Evan Spiegel Interviews Steve Huffman on Saving Reddit from Death

Evan Spiegel Interviews Steve Huffman on Saving Reddit from Death

This afternoon WPP Beach at Cannes Lions saw two young tech entrepreneurs worth a combined US $3.5 billion sit down for a casual chat. They were Snapchat Co-founder & CEO Evan Spiegel and Reddit Co-founder & CEO Steve Huffman.

Evan Spiegel interviewed his friend Steve Huffman about his return to Reddit five years ago after leaving the company in 2009. Both have built incredibly successful technology businesses.

There are 190 million users globally on Snapchat and according to new research, they reach 90 per cent of all 13-24 year olds in the US.

Meanwhile Reddit has a base of 330 million users, the largest ever community for tech lovers and gamers.

Steve Huffman: “When we started Reddit, we didn’t know what we were building. And even in our wildest dreams we didn’t think we’d be here today, let along dreaming of what we want to do in the future.”

“I was gone for five years and when I left Reddit, it was already bigger than I think I’d ever imagined. And it was the only thing I’d every done. So I had no perspective.

“I thought if you build something and put it online, it will just grow. That’s what happened with Reddit. And coming back was actually a very difficult decision.

“I was at Hipmunk which is a a travel search company, I was slinging plane tickets. And Reddit was going through a really difficult time.

“It was basically ritually committing suicide in front of the entire internet. If there was a checklist of things you could do to kill a company, Reddit was masterful at working their way down that list.

“But I was happy at Hipmunk and I didn’t want to leave. I was the co-founder of that business. 

“My deciding moment was my realisation that Reddit is more important to the world now than Hipmunk will ever be. I thought to myself Reddit has incredible potential and it would be a real shame if it died.

“And I thought I could help. And that is the spirit in which I came back to the company.”

Evan Spiegel: “So you saved Reddit from death? Well thank you.

“One of the things that founders are known for, one of the most important parts of the job is setting the culture and building a team that reflects your values and what you want to create in the world.

“How do you define the culture at Reddit?”

Huffman: “That’s a good question. And actually when I came back to Reddit the culture of the company was not aligned with me.

“I spent a lot of time of thinking abut this and how I change it. There were lots of intentional things we did but more than anything, the culture and values of a company really reflects the culture and value of its leadership. And that happens very naturally. You have to actually do more work to make that not the case.

“So when I came back to Reddit in 2015, I think we had 70-80 people and within the first year about 50 of them were gone. We let some people go but a lot of them just left. You can see how quickly people realise ‘it’s not for me’.

“Everything else falls into place once you have the leadership in place.”

Spiegel: “Another famous founder who left and then returned was Steve Jobs. How have you grown from V1 Steve to V2 Steve and what changed?”

Huffman: “Reddit v1, which I guess was Steve v1: we were winging it! We didn’t know what we were doing, we followed our intuition.

“Our product philosophy was that we would build things that we like.

“My thesis was, ‘if I like it, there are millions of people just like me so they’ll also like it.’ Which turned out to be true!

“But it turns out that if you’re trying to build a really large company, there are millions of people like me but there aren’t hundreds of millions of people like me. So intuition can only take you so far.”

“At Hipmunk we had to learn a really important but painful lesson which is: ‘I am not my customer.’

“At Hipmunk we had this idea that people travelled just like me and my co-founder Adam do. But it turns out they don’t. We are actually anomalies. We are consumer travellers who travel a lot.

“It turns out that that doesn’t exist. Consumers travel once or twice a year and business people travel a thousand times a year.

“Having empathy and building products for people that are different from us was probably the most important lesson I learnt.

“And the other big change was that I was an engineer. For the first five years of Reddit that’s basically all I did: write code for Reddit.

“At Hipmunk I was CTO and coming back to Reddit was the first time I was a full-time manager.

“If I went back in time and told my 22-year-old self, ‘you are going to obsess about management, you are going to read every book and talk to people about leadership and management and board structures and you’re going to go nuts for mission and values’, I would have have said, ‘get out, there’s no way!’

“But actually I really love that stuff now!”

“We’re in the ads business. It’s funny because when we started Reddit, we didn’t want to be in the ads business.

“I was an internet idealist. Ads just felt icky. Our starting ethos was that we felt that the whole world is bullshit. Media is bullshit. Marketing is bullshit. Everybody’s lying to us. We just want a place that’s real.

