My chat with a Reddit co-founder

by Mathew on December 17, 2005 · 5 comments

If you’ve experimented with “social bookmark” sites such as digg.com or del.icio.us as a way of filtering the web (something I wrote about here), you may have come across reddit.com. When I mentioned it in a recent column for the Globe and Mail about Yahoo’s acquisition of del.icio.us, I got an email from one of Reddit’s co-founders, Alexis Ohanian, and we started a kind of ad hoc interview about the deal and about Reddit’s business model.

Alexis said that he felt Yahoo’s purchase had “validated the ‘business model without a business model’ approach of del.icio.us,” (something that not everyone thinks is a good idea), but that he was “curious to know how whether or not it’s an anomaly,” adding that “one look at reddit and you can guess what we’re hoping for.” I asked whether reddit.com was modelled on del.icio.us, and he said it was — but that Reddit wants to do something different as well. “We were actually inspired by del.icio.us/popular,” Alexis said. “We found ourselves most interested in this page because it was a sort of zeitgeist for what people were busy bookmarking — but we wanted to take it further.”

The Reddit co-founder, who was part of a “summer camp for startups” along with his college roommate Steve Huffman — and was in a movie called Aardvark’d — said that while there are “aesthetic similarities in the minimalist designs of our sites,” reddit.com is “trying to build a very different site.” As a Guardian article on the site pointed out, Reddit users can vote an article up or down in popularity (in much the same way Slashdot modifies comments) and they get “karma points” if something they linked to is voted onto the front page (Solution Watch has a nice overview).

As for a business model, Alexis didn’t give me much to go on, but he said that the two friends “started on reddit with the hope of being acquired one day, but as the project evolved we started exploring a model that could (hopefully) be sustainable.” He said there have been “overtures,” but that he and his partner are “loving this ride and we want to see how far it will take us.” As for venture capital, the company has met with a few but hasn’t taken any money. “We secured angel funding in August,” Alexis said, “that should, given our bare bones lifestyle (2 guys in a Cambridge apartment), last us until the thaw of summer.”

Thanks for taking the time to answer my questions, Alexis. I think reddit.com has some interesting twists on the del.icio.us model that make it potentially more useful, but whether that translates into financial success is the multimillion-dollar question. Best of luck to you and Steve.

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