Reddit is a social news site that was launched in June 2005. As of April 2007, Reddit is generating ~170,000 unique visitors and 1.9M page views per day. The company was acquired by Conde Nast Publications in October 2006 for an undisclosed sum. Reddit is thus far the most successful graduate of Paul Graham’s Y Combinator program, reaching a successful exit with just four employees and $100,000 in total angel funding.
Interviews conducted: Steve Huffman, Reddit co-founder. Aaron Swartz, early employee/co-founder via merger with infogami.com.
Key success factors
Easily accessible, interesting content the key to product appeal
Reddit’s success from a product perspective can largely be attributed to the site’s interesting content that is made easily accessible right on the home page. The Reddit team stuck with a design philosophy that focused on the content, as opposed to site features. The user submitted links to articles occupy the majority of the real estate on the site, and Reddit did not clutter the content with registration forms, ads, or features. Equally important to the accessibility of the articles, was the quality of the content itself. Reddit articles can best be described as news for tech-oriented people, but not just technology news. The articles tend to be intellectual and witty, largely shaped by the personality of Paul Graham devotees and the Reddit founders’ themselves. Because Reddit competitor Digg launched off the basis of Kevin Rose’s TechTV audience, one could theorize that the Digg community is more tech gadget oriented and mainstream, while Reddit has the personality of a high-end hacker. Regardless, of the origins, I think it is fair to say that Reddit’s success has a lot to do with the articles being interesting. I think you would be hard pressed to visit Reddit and not find at least one article where you learned something pretty cool or did not crack a smile.
Initial community of Paul Graham devotees
An important factor to Reddit’s success was its affiliation with Paul Graham; this is aside from the seed financing, support, and business advice that Y Combinator provides to it’s start-ups. Paul Graham was directly responsible for helping to launch Reddit, by sending traffic from his website over to Reddit. As detailed in the Launch Strategy section below, a link from Paul’s site generated a consistent 3,000 – 4,000 visitors per day to Reddit immediately upon site launch. Another event that aided the growth of Reddit was a blog post about Reddit changing the Reddit site from Lisp (correction: created by John McCarthy but was evangelized by Paul Graham) to Python. This stirred a bit of controversy in the blogosphere, and exposed more Lisp fans to the Reddit site.
Partnership opportunities led to exit
Reddit’s successful exit to Conde Nast was due in large part to an OEM relationship that Reddit had developed with Conde Nast. Reddit adapted its technology to power a site called LipStick.com, launched by Conde Nast and targeted at the celebrity gossip market. The Reddit team and technology impressed Conde Nast during this interaction, ultimately leading to its acquisition. The lesson learned here is perhaps obvious, but successful partnerships do lead to successful exits. Reddit did well to maintain its flexibility in regard to business model choices, making itself available to OEM opportunities, rather than just building Reddit as a destination site.
Launch strategy and marketing
Reddit was launched on June 22, 2005, and saw fairly steady growth from that point forward. Initial traffic was provided by referring traffic from Paul Graham’s website to Reddit, resulting in 3,000 – 4,000 visitors per day upon launch. This provided the initial spark to grow the community.
Reddit seeded the initial content on Reddit almost exclusively through the efforts of the Reddit team in the early days. For the first few months of Reddit’s life, Reddit...