial, investment, trading or otherwise, based on any of the information presented on this podcast without undertaking independent due diligence and consultation with a professional broker or financial advisor.

Episode Notes

Live from Breakpoint 2021, Alexis Ohanian sits down with Raj Gokal to discuss web3 and the $100 million fund to support decentralized social media projects on Solana.


00:10 -  Intro

2:20 -  Announcement of Seven Seven Six and Solana Foundation collaboration

9:53 - GM, Twitter, #FreeRaj

14:31 - Discussing Web 3.0 and the future of decentralized social media

18:04 - User experience and building on Solana

22:48 - New types of governance and delegation

25:59 -  How crypto can change the way we see the world



The information on this podcast is provided for educational, informational, and entertainment purposes only, without any express or implied warranty of any kind, including warranties of accuracy, completeness, or fitness for any particular purpose.

The information contained in or provided from or through this podcast is not intended to be and does not constitute financial advice, investment advice, trading advice, or any other advice.

The information on this podcast is general in nature and is not specific to you, the user or anyone else. You should not make any decision, financial, investment, trading or otherwise, based on any of the information presented on this podcast without undertaking independent due diligence and consultation with a professional broker or financial advisor.


Raj (00:10):

(silence). Ooh, beautiful.

Alexis (00:11):

This is fun. Hey everybody.

Raj (00:13):

It's electric.

Alexis (00:13):

All right. All right. Nice to see you all too. Oh, there we go. Okay. This is big. This is just the building of a new internet. Probably nothing.

Raj (00:26):

Probably nothing. It's such an honor, Alexis, really, to be on stage with you. It's like a dream. I've been a power user of Reddit, and I saw the way that you created that and the intention that you brought into it, and the intention you've brought into how we build technology that connects people together, and the conviction you have about how you want it to connect them for good. Not pull them apart but pull them together. Three things that connect them, their interests, their common grounds, and give them the tools to do that.

Alexis (00:59):

Thank you, man.

Raj (00:59):

Yeah, it's been really awesome.

Alexis (01:00):

I feel grateful. I was a dumb college kid in 2005, starting Reddit. The inspiration were like message boards. And I ran a PHPBB forum. Shout out PHPBB. I think those bulletin boards are still cranking somewhere in parts of the internet, but it was a hope for a more connected internet. But I really had no idea what would come from it. I'm obviously grateful. Hopefully a few of you all are Redditors. Any? Couple, one or two? Thank you. Thank you for all of your upvotes and thank you for also admitting you're the least productive people here. So thank you for your candor. I got so excited as crypto started taking off because Reddit is where I dove in. R/Bitcoin is the community that inspired me to first invest in Coinbase back in 2012. R/Ethereum was the community that got me really excited about what could actually be done with programmable money and this concept of building an internet that was decentralized and truly in the hands of all the people creating content. And now what I am seeing here, especially within the Solana community, is nothing short of awesome.

And we can just cut to chase and one of the reasons why I'm here is to announce a collaboration that we're doing. I have a venture fund called Seven Seven Six. We're earmarking with the Solana Foundation $50 million to invest in the next wave of social built on Solana. Because I think this new world... We were debating whether to do the announcement at the start or at the end, I'm happy we did at the start. It's good vibes. But my job these days is with our team to look for the next big thing, put our money into it, give our support, our advice, our feedback, and help build businesses that'll be even bigger than any of the ones I've created. And it's exciting because this actually fulfills ambitions that I remember having 16 years ago but that we just couldn't execute on because the technology did not exist. And so I'm going to take you down memory lane a little bit. We'll fire up some slides.

This is actually the very first version of Reddit that went live in 2005. I was not a great web designer. I was not. I'm really proud of Snoo, our mascot. I created that while I was bored in marketing class. But this was the first version, and a couple of things to notice, karma score, absolutely stole that from Slashdot. But I realized, okay, if we can get people to be incentivized to post good stuff, we can get more people to post more good stuff. And we'll just use internet points. It'll just be made up. And so if you got an upvote, you would gain a karma point. If obviously you were downvoted, you'd lose one. As you can see here, I posted the first link to Reddit, the Downing Street memo, and I was promptly downvoted because my co-founder is a dick. I knew exactly who it was, because it was just the two of us in an apartment. I knew who did that, and I have -1 karma. But internet points were the way we got people to come together and produce high-quality content.

