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How I targeted the Reddit CEO with Facebook ads to get an interview at Reddit (twicsy-blog.tumblr.com)
558 points by dumbfounder on May 19, 2018 | hide | past | favorite | 102 comments

Reminds me of this article where Brian Swichkow pranks his roommate with targeted ads that are hilarious http://ghostinfluence.com/the-ultimate-retaliation-pranking-...

Is it just me or do conversations he posted between him and his roommate seem a little off... They just don't read like any natural conversation I've ever had or have seen, and I'm not sure people naturally talk like that.

The subtlety of a normal conversation might have been lost due to the writer's poor writing skills. This is just a speculation though as I have faced similar problems in jotting down my views.

The roommate uses old-school double spaces after full stops, they just might care a lot about their online appearance.

Also reminds me of this article by Jack Smith (Vungle co-founder) where he used LinkedIn to do something similar: https://thehustle.co/the-linkedin-hack-that-made-me-120000

Seems unfair to deny the prank when the roommate straight accused him.

ah that was a great read, thanks for sharing!

I did this with the CEO of Breather. Back then, you could target based off of employer, job description, school, and interests. You could also make these target options mutually exclusive—which, in the case of Breather CEO Julien Smith—meant an audience of 1.

My unlisted Medium post got 1 read. Felt like a damn king when it worked. Cost me (I shit you not) 20 cents to pull off.

Epilogue: I quoted him too high, and didn't get the job. Oh well. Still one of my best stunts ;)

I feel like Chris Soghoian (or maybe Ashkan Soltani) also did this in the same timeframe with Google executives when he wanted to lobby them individually about policy issues—but I didn't immediately find a reference to it. (But I think it was the same method, like targeting attorneys at Google who had a certain combination of almae matres.)

20 cents? That's cheaper than a stamp!

And you get read receipts!

Could you share the Link to your medium post please :)

I simply sent him a well-worded cold email. Worked well enough for a response and a discussion. (Nothing came of it for me, either.)

Reminds me of this story: http://ghostinfluence.com/the-ultimate-retaliation-pranking-...

Might have to try myself someday

That is hilarious. I wish I could do that. Too bad all my friends use adblock.

What an excellent read :)

So 2 years later and he's not with Reddit anymore. Are we not supposed to ask about that part? Sounds like this wasn't exactly a success story.

I didn't end up working for Reddit. I wanted the head of search position that was open, but they thought I didn't have enough experience. We talked about an IC role, but I would have had to move to the SF area (I live in DC) as they didn't allow remote employees. I couldn't justify uprooting my family (wife and 3 little kids) to move to a more expensive part of the country for less money than I can make in DC, even with the promising stock options. It was a hard decision. Still don't know if it was right one.

(For the sake of full disclosure, I was never extended an offer, we decided to break talks prior to that stage based on the salary/location discussions)

How many years have you been at this? How do/did you learn the more architectural problem solving skills? I ask because I am pretty skilled technically, but only down in the weeds. Reading your blog post about the two techniques and how to combine them, I can understand, but I would not come up with this myself.

Nearly 20 years. I learned by attempting to do things that were kind of ridiculous. Like building a large scale general web search engine with hundreds of millions of pages (that was a lot in 2004) using 30+ servers in my townhouse. Go build something ambitious and you will learn how to put it all together!

I'm curious then, do you know on what basis they made the decision that you did not have enough experience?

They wanted someone that had been head of search at a large company.

Sounds like they should be headhunting rather than advertising generally with unwritten, very specific requirements.

Ok, I have 6 years, so that makes me feel better.

Well you got their attention, anyway. And short-circuited what is, at most companies, a pretty soul-crushing process!

What is an IC role?

individual contributor ie non management

Individual contributor can still be management, but in this case the position often means others matrix and not directly report ib to you. Influence, threat, or use magic wands to get things done.

I didn’t understand a single thing you just said.

Basically it involves promoting synergy and a lot of blue sky thinking.

Individual Contributor.

Well, we don't know if he got the job :)

It's possible he did what he wanted to do there and had decided to move on!

I wonder how many ads Fox News has sold to people who want to reach a certain audience of one. At least one!


> [Hacker News] is an amazing community, built off an early version of Reddit, and run by Y-Combinator (which incubated Reddit way back when)

I just scanned wikipedia, first version of reddit was from 2005, and first version of hacker news was 2007.

I always thought PG wrote the code for Hacker News, does that imply that PG helped write the first (Lisp) version of reddit before Aaron Swartz rewrote reddit in Python?

This doesn't work anymore. All the ad platforms now require thousand(s) of users in a targeted audience.

Minimum custom audience size on Facebook is currently set at 20. You can target them by email if you have it.

Add one person and 19 other people of the opposite gender. Then, filter by gender.

