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Alexis Ohanian is the co-founder of the social news aggregation website Reddit. Shortly after graduating from UVA, he and classmate Steve Huffman founded the company with startup capital from Y Combinator, and[…]

Ohanian’s new company raises money for the developing world by marketing products aimed at “geek” culture. The company’s first high-profile project has generated enough revenue to open a new school in Laos.

Question: What is Breadpig?

Alexis Ohanian: I finally boiled this down into something that I’m pretty happy with in terms of an elevator pitch.  So I basically wanted to create a Newman’s own for nerds.  So, Paul Newman started this company called Newman’s Own a while back to create salad dressing because he thought all salad dressing sucked and he wanted to make a salad dressing that was good.  And then all of a sudden, it was popular and he had a business, and he didn’t really want a business per se because he was Paul Newman, you know.  He didn’t need the money and he thought, let me donate this money.  And for all these years now, Paul Newman’s Own has grown to far more products and donates all the profits.  

And the idea of social enterprise has always been really intriguing to me just **** has written some fantastic books on the subject and I do really believe that it is a fantastic way to leverage all of the power of capitalism, all the good stuff while minimizing all of the shittier stuff.  And so I just got excited at the fact of like creating geeky things that people would want to buy, which is a great form of validation in this free market system.  People want to trade their hard-earned money for the geeky stuff -- okay, that’s a good sign.  

But then actually turn that into something useful and something good.  And so we’ve done things like shirts and weird secular holiday greeting cards, but our biggest hit at first was actually a magnetic poetry with Lol Speak, so it’s like magnetic poetry except it’s got that icon-ask cheeseburger words on it, the pigeon English.  And Lol Magnets have been a wile success.  And then we followed that up by publishing the xkcd Book, a fantastic web comic.  And we made a pretty easy proposition to Randall, which was we know you’re getting lots of traditional publishers who want to make your book; we will take your offer and invert the terms.  So instead of you getting shafted, you will actually get a majority of the profits.  And it gets even better, this is going to look just like any other book they could have made you because it turns out it’s not that hard to find a printer that prints every book at Barnes and Noble, but the profits that Bradbury makes from it, we will donate it to Room to Read, a fantastic organization who’s been working with us to help promote literacy in the developing world.  Because, and this is the really important part, by giving this money to help promote literacy, we are creating more literate people and then expanding the market share potential xkcd Book buyers.  And this is really all just a plan to grow our market and so we can keep doing this.  We did that same thing with Lol Magnets and that we helped out the SFSPCA where dogs and cats get adopted.  Well that means more dog and cat owners and presumably more people to buy our magnets.  

So it’s a virtuous cycle we like to say.  And yeah, it was sort of a part-time thing while, for the last two years.  And I am thrilled to say, we’ve helped generate over $150,000 for not-for-profits and actually just hired Christina, who is joining the team and was the co-founder of Rafflecon, and we’re actually going to go visit that first xkcd school in Lau in a few weeks.  So it’s been going really, really well and it’s been a lot of fun and I’m hoping, hoping that Breadpig will continue to grow and continue to steal ideas from Paul Newman and other famous movie stars.