If you could believe me, in 2005, no one believed me when I said that people would spend all this time on the internet creating content, sharing content, commenting on content, but clearly it worked. And as we saw more and more progress, I obsessed over even designing the up and down arrows. I probably did like 10 iterations. I'm embarrassed by how many different versions of up and down arrows I designed. But this was all with the idea that we could reward people and get them feeling like their contributions mattered and encourage the best behavior. You'll notice the leaderboard there, the stats. That little janky link was one of the most important part to the website back in 2005 because the top submitters cared so much where they were on the leaderboard that when the stats thing went down, we would get a flurry of emails from people saying, something's wrong. Fix the stats leaderboard. I grew up playing video games, probably like a lot of you, and this seemed like a pretty obvious mechanism to just motivate people to keep posting content.

But again, we're talking about internet points that outside of the community don't really amount to much, even awards. So once karma points exceeded their value, because once people got far enough along on Reddit, a new user would come on and feel demoralized because the idea of one day getting a million karma points seemed impossible. So I had to create new games. These awards, I was inspired by GoldenEye on the N64 because the end of Deathmatch, even my friends who were terrible at the game and never won would still get a little fun award at the end, like most cowardly. And we would ridicule them for that. It turned out that's like you spend the least amount of time on the screen of other players during the match. And it was these novel awards that inspired the Reddit awards today. I literally have people who introduce themselves, not by their government name, not by their username, but by the fact that they are a 12-year Redditor or a 14-year Redditor.

These badges, these awards that were just a game mechanic that I created 16 years ago without much thought have become a sense of pride. But I look at all these things and I think, damn, if only there was value beyond this world of this ecosystem, because there's clearly value there. And everything I've seen in the last few years, the reason I'm so excited about Web 3.0 is this is all the same mechanisms, except with real ownership. With real value gained by the people who did all the amazing work to make these platforms function. And then I can't not talk about swag. This was Reddit's original business model, and it was actually the first fight we had. So the first two months of Reddit, we got into a big fight because I really wanted sell merch. I knew that even though we had this burgeoning user base, that random strangers on the internet would want to buy t-shirts with our logo on it as a way to show solidarity with our tribe. It was a huge fight, finally won it, and I built a store. And this was before Shopify, before Stripe.


This was like a janky PayPal. It was really hard to take money from strangers on the internet back in 2005, okay? But I get this janky storefront up. I filled the bedroom with probably like 300, 400 t-shirts and put it online, and within 24 hours, sold out. And then I spent the next day stuffing envelopes and taking garbage bags full of these t-shirts to the post office. And with every one of them I sent out, I felt a little bit validated because random people on the internet wanted to show their pride by making their torso into a billboard for us, and give us money for that privilege. Today, just seeing someone change their profile pic is an even bigger statement of that tribal solidarity. And again, maybe if you have one of these original 400 Reddit shirts, you could probably fence it on eBay for a few bucks, but you didn't actually capture the real value. There was tremendous value in being one of those early adopters and signing up to say, yes, I am a part of this. I want you to believe.

And everything I see play out, even the most basic profile pic project, is a reminder that this is like the core atomic unit of building community online. And I just can't help but get even more excited because the rate at which this will grow is... it is hard to overstate. And even just thinking about where you all were, we were reminiscing backstage a year ago or two years ago with how far the Solana ecosystem has gone, I'm just very excited. So I'm thrilled to be announcing this fund with you. I hope we can do some amazing stuff together and fund the next generation of the social web.

Raj (09:45):

I think we totally will. It's totally going to happen.

Alexis (09:47):

Are you going to do that? Are you down with that?

Raj (09:53):

It's going to be incredible. I don't know if anyone was paying attention yesterday. Something interesting happens, right before Alexis and I went onto a... I think it was Fortune interview to talk about this... or Forbes, one or the other, to talk about this fund, I had gone on Twitter... GM everyone, by the way. GM.

Alexis (10:20):

Yes. Good morning.

Raj (10:22):

So someone who happens to be a good friend of mine, Sam Lessin, he used to run product at Facebook. I've known him for 10 years. He's the first person I've seen negatively respond to the idea of us all saying GM in crypto. And we all love GM. It's just good vibes, right? And so I went on Twitter and I said, "I'll kill you." But this wasn't me threatening Sam. I've known him for 10 years. We trust each other. Sam talks a lot about how... he was in the room when Venmo made the trust feature. I should be able to trust Alexis to be able to take as much money from me as he wants. We have a relationship. We should be able to flag that, right?

