The untold story of Reddit that will surprise you

A growth story highlighting adaptability, rejection, and loyalty to ideals.

The day Reddit went public was a major event for both the company and the internet.

From a simple idea to an internet giant, Reddit’s journey to the stock market is more than just financial glamour.

It’s a tale filled with unexpected twists that transformed a small startup into a digital cornerstone.

This exploration into Reddit’s history uncovers the resilience, creativity, faking, and sometimes luck behind its growth, which can surprise you.

Let’s delve into the inspiring, untold story of Reddit.

Illustrated portrait of Steve Huffman and Alexis Ohanian as superheroes

The unexpected beginnings

Long before Reddit became the front page of the internet, it was just a spark in the minds of two college buddies, Steve Huffman and Alexis Ohanian.

Their journey to Reddit’s creation was sparked by essays and lectures from Paul Graham, a revered tech philosopher of the early 2000s.

His words weren’t just read; they were a rallying cry for the era’s dreamers and doers.

The twist?

Steve and Alexis didn’t simply find Paul Graham’s work by chance.

Driven by a mix of admiration and youthful audacity, the 21-year-old buddies hopped on a train from Virginia to Harvard University (550 miles) just to hear Paul speak.

Illustrated portrait of Steve Huffman and Alexis Ohanian trying to take train to Harvard University

Graham’s talk wasn’t just inspiring; it was a seed that would grow into Y Combinator and, more importantly, give birth to Reddit.

Steve and Alexis didn’t have any startup ideas.

But because they traveled so far to hear Paul speak, he was impressed.

He wanted to invest in them and help them build something that people want.

Illustrated portrait of Steve Huffman, Paul Graham and Alexis Ohanian brainstorming and getting the ideas.

It’s easy to look back and say it was destiny, but let’s not sugarcoat it—it was a gamble.

A gamble that two college kids would take a train ride that would change their lives and, eventually, how we interact on the internet.

This part of Reddit’s story shows how amazing things can happen by chance when you just show up.

It’s about going after what makes you curious and being there for the important moments, both in person and in spirit.

The creation of Reddit is a reminder that great things often start with the unexpected: a lecture, an essay, and a train ride.

The name, mascot, and the vision

Picking a name for something can be tricky, whether it’s for your new puppy or your startup. 

Reddit’s name, a smart play on “Read it,” captures the essence of discovering and sharing cool stuff online. 

It wasn’t just about picking a name; it set the stage for what Reddit was all about.

Illustrated portrait of Steve Huffman and Alexis Ohanian discussing about the name of their startup.

Then there’s Snoo, the friendly alien mascot. 

Ever wonder why an alien? It’s a fun way to show that Reddit is a place for everyone, no matter how unique or “alien” your interests. 

Alexis says Snoo, born from a doodle in a boring marketing class, became more than just a mascot. 

And the name Snoo came from the phrase “What’s new?”

Illustrated portrait of Alexis Ohanian in a marketing class trying to draw Snoo, the mascot of Reddit.
Illustration of Alexis Ohanian drawing Snoo, the mascot of Reddit in a marketing class.

The name and the mascot laid the foundation for a platform that prides itself on being different, on being a space where the unique, the niche, and the mainstream converge. 

This shows the importance of identity in the digital age, reminding us that sometimes, the best decisions are the ones that feel right, even if they defy conventional wisdom.

Illustration of Snoo, the alien mascot of Reddit.

Faking the Buzz for Growth

Let’s get real for a second—starting something new is scary, especially on the internet. 

It’s like throwing a party and worrying nobody will show up. 

So, what did Reddit’s founders do to get people to show up at their party? 

They pulled off the digital equivalent of putting mirrors in a room to make it look crowded. 

In the early days, Steve and Alexis created a bunch of fake accounts to post content and keep the conversation buzzing. 

It was a classic “fake it till you make it” move.

Illustrated portrait of Steve Huffman and Alexis Ohanian discussing about creating fake accounts and make fake posts to make Reddit look like active.

Now, before you raise your eyebrows, consider this: in the vast, often silent expanse of the internet, creating a sense of community and activity isn’t just helpful—it’s survival. 

These guys weren’t just tossing up random posts; they were curating an experience, setting a tone for the kind of vibrant, engaging community they hoped to build. 

It was about laying down the welcome mat and showing what Reddit could be.

This move opens up a big can of worms about ethics and authenticity in startup culture. 

But here’s the thing—Reddit’s early fakery wasn’t about deception for profit. 

It was a bootstrap method to jumpstart participation and showcase the platform’s potential. 

And guess what? 

It worked. 

Eventually, real users began filling in the spaces between those mirror reflections, drawn by the buzz that Steve and Alexis had so carefully crafted.

This is a tale of creativity, resourcefulness, and the practical steps taken to foster community from scratch. 

Sometimes, making it requires a bit of faking it—just until you can stand on your own.

From rejection to resurrection

Imagine selling your brainchild, watching it grow, and then realizing it’s shifting off the path you envisioned. 

That’s a nutshell version of Reddit’s saga with Condé Nast, who owns media giants like Vogue, GQ, The New Yorker, Wired and more. 

The sale in 2006 marked a new chapter, one filled with growth but also growing pains. 

Illustrated portrait of Steve Huffman and Alexis Ohanian celebrating the acquisition by Conde Nast.

It was like watching your kid go off to college and come back with some… interesting new habits.

The post-sale journey of Reddit was a rollercoaster of emotions and decisions for Steve and Alexis. 

Being absorbed by a media giant like Condé Nast meant resources and reach but also meant grappling with corporate structures that didn’t always get the ethos of Reddit’s community-driven model. 

It was a clash of cultures, visions, and expectations.

But here’s where the plot thickens: after years of this push and pull, Reddit’s founders made moves to buy the platform back. 

It wasn’t a hostile takeover but a strategic play to bring Reddit back to its roots while keeping it on the growth trajectory. 

Illustrated portrait of Steve Huffman and Alexis Ohanian as superheroes talking about buying back Reddit from Conde Nast.

This part of the story is about resilience, about believing in your vision enough to fight for it—twice.

The return of Steve and Alexis wasn’t just a homecoming; it was a resurrection of the original spirit of Reddit, now matured by years of experience and lessons learned. 

They had a big challenge: guiding Reddit back to standing on its own, without losing what made it special. 

This part of the tale teaches us that it’s crucial to stick to your vision, even when everything else pushes you away.

Culture, Controversies, and Community

Reddit’s community is vast and varied, with each subreddit being its own unique neighborhood. 

This diversity is both a strength and a challenge, especially when navigating controversies that test free speech and safety. 

Finding balance is tough, like walking a tightrope in a storm. 

Illustrated portrait of Steve Huffman, Alexis Ohanian and community manager discussing about the users requests.

Yet, Reddit learns from each challenge, emphasizing the importance of community involvement and open communication. 

In short, working together transparently is key to managing this complex digital world.

Wrapping up

Looking at Reddit’s future is like peeking into a crystal ball full of memes and deep chats.

It’s been a wild ride from a small idea to a big player in the digital world.

Illustrated portrait of Steve Huffman, Alexis Ohanian and Paul Graham celebrating on taking Reddit public.

What’s next?

Expect more growth, surprises, and challenges.

The world of the internet keeps changing, and Reddit’s knack for bringing people together through open conversation puts it at the heart of this shift.

Moving forward, its core values of community, openness, and resilience will steer it through the internet’s ever-changing seas.

Reddit’s journey shows the strength of community and the adventure of uniting like-minded people online.

As we wrap up this tale, remember: this story’s final chapter is still unwritten, hinting at even greater things ahead.

That’s a wrap.

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