Would someone elaborate how one would target an ad to an audience of 100 email addresses?



Just makes it more expensive! How much would you pay for your dream job or a new lead? A few hundred or thousand dollars would be chump change to a lot of people.

my ignorance and naivete are really annoying me. How do you write an ad to 'target' a person? How do you personalize spam??

If you have an infinite budget, I could 'target' you by purchasing every ad on the internet with the copy "hi bawana, click this link!"

Nearly every impression would be seen by the wrong person, but a few of the impressions would be seen by you.

The rest of the exercise is figuring out how to segment the audience based on whether it's likely/unlikely that you're in the segment. If I know you're from the US and live in California, I can geo-target to that region.

modem ad technology can do it... your mastercard and visa purchase behavior, for example, is available for purchase. That data can be merged with other purchased data, and things like aggregated browsing behavior. This is all done to serve people who may be in my target audience with (semi) personalized ads. The ad may not appeal to you, so it gets classified as spam.

Someone recently did this for my employer, but instead of targeting just the CEO they targeted every employee working here with a Facebook ad.

I have a lot of mixed feelings about it but at the end of the day I don't think they earned a good reputation with the stunt.

Are you sure it wasn't just some larger set that included everyone at your firm? E.g. everyone in your industry, or everyone at your office park?

Fairly sure; the ad was literally “hey _____ employees, please hire me!” with a video and everything.

I believe you can filter down to “works at X company” in the ad targeting. It’s possible they did some sort of other broader targeting, though.

There was an article on HN of a writeup from someone that pulled this off recently. I think the post was probably someone in the neighborhood of 4-6 months ago.

I don't recall the company or the person that was targeted though.

Copy of the article that works with JS disabled:


Thanks. I couldn't get past the "Update to our privacy policy" thing even with JS enabled.

> My first thought was email. I can just email him! But that’s boring.

> What about getting my article to the top of Hacker News?

> The problem is, I didn’t think my article would be interesting enough to a large crowd to make it to the top of HN.

Ha! He not only played Reddit's CEO with a Facebook ad…

He also got his blog post into the HN top-ten (today).

Well done my friend, well done.

What's more: he concludes with "P.S. I am out again looking for new opportunities". So besides being excellent at putting his work in front of his target audience, he may go 2 for 2 on the job front.

Chris got Steve's attention but never worked at reddit[1], Nina got Brian's attention[2] but never worked at Airbnb[3] and Feross got Chad's attention[4] but never worked at YouTube[5] even though TechCrunch jumped to report he accepted the job[6].

None of them was actually ever offered one.

Make what you want of it.

[1] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=17110763

[2] https://twitter.com/bchesky/status/590561521576587265

[3] https://eatwritewalk.com/2015/07/14/the-good-the-bad-and-the...

[4] https://twitter.com/chad_hurley/status/24129459657

[5] https://www.quora.com/Why-would-Feross-Aboukhadijeh-turn-dow...

[6] https://techcrunch.com/2010/09/24/youtube-instant-instant/

Feross was actually offered (at least) an internship per the link you provided.

I meant an offer, not an “offer”.

I don’t think there was one.

I might be wrong tough and Feross is around here. If he’d want to clarify I’m sure he can. So can Chad, btw.

But it’s been almost 8 years, so...

not sure what to make of it to be honest. they showed resourcefulness, which is good. but there's more to being a good employee at that. esp at a startup beyond a certain scale.

Would Reddit still be considered a startup?

I'm with you. This is the same Reddit that's owned by the ~44th largest private company in the world?

It is an amazing way and very growth-hackish (in the true way, not just marketing rebranded). As a long-term HN visitor, I really enjoyed the writeup and I'm not surprised at all it's in the front-page of HN.

Can't you buy upvotes? Bunch of accounts running with a script through Tor?

Not sure why you are being downvoted.

Yes, you can buy upvotes on Reddit. It's about 5 bucks for a couple hundred, often more than enough to get to the front page of mid sized subreddit.

But egregiously violating the TOS and general spirit of reddit seems like not the best way to get a job there.

"Growth hacking". Perfectly fits the VC-funded startup spirit.

Noted. I'm sure they do it on Hacker News as well.

I meant on Hacker News.

I'm surprised this worked. I would have assumed he had adblock of some sort.

Anecdotal, but I personally don't block ads on Facebook because I want to see what other people are advertising. Perhaps he has the same philosophy.

Mobile apps and some mobile browsers don't support ad block.

While I have ublock on my laptop, i still get ads when I am on my phone which ironically is where these companies get most of their revenue these days.

If you have a Raspberry Pi, look into using Pi-hole[1]. It provides network-wide blocking when installed on your home network by proxying requests. I also use AdGuard Pro[2], which provides a similar function when I'm outside my home network. Both happen to be open source software[3][4], so that's a plus.