All these little features, the nuances of how we connect with one another and how we trust each other and how we have relationships should be reflected in social. But right now there's only little pieces and it's the pieces that happened because one platform that becomes monolithic decides which features it's going to differentiate on. And so, yeah, I guess I should have expected this, and my comms people tell me that I should have expected it, but I got suspended on the first day of Breakpoint. And it was actually amazing because I'm super addicted to Twitter. This is the first time I've spent 24 hours not on Twitter in probably years.

Alexis (11:44):

Jack just wanted you to have a respite from [crosstalk 00:11:47].

Raj (11:46):

Jack's a meditator. He wanted me to just meditate on my feelings and beliefs and my actions, and I did. Just another point on this, it was a joke. It was a reference to this Costco founder who, when the CEO talked about increasing the cost of hot dogs, he said, "I will kill you." So this was sort of two ideas to get other in one tweet. There's a lot of nuance, like I said, in social. Sam and I know each other, so of course I would never kill him. And also if you know this joke, it's the idea that there are some things that are sacred, that are positive, that are inherently good. Like a chief hot dog for everyone that comes into Costco is like part of their belief system. GM is like part of our belief system. We should wake up every morning and talk to each other with good intentions. And if you're going to threaten that, I will kill you, right? And that joke...

Alexis (12:47):

Like a Costco hot dog.

Raj (12:49):

Like a Costco hot dog. And that joke, Twitter doesn't get it. The rules don't get it. It's going to be hard to regulate these things and moderate these things. But when all of it comes from one place, we just see that nobody's happy. Jack's not happy with the rules that he's been forced to put in place, which is why he's deciding to turn Twitter into a decentralized protocol. I think my fear, and I don't know if you agree, but Facebook's going to do the same thing. And Reddit's going to do the same thing. Everyone's going to do the same thing, but these things happen pretty slow, and there's opportunity to build from all directions. It doesn't have to be the old social platforms converting. We can build new ones and it doesn't have to be competition and it doesn't have to be winner take all.

There will be hundreds of successful social media companies that are protocols and clients to those protocols, and choices will be made in programmable, modular ways between communities, just like Subreddits do that in certain ways. But it'll be much more fluid and we'll be able to govern these rules. I kind of see this pretty clearly, but I only see like maybe five or 10 companies trying it and building it. There should be 100. There should be 100 like tomorrow. So as we were talking with this reporter yesterday, it was a flurry of thesis. And even backstage, we just couldn't stop talking about all the ways that this future is going to happen. And I think it's going to happen quickly. And I realized $50 million is not that much for the number of teams and stabs at this problem that I think can happen in the next 12 months. So we're going to increase it to a $100 million.

Alexis (14:31):

That's right. See that, we lured you in with the 50. Surprised you with the hundo. And look, this is real. Normally, incumbents have had, and Zack has taken full advantage of this, incumbents have had a huge unfair advantage with the distribution. As social evolved, Facebook can gobble up, Instagram can gobble up, WhatsApp can get the economies to scale that distribution. But I would argue in Web 3.0 it's actually a liability because the intention with which you're building these new protocols and these new communities starts from the very beginning. It seeds the foundation of how people think about the platform. And the baggage of Web 2.0 infrastructure and the Web 2.0 precedent is that you're ultimately just harvested for an advertiser. And that factors into product decisions. That factors into design decisions.

And what's really exciting is that there's a whole new slew of founders who have a chance to jump into a very energized community and actually start building something with a very different business model in mind and very different product instincts and very different design focus, and that's compelling. And I think we could see new platforms emerge very fast. We talked about Discord backstage and how... 2015, I think, I first started noticing them on the sidebars of gaming communities on Reddit and I thought, damn, they're onto something here. And as someone who's suffered through TeamSpeak, it was like, okay, clearly there's got to be a better way. But that was five years now, six years now Discord is the dominant platform for all the real-time conversation around NFTs and a lot of things in crypto. But that window for a new platform to emerge keeps getting smaller and smaller. It keeps moving faster and faster, and we haven't even seen what happens when people build this way first.

