16th Mar 2012

Yishan Wong and the rise of Reddit

The social news startup Reddit was getting 21 million page views per month when it was bought by publishing giant Conde Nast in 2006. By the end of 2011 the website was getting over 2 billion page views per month and catering to 35 million unique visitors, an astonishing growth spurt that lifted it into the rank of the biggest web-based media communities in the world. Reddit hosts user-generated news links, which receive prominence on the site based on how much attention they get from other users, who vote and comment on the uploaded material.

The explosion in traffic to the site led to a split from Conde Nast 6 months ago, and the creation of Reddit Inc as a separate company answerable to its own board of directors. This was a purely structural change – instead of being owned by Conde Nast, Reddit is now owned by the company that owns Conde Nast, Advance Publications. But it was nonetheless a significant one, allowing Reddit to marshal its considerable resources with the efficiency that comes with independence. On its blog, Reddit insiders began tentatively outlining a vision of how the website might in future be used to shape the rapidly evolving contours of the media landscape. Now all they needed was a CEO.

After a search of five or six months they found Yishan Wong, a software engineer who has never been a CEO before. He worked at Paypal, then as Chief Engineer at Facebook, before going out on his own as a consultant for web-based startups. In 2010, along with an engineering manager from Google, he co-founded Sunfire Offices in Mountain View California. It’s an elite co-working space where top-tier talent from companies like YouTube, Google and iTeleport are hothoused en masse under the Californian sun.

Wong last week expressed surprise at being handed the top job at Reddit despite having never been a CEO before. “I don’t have the polish and the poise and the schmoozing, and I don’t play golf. Instead, I’m an engineer and a leader of engineers.” Reddit, he said, was in the market for an unconventional CEO because it is an unconventional company. Its new board and revamped capital structure will give it maximum torque as it turns the next corner into a global media future that’s likely to differ from the present in many of its essentials, a future that companies like Reddit are helping to define.

As a first time CEO Wong is facing into a time of intense learning. And his first 100 days will serve as a pre-indication of his long-term effectiveness. Now more than ever, all eyes are on him. It is vital that he lays down the correct foundation to ensure success – performance acceleration from day 1 is key.

Hilda Goold

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