How Reddit Started

The start

Reddit was founded by Steve Huffman and Alexis Ohanian June 23, 2005, in Medford, Massachusetts.

After attending and pitching at a “technopreneurship” summit that summer in Singapore Alexis went home, opened a bank account, filed the business, and spent a year researching the competition.

They were talking to business owners in Charlottesville, Virginia-; and thought they’d begin locally. At the same time Alexis received and email from Steve saying that Paul Graham was speaking in Boston during their spring break.

Even though Alexis didn’t really know who Paul Graham was after the talk he approached him and asked to buy him a drink in exchange for listening to them talk about their start-up. After realising the two had come all the way from Virginia Paul agreed and ended up inviting them to an interview for Y Combinator. Y Combinator was just launching and nobody had heard of it yet, so this didn’t mean nearly as much at the time as it does now. Nonetheless the duo really wanted to get accepted.

After the interview Paul called Alexis and told him he was sorry but they weren’t being accepted. Devastation struck and so they did what any sensible person would do, got really drunk.

The next morning they received a call from Paul “I’m sorry, we made a mistake. We don’t like your idea, but we like you guys.” During the conversation Paul said you guys need to build the front page of the internet, and that is where Reddit began.

Launching the site

The pair took the ideas behind two popular sites of the day– Delicious, an early social-bookmarking site, and Slashdot, the first truly large geek community focused on news and ideas — and combined them. When they joined YC, the two worked day and night on the first version of Reddit.

Reddit was built in just three weeks using web links and text submitted by users. After Paul Graham criticized them for not launching earlier. They got a beta version life and Graham unbeknownst to Ohanian and Huffman — linked to it in a blog post, giving Reddit its first thousand visitors.

As you might have heard Huffman and Ohanian created fake users and much of the site’s early content to attract users and get things off the ground. However they didn’t have to do this for long.

“The day I woke up and Reddit was working on its own was just the most incredible feeling,” Huffman says. “It was, like, holy shit … we’ve got a thing that’s making a difference in people’s lives!”

Comments were later added after much debate and the user base was always the most important part.

Reddit was initially launched without any categories, just one big front page of links about anything the community wanted. Alexis and Steve always watched the users closely and when the site began to build traction users were complaining about not having their posts featured on the homepage. This is what sparked Reddit to build out more categories, or subreddits.

Advertising

Reddit can thank its success to the enormous advertising budget of …. $500. That is the total sum of money that has ever been spent on advertising at Reddit. Ever. Now what was this money spent on you wonder? Stickers of all things.

Alexis use to travel around the country and everywhere he went he took stickers with him. Alexis would put them on signs, poles, windows and even other advertisements. ““Please sticker responsibly!” They would say, and hand out these stickers at events, meetups, just to random people on the street.

The focus was always on building a great product and community online and the stickers provided the perfect excuse for people to show their allegiance. The most important thing was not the sticker but the attachment that people felt to the brand and the sticker just provided a representation of that attachment.

Within a few months they started seeing photos uploaded to the internet of people using their stickers in ways they could have never expected. This was also the same time that they started to see their first fan art.

Overall the stickers were less about the promotion of Reddit than about the focus that Reddit was something they should love.

The most important thing Alexis points out here is that you HAVE to put your users first. This doesn’t mean talking about it, or planning it, or mapping it out, this means DOING it.

He points out that first 100 users are gold and could potentially be your power users. So treat them as such. If they write you and email telling you have to improve your website. Respond. And respond FAST. You need to let them know you care about them and value them, because you do. Who knows if this is the user who will help drive your website to millions of users.

Acquisition

The acquisition by Conde Nast started with a Hawooween party where the two met a reporter who introduced Alexis to a freelancer for Wired. The freelancer told her boss about them and the editor’s husband worked on a licensing deal with them.

They were one of the first start-ups to launch in Y combinator and then became the first significant acquisition. After just 16 months of working on the website Reddit had been officially acquired.