Steve Huffman – Engineering Leaders


Steve Huffman (CS ’05) is often asked for advice from U.Va. Engineering students on becoming an entrepreneur. His primary advice can be boiled down to three simple words: Be very annoyed.

“Ideas are easy to come by,” said Huffman, who has rocketed to prominence based on a few of his own. “Think about a time in the day when someone else’s product annoyed you. I guarantee it happens to engineers all the time. Then it comes down to asking two simple questions. ‘Do I have an idea of how to do this better?’ and ‘What am I going to do about it?’ Entrepreneurs have the ideas to solve the problem, the passion to create the solution and the commitment to execute it.

“And then I ask one more thing: ‘What are you waiting for?’” Huffman walks the walk. Soon after graduation, he worked with his U.Va. roommate Alexis Ohanian (Comm ’05) to create the groundbreaking social news site Reddit. As news and user- generated content were rapidly proliferating online, Reddit created a solution to customize the news-gathering experience. By utilizing simple “thumbs-up” or “thumbs-down” votes, content aggregation became a personal experience and in the process created communities of users united by their preferences.

Huffman and Ohanian sold Reddit to media giant Condé Nast in October 2006, and Huffman remained with the company for an additional three years before leaving to undertake new entrepreneurial challenges.

Looking back, Huffman credits his U.Va. engineering training for helping to launch his career, as evidenced by his philanthropic gifts to the School and toward the construction of Rice Hall. He also sees great value in the Engineering Business Minor program, which enables those who may follow in his footsteps to avoid some of the pitfalls he and Ohanian experienced.

“I think the biggest barrier keeping students from starting companies when they graduate is the lack of knowledge that they can actually do so,” Huffman said. “To be honest with you, a lot of it we learned on the fly while doing Reddit. And that was part of the challenge. I feel if we had known more going in, we would have been able to accomplish even greater things with the company, because we learned a lot through trial and error. It was a really good process, but it was also a very expensive process. There were a lot of mistakes we probably could have avoided.”

Today, Huffman is using his body of experience and ideas to address another annoyance in life. He recently launched Hipmunk to alleviate the aggravation of booking travel online.

This article originally appeared in UVa Engineering Unbound.