Alexis Ohanian, the co-founder and former CEO of, a site that lets users vote for what’s popular online, is now focused on Breadpig, "an uncorporation for creating (and selling) geeky things" that he founded in 2008.

Ohanian will deliver a keynote address, "How to Make a Splash in Social Media," during the Real Estate Connect SF 2010 conference, which runs from July 13-15 at the Hilton San Francisco Union Square hotel.

He responded to a set of questions posed by Inman News:

1. What is the most important business lesson you learned in the past year?

My current company, Breadpig, published a book by a popular webcomic, xkcd. In six months, it sold more than 25,000 copies. I hoped it’d do well, but didn’t expect it to do that well. What’s most exciting about this is that as electronic formats continue to grow, the cost of producing the final product falls even further (it turns out the margins on a "dead tree" (print) book were better than a printed T-shirt).

What’s really different about the Breadpig model, though, is that we were the first publisher to give the author a majority of the profits.

It’s something a few of the major publishers are emulating with books written by similarly Internet-famous people. This trend will only grow, as their traditional marketing and distribution value-adds are diminished.

real estate connect san francisco inman newsWriters will have to get a larger share of the profits when they’ve already established a market — especially one that’s already buying merchandise directly from them. If someone is skilled enough to cultivate an audience online, where the barriers to entry are strikingly low, they can actually profit from it.

We’re so excited about what this means for future authors that we published a detailed tutorial on how to start your own publishing house (or professionally publish your own book).

I’m constantly reminded of how much it pays off to be good to other people. One obviously can’t spend all his/her time helping others, but in business, efforts to assist others eventually comes back, and usually is multiplied.

2. What inspired you to pursue your current career path?

Being a startup founder appealed to me as soon as I realized I didn’t want to go to law school. I’ve always wanted to be wholly accountable for my own successes and failures. The idea of not having a boss was also very appealing — I’d had my share of bad (and good) ones during all my part-time employment.

My dad has been running his own small business, a travel agency, since I was a kid, which I’m sure also had something to do with it.

3. Share a personal experience or anecdote about buying, selling, owning or renting a home.

Since my second year of college, I’ve been renting apartments. In fact, I’ve rented a new one just about every year since then because of some change in my career. …CONTINUED

At my last apartment, though, when we were moving out I learned that I’d actually lived at an apartment for more than a year and thus didn’t have to pay for early termination, as it was now month-to-month. That was nice.

4. What’s the coolest technology you’ve discovered this year, and how are you using it?

I might not be the right person to ask. I’ve got an iPad waiting for me back home (I’m wrapping up a three-month Kiva Fellowship in Armenia) but aside from that purchase, I’m usually not an early adopter.

I’m excited about what the iPad will mean for how normal people (read: not geeks) will interact with the Internet and software, and what that means for the fate of PCs. I mostly plan on using it to check e-mail in-between commercial breaks. I’ve also got a few Breadpig iPad apps in the pipeline …

5. What is your advice for real estate industry professionals to thrive in this market?

You don’t need Twitter or Facebook as much as some people are probably telling you. From my perspective as a potential homebuyer, I’m looking a real estate agent who’s on point about the market and my needs. Ultimately, tools that help you provide the most effective customer service are what will pay off down the line.

6. What is your favorite non-work-related hobby?

Reading! In dead-tree format, too. It’s part of the reason why I wanted to publish "xkcd: volume 0" so badly.

7. Who is your hero, and why?

My parents. It may be cliché, but it’s true. They gave me all the advantages and lessons I needed to do well in life.

8. What do you view as the biggest problem facing the real estate industry today, and how would you fix it?

Granted, this is the opinion of a total outsider, but I suspect there are a lot more empty homes than potential homeowners right now. If this economic meltdown has taught consumers anything, (I hope) it’s that we really ought to not buy things we can’t afford.

As the economy continues recovering, people will begin to get more interested in buying a home — only now I think the idea of home as "investment" will be dispelled. Perhaps that will mean people looking to buy smaller, more affordable homes than the McMansions that dominate the area around my hometown, Columbia, Md.

That’s nothing I can really fix. But it’s going to become more important than ever to get qualified homeowners into homes as efficiently as possible, without compromising the standards that would let unqualified homeowners get homes they really shouldn’t be in.


What’s your opinion? Leave your comments below or send a letter to the editor.

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