“That’s what we built at Reddit. And one of the things that I’ve learnt is that I used to be cynical about brands. In talking to brands I’ve realised that these people really love the companies they work for.

“For example, we have a community on Reddit called Makeup Addiction. Makeup Addiction is for people who really like make-up. They post pictures of themselves, they give tutorials and ask for advice. And L’Oreal is an advertiser and it’s a really natural fit there.

“One of the lessons I had to learn is that instead of thinking of L’Oreal as an advertiser, I think of L’Oreal as a company who employs people who love make-up so much that they work at L’Oreal.

“And Makeup Addiction is a place for them to hang out.

“Ads on Reddit, I think, are a little bit different. It’s not about blasting your message as loudly and frequently as possible. It’s about being in touch with your customers, with your communities, with people who have the same passions that you have, and it’s an opportunity to create a connection that is very difficult to create anywhere else in the world.

Spiegel: “One of the things that you’ve been really passionate about it is about protecting user privacy. You’ve said publicly that Reddit wasn’t built to collect and sell user information.

“But advertisers sometimes ask for advanced targeting or really detailed profiles of users so that they can better target their messages.

“How do you think about those trade-offs between user privacy and effective advertising?”

Huffman: “I think we come from a similar place in being idealistic about the internet and people’s privacy.

“I very strongly believe in a company that can build great content and ads without violating people’s privacy.

“If you want to target people who wear make-up, go to Makeup Addiction. It’s very simple and straightforward. Even a marketer can figure it out.

“Aligning around people’s interests and values and passions is very straightforward and you’re not violating people’s privacy to do so.

“And also this idea that privacy and advertising are at odds with one another – I’d like to squash that idea.

“Fundamentally, for us, we know things about our users, they tell us things, we can figure things out from the data but we just make it transparent. Let people opt-out, let people reset their data, give them control.

“I don’t think it’s too much to ask that we have that contract between our users. This is how our business works, this is what we can target on and you can opt out if you want to.

“People want relevant ads and they also want to know that the conversation they’re having is authentic and that the company they’re dealing with is telling the truth.”

Please login with linkedin to comment

Cannes Lions Cannes Lions 2019 evan spiegel reddit Snapchat Steve Huffman

Latest News

Eyeota Enhances Reach And Targeting Precision For RDA Research
  • Marketing

Eyeota Enhances Reach And Targeting Precision For RDA Research

Leading Australian market research data brand, RDA Research, provides actionable consumer intelligence to help businesses inform decision making and growth strategies. RDA Research wanted to make its unique consumer data available for addressable digital targeting and required a data onboarding partner to help activate their data in an online environment.

Enthral Strengthens Journalistic DNA By Hiring Channel 7 Reporter Sean Sowerby
  • Media

Enthral Strengthens Journalistic DNA By Hiring Channel 7 Reporter Sean Sowerby

Storytelling agency Enthral has appointed Channel 7 reporter and sports presenter Sean Sowerby as its new senior PR and content manager in Melbourne. Sowerby (pictured) started his award-winning career at 3AW before spending more than 15 years in television. Enthral founder and manager director, Cameron Smith, spoke of the significance of Sowerby joining the agency. […]

Blis Puts Its CEO In The Desert In Clever New “Data Drought” Ad
  • Campaigns
  • Technology

Blis Puts Its CEO In The Desert In Clever New “Data Drought” Ad

Ever since Google first announced it would be getting rid of third-party cookies on Chrome, digital advertising businesses have been actively sharing their plans for life after cookies. And now programmatic advertising company Blis might have come up with the most creative way to get the message across, in a new video which sees company […]

Agency Icon Sweeps The SABRE Awards
  • Marketing
  • Media

Agency Icon Sweeps The SABRE Awards

Integrated Melbourne agency Icon has taken top honours in the 2021 SABRE Awards, winning the coveted Australasian Consultancy of the Year for 2021 along with a host of category and craft awards. Icon led a large field of Australian agencies with a total of three major and seven minor awards, including gold in the cause-related […]

Former Agency Execs Launch Car Service Summon
  • Marketing
  • Media

Former Agency Execs Launch Car Service Summon

Former agency executives Tim O’Neill and Tim Fouhy have launched the auto technology startup Summon. Australia’s first full e-commerce service for prestige cars. O’Neill and Fouhy both founded Reactive, a digital agency, which was bought by Accenture in 2016. Following the deal, O’Neill and Fouhy ended up leading the company’s digital marketing arm, Accenture Interactive before […]