Home Startup Reddit Is Finally Going Public. Here Are 7 Things You Didn't

Reddit Is Finally Going Public. Here Are 7 Things You Didn't

Know About the Company. Who wrote Reddit's key algorithm? Who almost acquired the startup in its first year? Prepare for the IPO with some Reddit trivia deep cuts.

By Inc.Arabia Staff
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Reddit is going public on March 21 via initial public offering on the New York Stock Exchange. Today, it's known as the social message-board site, with more than 76 million daily visitors to more than 100,000 communities, or subreddits. Reddit is seeking a target price of $31 to $34 per share, which could raise as much as $748 million in the IPO.

But before Reddit was a social-media behemoth with more than 2,000 employees in offices around the globe, it was a scrappy startup billed as "the front page of the internet" that would crowd-rank the day's news and other internet content. Launched in 2005, its co-founders, Steve Huffman and Alexis Ohanian, sat at desks facing each other in a sublet in Cambridge, Massachusetts, posting links they'd found online and then "upvoting" each other's links. The pair had just graduated from the University of Virginia and had been accepted into the first class of Y Combinator. Before it had earned any esteem as Silicon Valley's top startup incubator, the accelerator was still an experiment in funding groups of young programmers to create startups over a summer.

Plenty of what happened after that made the news, or is Silicon Valley lore. But some of that history is much less well-known -- though I did include many of the company's most fascinating moments in my 2018 book on Reddit, We Are the Nerds. Here are some of the most interesting, little-known details I discovered along the way to writing it.

Reddit was almost named "Poplex."

Or Aeonpop. Or Newsnew. Or Snoo. (As in, "what's new?") An early favorite was another variation: Newstew. These were names emailed back and forth between Huffman and Ohanian. (The mascot -- a little alien initially hand-drawn by Ohanian in a school notebook -- retained the name "Snoo" when the site did not.) Huffman didn't like "Reddit" much at first, because he assumed no one would be able to spell it. Ohanian, to prove him wrong, asked strangers on the street in Cambridge how they'd spell Reddit. A couple answers of R-E-D-D-I-T and Huffman was sold.

The idea for Reddit didn't come from its founders.

Huffman and Ohanian applied to Y Combinator, co-founded by artist-turned-founder-turned-investor Paul Graham, with an idea they'd had to create mobile-food-ordering. They proposed calling their startup My Mobile Menu, or MMM. This was 2005, before the iPhone and mobile apps. Would it be SMS-based, Graham asked them? He diagnosed it as an idea before its time (Grubhub's now $7 billion valuation validates both the idea and its timing, of course) and proposed they instead create an online source for the most-interesting links instead.

Reddit was incorporated as "Redbrick Solutions" and "Not a Bug."

When Ohanian initially filed incorporation papers for a company as an undergrad, he named it Redbrick Solutions as an homage to the architecture of Charlottesville, where he and Huffman were college roommates. Later, after merging with the fellow YC companies started by open-internet activist Aaron Swartz and Harvard physics PhD student Chris Slowe, they renamed the emerging company "Not a Bug" on its incorporation paperwork, which is both a joke on a common programmer refrain "It's a feature, not a bug" and a response to YC's Graham, who had disparagingly referred to the Reddit mascot, Snoo, as a "bug."

Reddit's algorithm was written by a Harvard physics doctoral student.

Chris Slowe joined Reddit very early but wasn't officially deemed a "co-founder" because he was dedicated to his full-time studies. Still, he'd work on coding the site and its algorithms in the evenings almost daily after working in his physics lab. He tackled three major algorithms, one to detect spam, another to track analytics, and perhaps most importantly, one which was at that point referred to as the "hotness" algorithm. It helped surface the most interesting and engaged-with content in real time. Huffman had originally written its code; Slowe improved it by making it account not just for upvotes, but also for time -- meaning it could account for and reward virality before that was even part of internet vernacular. Slowe would leave the company years later, after its acquisition by Condé Nast, but rejoined in 2017 to become Reddit's CTO, which he still is today.

Reddit's founders met with Google and Yahoo about an acquisition.

In November 2005, Reddit was still very young, but Paul Graham thought it was time for the founders to meet with some Silicon Valley firms that might be interested in investing or acquiring the fledgling company. Venture capitalist Chris Sacca, who had been working as a corporate counsel at Google, brought Huffman and Ohanian to the Googleplex to meet with engineers for a "tech interview" to size them up for acquisition. Sacca followed up to float an acquisition -- but the talks petered out. After Google, they met with Yahoo.

There, Huffman remembers meeting with a vice president of advanced development who scoffed at Reddit's total traffic, muttering that it amounted to a "rounding error" to Yahoo. "Which it was," Huffman admitted later. "But you don't need to be a jerk about it."

Reddit went through four CEOs in less than two years.

By 2014, Reddit had become a wonderous traffic beast for Condé Nast, which acquired Reddit for about $10 million in 2006, in part because executives there had hired former PayPal Mafioso Yishan Wong to run it. His tenure lasted only two and a half years, however, and his departure was sudden, leaving board member Sam Altman to run the company as CEO for eight days in 2014. Altman replaced himself with Ellen Pao, the veteran venture capitalist who'd been running business strategy at Reddit. Less than a year later, she resigned after facing a revolt from the site's moderators after firing a popular employee. At this point, in 2015, Altman brokered Steve Huffman's return to the helm of Reddit.

Wordle's creator honed his tech and game-creation chops at Reddit.

Josh Wardle, the creator of the online word game Wordle, which was acquired by the New York Times for more than $1 million in 2022, was an early hire at Reddit -- and an odd one. He'd just obtained a masters of fine arts degree at the University of Oregon when he joined in November 2011 as "resident artist." He became a project manager for the community team, working on things such as Reddit Gold, an attempt to make money from users, and designed an early bot called "The Butler" who notified users of mentions. Years later, he dreamed up Reddit's notorious April Fools' Day projects, including social-experiment game The Button and Place, which in 2017 saw more than a million individuals place 16.5 million colored tiles on pixels, creating a garish and stunning mash-up of internet culture, geography, art, and social allegiances.

Photo Credit: Getty Images.

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