Raj (16:33):

Totally. Yeah, the cycles are getting faster. And we don't have to wait. And I think even just the rise of Solana and the cycles in the blockchain industry have been getting faster. And a lot of folks are surprised by how much and how fast so Solana has grown. I think this next wave of companies are going to get to a billion... we set it at the top of this whole conference, a billion users. And we didn't set a timeline. We set as fast as possible. I think it could happen in 12 months, 18 months. It's very feasible if we build that future. And I think it'll happen in waves. Applications protocols will be quickly saturating to a billion, 4 billion users in rapid succession because it doesn't have to be a competition of a monolith against another. It's just ideas and changes and protocol shifts and forks that can propagate very quickly.

So I think this future's going to be happen very quickly and it's all connected. This is why we wanted to have Solana be one giant global state machine. A lot of people call it monolithic. Yeah, it's monolithic. That's the point. It's all one computer that we can build all of this together on because if you saw... I realized a lot of people miss some of the best talks here, but Jules Urbach from Render is making a photorealistic metaverse. We will be able to connect these social protocols to that rendering engine and we will be living in the metaverse faster than anyone thinks. It's going to happen.

Alexis (18:04):

And when that user experience hits, it will hit. In 16 years of designing product, of investing in product, I keep coming back to great user experiences, almost always end up winning. And that's broadly defined. That's the literal user experience as well as the figurative. How does it make customers or users feel? And what's exciting is we can do things on Solana that... and I'm not a maximalist in any regard. You'll see me, I'm very pragmatic on this stuff, but we can do things on Solana that just make so much more sense to create that amazing user experience that people have come to expect. And that's it at the end of the day. That's what wins. And you tie that in to being able to actually own the content you create and actually get rewarded for things like community building. It's going to be exhilarating.

The second wave, Web 2.0, whatever we're calling it, I really believe it's going to look like this transition period, almost a bleep in the internet where we first got online, everyone's on the World Wide Web and we were making our geo cities' websites and just trying to build for what was largely a pretty read-only internet. And it's so obvious to me, even in these last few years now coming out of the crypto winter, that this era we're in now is going to define, really define the internet as we know it. And when I'm explaining to my daughter about these phases of the internet, she's going to look at me and be like, "Wow, dad. You played all those video games without being rewarded for any of your time or effort." And she'll be shocked. She'll be shocked that I bought things on the internet that I didn't really own. She'll be shocked that so many of the things that are really some of the most valuable work online, whether it's content creation or curation or community building weren't rewarded in any way, shape, or form.

Alexis (20:07):

It will seem like this weird, dismal, brief period of the internet. And I think we'll all be better off for it, ultimately, but I'm just excited to see what people build because we're all still in the very early days where we're actually just trying to take better versions of what we've known for Web 2.0, and I think things level up once we get out of that mindset and then eventually start building the things with a first principled look at what Web 3.0 really can unlock. But I'm already excited for this stuff that's coming, which is why we're going to put $100 million towards funding it.

Raj (20:43):

You know what else we should do is make sure the app stores allow NFTs and tokens. Are we really going to hold this back at the...

Alexis (20:54):

The good news is, look, Epic on the one hand has been fighting the good fight and on the other, not so much, but momentum here is on our side in a world where I know most of you all are probably default skeptical of regulators, which is a fine thing to be. I really do think though that the principles of what is getting built now are so aligned with the average person, with the consumer. And I still do believe that those people are represented by people in government who are at the end of the day beholden to the voters.

I do think the more that we can tie the relevance and the value of crypto to the average American, especially beyond our initial early adopter community, the more we can make crypto a big part of people's lives, the better, because that ultimately is going to put leverage on the couple of monopolist or duopolist with their app stores. And I think it's still one of the strongest leverage points we have, which is it's just not good for consumers to have one of two app stores to choose from, and both that are pretty egregious in what they charge and the control they have.

Raj (22:05):

It's clear that social media affects government. It affects political movements. It's just very clear all of us. And I think one of the things that I always have tried to do, building products where people are taking on social behaviors, connecting is replicate what they're already doing, but do it in a positive way. I think you did that really well with Reddit. Focusing on upvotes, focusing on content creation and elevating each other and our creations and our content. And I'm curious, do you have any ideas about how the types of forces that have coalesced political movements in social media might be reflected in this next Web 3.0 Version of social media?

Alexis (22:48):

I really do think we're seeing some really interesting types of governance emerge. Look, for those of us, whether we're in European democracies, American democracies, these are global democracies, we ostensibly like these ideas of everyone gets a vote. And what's interesting now is you're even seeing what some of the recent ENS stuff and some of this... Just even the concept of vote delegation, being something that is getting more normalized. What I love about Web 3.0 broadly is we get a chance to think about, from first principles, how we can architect better and more representative systems. And so on the one hand I'm like, would I ever delegate my vote for a president of the United States? Would I ever delegate my vote for some company I'm a shareholder of? Maybe not, probably not, definitely not. There's a spectrum of answers to that. But what we get to build is whatever we think is the best tool for the job and then the broad market basically decides, okay, this is what wins.