[1]: https://pi-hole.net/

[2]: https://adguard.com/en/adguard-ios-pro/overview.html

[3]: https://github.com/pi-hole/pi-hole

[4]: https://github.com/AdguardTeam/AdguardForiOS

Still doesn't block ads from the Facebook mobile app.

Even if you install a root cert to MITM, some apps pin certs.

Of course, there are ways around this: you could make a copy of Facebook that doesn’t pin certificates.

True. Not for iOS though, atleast without a jailbreak.

> Not for iOS though, atleast without a jailbreak.

If you have persistence, no jailbreak is needed. Would require you to binary patch the executable then resign the binary using your own Apple Dev account. Far from trivial, but still doable and without Jailbreaking.

And jailbreaks are getting harder and harder to find by each iOS update.

FF on mobile supports ublock. Not going to help in apps, but you can have everything open into FF.

if you have android you can get Netguard from github [0]. Its from the Xprivacy dev; functions as a firewall (VPN), w/o root. The github version supports ability to load Hosts file that can block domains (ads) - like the hosts files used by Ublock. This generally blocks ads across the OS. iOs should have something similar.


I just tried that and reddit/facebook/chrome still showed adds.

The goal of NetGuard is to function as a Firewall to limit apps ability to phone home without consent. The host file feature will block most in-app advertising and provide some protection for web browsing. Ads within facebook can be blocked using custom host filed within Ublock/Umatrix. I dont know about ad-blocking within the FB app itself.

Generally, you should be using Firefox, not Chrome, with Ublock and/or Umatrix installed to maintain control of your web experience. FB web interface can be used and ads generally blocked. Reddit's native ads are served directly via first party URLs so it is tuff to block. Reddit's made changes for the advertisers and their new UI is meant to popularize Native ads.

Blockada can block ads in other mobile apps on a non-rooted Android phone.

Why would you assume so?

Not the parent, but just a few thoughts:

He is the CEO of a technology company.

The necessary knowledge about the existence of content blockers as well as the technological literacy to set them up is probably a given.

He also probably has a high value attached to his attention, given that he is in quite a power position. This, I'd argue, would make a greater reflection of media habits more likely.

Additionally there might be the security/privacy aspect. Executives should really focus on security as their devices might be of greater value than your average grandmother's Scrabble tablet.

We are many people that don't use adblock because we don't want to, not because we don't know how to.

That is true, I did not want to deny that.

However I think that it is not very speculative to say that, if more people knew about content blocking, more people would block unwanted content. My intention behind assuming his knowledge/competence was only meant to exclude nescience from the list of potential reasons for him to not block content.

Ok, fair enough! I misread your comment.

Personally I'm thinking that since he's the CEO of a company which monetizes on ads it could be that he wants to follow ad trends, see what's going on in the ad space, what other people are advertising etc.

Reminds me of a clever approach a former colleague used to land a job, connecting famous / high-profile people: http://katelynfriedson.com/post/70127031536/how-i-used-custo...

Somewhat related: Since a few weeks I'm regularly getting a Facebook ad with the title "I want to work at [company name]. Can you help?" from someone who seems to be interested in a job at the company at which I'm working.

Anyone else who noticed similar ads?

There have been a good few of stories of people trying to get jobs, internships, client meetings with clever hack like this. I don't why this hit the front page.

Related to your story, it's either this person really wants to work for your company or you're part of a huge bigger list of employees whose company the person wants to work for. So the person might have just lumped your company with the others in the ad targeting set up.

The cost should also account for the work put in and the years of experience and know how to pull it off. It cost you $10, but it would cost me several hundreds or even thousands to pay experts to do it for me.

How is that relevant? When calculating my home's value should I add the cost of my college tuition? I wouldn't have my job without my degree, and I wouldn't have my house without my job.

Classic HN comment: criticize someone else's cool idea to make one's self feel better about not having that idea.

I am surprised that Reddit CEO does not use adblockers.

Why you stayed only 2 years there?

Answer is below/above. He did not accept the position offered.

Here’s how i did something similar a few years ago, using Linkedin ads:


The same trick was used to convinced Putin to go for olympic games in Sochi. Except they used ad in radio programme [1].

[1] All the Kremlin's Men by Mikhail Zygar

Can you show us the Facebook Ad placement and the article you sponsored? Would be very interesting

Cynical me all the while thinking this is an ad for Facebook.

so it's just a matter of time before someone proposes to their girlfriend with a targeted Facebook ad :(

How I wrote a content free article to get upvotes on HN.

It's a small story but there's content there. Please don't post mean or unsubstantive comments!

This is savage :)

Reminds me of S4E8 Breaking Bad when Gus tricks Don Eladio into a meeting.

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