Reddit Co-Founder Says Facebook's Future is WhatsApp and Instagram

December 4, 2018

By Carlo Versano

Instagram and WhatsApp are reasons to believe in the future of Facebook as social media trends toward community-based social platforms that reflect users' specific interests, Reddit co-founder, investor, and 21st century renaissance man Alexis Ohanian told Cheddar on Tuesday.

In a wide-ranging interview that also touched on the future of Silicon Valley, Ohanian said Facebook is better off long-term with Sheryl Sandberg in place as Mark Zuckerberg's second-in-command. "I think she stays," he said.

Both Sandberg and Zuckerberg have faced calls to step down in recent weeks over the social media giant's response to Russian election meddling on its platform as well as revelations about its attacks on critics as user growth slows.

Ohanian told Cheddar's Jon Steinberg that social media today has "become a little bit tired," as evidenced by the troubles at Facebook ($FB).

He expects that the next phase of social will be a move away from following individuals on social media behemoths and toward interest-based communities. This shift is already happening, Ohanian said, referencing Gilded and Girlboss, communities for gamers and female entrepreneurs, respectively, both of which Ohanian backs through his Initialized Capital firm.

For Facebook, its broader woes are buffered by its prescient purchases of Instagram and WhatsApp, which Ohanian called the bright spots of the Facebook portfolio that still have "a ton of growth left."

He also remains optimistic on the long-term fortunes of crytpo, despite the recent drops in Bitcoin. He told Cheddar he will remain bullish on crypto as a technology, and said the recent volatility will help "shake out" scams and fraudsters. "This is a 5-, 10-year building process." Among the first investors in Coinbase, Ohanian's firm focuses on crypto platforms over ICOs, betting that blockchain technologies will continue to improve and gain widespread adoption.

Ohanian is a bit of an outsider in the insular world of Silicon Valley. Husband to tennis superstar Serena Williams, he spends most of his time outside California, which is no accident. "It makes me a better investor," he said.

A growing problem with the Valley is that it has become prohibitive to live there unless you've already made your fortune, he said. The young, scrappy entrepreneurs that Ohanian's VC firm wants to attract can't afford to live near the action ー "it's killing the golden goose," as he put it. And those who find a way are at risk of getting caught in the bubble of building things and solving problems "for people like you," instead of for the world.

He mentioned a Florida firm working on "elder tech," a growing field that may not be as sexy as some of the ideas coming out of the Valley, but is answering real-world questions about how our aging population interfaces with technology. While San Francisco and the surrounding area still acts as a "powerful beacon" to attract talent, the days of its stranglehold on tech culture are over ー a victim of its own success.

The next Silicon Valley? "A little bit of everywhere," Ohanian said.

Then there's Flaviar, the New York-based spirits company that's applying the direct-to-consumer model to booze. Shakmat, its new Armenian brandy, is especially close to Ohanian's heart. "I pitched them on bringing Armenian brandy to the world," he said, and he even took took a sojourn to his motherland to perfect the blending.

For full interview click here.