The problems at Reddit

(written by lawrence krubner, however indented passages are often quotes). You can contact lawrence at:, or follow me on Twitter.

Three bits jump out at me from this article:

One individual speculated that the reemergence of the company’s drinking culture was to blame for the uncomfortable environment. Under Pao’s reign, Reddit tried to eradicate the bro-like amount of alcohol consumption at the office, but that went right out the window following Pao’s departure in July 2015.

“During all the leadership regimes, there were multiple incidents where employees would drink too much and end up in embarrassing and inappropriate situations,” a source explained. “There were multiple sexual harassment complaints from both female and male employees against female and male employees stemming from incidents that generally happened when employees were drinking.”

Many of the layoffs and exits occurred in departments that reported to Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian, who rejoined the company in November 2014 just as Pao was appointed interim CEO. Ohanian was initially appointed executive chairman, but left that role in July 2015 during Reddit’s revolt and became the company’s general manager instead.

Some people think bro culture is what makes a startup successful. This is a worthwhile reminder that alcohol can undermine a business. Alcohol is often crucial to the sales process, when dealing with external companies, but other than that, companies should be wary.

Sources confirm that Ohanian was a driving force behind the company’s expansion into journalism, podcasts and video, pushing for the creation of an anthology of Reddit AMAs and building out Reddit’s film team to collaborate with Google on a video series called “Formative.”

As part of its bid to expand the company’s presence in the media world, Reddit launched a digital magazine called Upvoted in October. The publication started with lofty goals of producing heavy-hitting journalism in mass quantities: Upvoted ran features on the Flint water crisis, homelessness, and the Paris terrorist attacks, and the team planned to produce as many as 40 original articles per day.

Upvoted also served as a vehicle to drive non-Redditors to the site, covering AMAs and other popular Reddit threads to make them more easily accessible for readers unfamiliar with Reddit’s format.

With the departure of Chang, Reddit’s editorial director, the fate of Upvoted is in question.

Bo Peabody wrote a great book called Lucky Or Smart, in which he writes that he was smart enough to realize that he got lucky with his company Tripod. It sounds like Ohanian was lucky but assumed that he was actually smart, and now he is finding out that he is not as smart as he thought he was.

Although the tech industry is full of smart people, there are certain lessons that it seems to have trouble internalizing, especially regarding diversity. I feel like I’ve read this kind of article a million times:

Poor retention rates are the root of the lack of diversity in tech. Women, for example, leave tech companies at twice the rate of men, according to a study by the Harvard Business Review. The most common reason for departure is the working conditions (e.g. no advancement, number of hours, low salary). Hiring diverse employees won’t boost a company’s diversity stats if those workers don’t feel welcome and quickly leave the company — it’s the equivalent of filling up a leaky bucket.

“Steve [Huffman] and the people he hired to help with hiring did a better job of formalizing a goal of diversity within the company — not with numbers, but just explicitly stating to the company that it was something we should strive for, etcetera. We were able to screen more candidates because instead of having a single recruiter, we had a team. It led to more diverse candidates, but we still struggled,” a source said.

And while sources say Reddit made efforts to hire diverse staff in the wake of Pao’s exodus, many of those employees departed less than a year later. That said, Reddit has never released a diversity report, so it’s unclear how many women and/or people of color currently work at the company. Reddit’s general counsel Melissa Tidwell told TechCrunch in May that the company doesn’t publish diversity reports because it is “too small to be doing them.” (Diversity advocates say it’s never too early to evaluate diversity, and Pao’s Project Include recommends baking diversity and inclusion into a company’s culture from day one.)

The turnover didn’t just affect Reddit’s overall diversity — it appears to have impacted Reddit’s ambitious plans to build out its media operations, as employees key to those efforts departed.