And this kind of experimentation, I think, tends to be among the most, or will ultimately reward the most egalitarian way possible because it's not controlled as basically every institution has been from the top down for so long. So I do think there is this pretty strong streak throughout the crypto community that almost by definition is built in opposition to institutions that have had top-down authority and plenty of times abused it. So I think when you combine community and capital, which we're seeing play out right now, really surreal things happen. And WallStreetBets is probably the most visceral example that I get asked about all the time back in the states. But that's one example of many where you are seeing a power shift from the traditional top-down structures to the bottom-up, where it's people who are connected online able to communicate in real time, at scale, for free, essentially, and now able to also move dollars. And even though those dollars individually may not be that much, in aggregate, especially when coordinated, can move markets, can shift all kinds of things. This is the experimental phase of it so I'm excited to see what's to come.

Raj (25:16):

The word delegation, I think, that I heard there is so important because delegation is happening, like you said, every day in crypto. We delegate to validators. In Solana there are stake pools and there's nested delegation that can happen. And our representative democracy is a delegation of responsibility and decision-making authority. But there are really only a few ways that you can do it and a few bodies that you delegate to and a few people. And then you mentioned this idea of would I delegate my presidential vote? Maybe not that one, but there's probably 100 offices that we're voting for. Right now we just go one side of the ticket. That's a pretty dumb way to do it. Not everyone's doing their research.

Alexis (25:59):

This is the opening of a lot of doors for a lot of people because with all the progress that we have made so far, we are still a pretty insular community. We are all still early. Just being here means you are in a very, very select group. Congratulations, you're going to make it. You're among the earliest adopters. Yes. It's true. And so you're among the earliest adopters of something that I... I've been on record. I was on Rogan CNBC 2014 saying that I was cautiously optimistic about crypto because it just felt like, no, this is too good to be true. Somehow it's going to get screwed up, someone's going to mess it up. But I've gone from that to pretty irrationally exuberant now in the last year. It now feels inevitable. And so everyone who is here, you are among the earliest adopters for this. You all have a mindset shaped by being immersed in this space for a little while now.

There is a whole world, the vast majority of people still have not even started to think about the world the way that we do now by default. And that is going to unlock even more creativity and even more motivation and even more energy. And I'm excited to see that. And I encourage you, please, go out of your way to find people in your immediate community. Your friend group's an easy place to start. Don't be that person who just at every dinner just keeps talking about crypto, but please create this to be as welcoming and open as possible, because that is actually the long-term greedy move to make, because the faster that this adoption spreads beyond the early adopters in tech, especially the dudes who tend to look like me, the faster that this actually comes to fruition, and the more powerful it actually is.

Alexis (27:54):

And I'm excited because we get to rethink so many systems. And because finance is tied intrinsically into this, it means rewarding people for work, for effort, for creativity that historically have not been. And I get excited about that because selfishly, I just want better stuff. And so whether it is better democracy, whether it is better art, whether it's better social networking, we will get to see a flourishing, a literal Renaissance happening because of what is getting built here. And that is an amazing thing to be a part of because there will not be another time like this.

Raj (28:31):

There won't be. That's awesome, man. This is so cool. Look, I just want to close on one note. The one thing that came out of yesterday was this idea of #freeraj, which I love, but I'm back now. And so I don't need to be freed, but I do need to be freed from centralized social media. I want to get off Twitter. I want to get off. Help me do that. Build the next Twitter, build the next Facebook, build the next Instagram. I'm going to have a special prize for whoever helps me get off and delete my accounts from those centralized services.

Alexis (29:16):

Oh, the bounty is out there. I love it. Right on.

Raj (29:20):

You can come hang out with me and Alexis. Dude, thank you so much for coming, Alexis. This has been phenomenal.

Alexis (29:25):

Thank you.

Raj (29:25):

And I think we have many more great conversations to come and so many teams are going to form. It's going to be truly wonderful. I can't wait to do this with you. And thank you for committing capital and your time to these builders. It just means the world. Thank you.

Alexis (29:37):

I'm excited. Very grateful. Very grateful you all.