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Why Did Yishan Wong Resign as Reddit CEO? (quora.com)
215 points by wyclif on Nov 14, 2014 | hide | past | web | favorite | 97 comments

Call me naive but I completely believe sama and yishan. Everyone's trying to find the "real" reason because we're all so used to companies lying or trying to save face in every non-positive situation. Too many times the boy has cried wolf and nobody's willing to believe that this time it's the truth. CEOs stepping down for major screwups citing "spending time with family" has made us question if anyone ever voluntarily resigns from a high profile job.

Voluntarily quitting is treated as an act of cowardice instead of strength. We espouse failing fast in projects but not in our own personal choices. People are questioning the real reason because they can't accept that a CEO of a hugely popular site has chosen to resign on good terms instead of being involuntarily ousted. Long ago I wrote something about quitting that many of my friends and family loved and hated ( http://chir.ag/200804242130 ) but I still stick by it. I wish more people would resign, breakup, divorce, and leave when they are in a miserable, non-salvageable situation than stick around and make everyone including themselves miserable.

Good luck to yishan and the new reddit crew!

> People are questioning the real reason because they can't accept that a CEO of a hugely popular site has chosen to resign on good terms instead of being involuntarily ousted

They're probably questioning those terms because the New York Times is also questioning it..


> But things have been tumultuous at Reddit in recent months. After the company raised a major investment round, Reddit management requested that the company’s global employees relocate to San Francisco or leave the company, according to tweets sent by Mr. Wong. Mr. Wong also recently had a public argument with a former employee of the site in which he laid out the terms of his former employee’s termination in excruciating detail. That incident, according to people close to the company, made some of Reddit’s current employees uncomfortable.

There are many ways to tell a partial, incomplete truth. You don't talk about certain parts. Doesn't make what you said any less true, but it is not the complete story.

> You don't talk about certain parts. Doesn't make what you said any less true, but it is not the complete story.

Do we, random Internet commenters, really need to know the complete story? I'm sure all involved parties (the board, the management, CEO, employees, owners) are privy to it. What do we have to gain?

I can see knowing this situation inside out would help those who are applying for a job at reddit. With the complete story they can judge whether it's a suitable workplace for them or not. But on the other hand you can't really be sure how you'd personally fit unless you actually work there.

Besides, what would make the story complete? Any statement from involved parties will be met with some skepticism as there's always a possibility that something was kept from the public. Do they need to back their story up by publishing private email logs, recorded phone calls, minutes from meetings, and Tinder-style screenshots of text messages? They can also be tampered with. So if a quest for the ultimate and objective truth is our goal here, I don't think we can reach it.

The other reasons I can think of is satisfying curiosity and entertainment value. Juicy gossips, where instead of washed-up, B-list celebrities we follow the lives of CEOs and employees of tech companies. Let's not forget that both kinds of stories are written to increase clicks and ad sales.

> Do we, random Internet commenters, really need to know the complete story?

If this was Twitter, Facebook, Microsoft, or some other similar company? No.

But Reddit is run on donations. They have relied on community support for almost a decade to stay afloat, and their relationship with their userbase is more mutual than any of the companies I listed above. They have talked about opening ownership of the company up to the users, and seem committed to it.

In that vein, yes, I think that it's reasonable for the users to expect the full story.

> If this was Twitter, Facebook, Microsoft, or some other similar company? No.

Interesting. I'd say the companies you've mentioned have a better case for sharing the full story since they all are publicly traded. Reddit, on the other hand, is a private company.

> But Reddit is run on donations

Although I feel a discussion is starting to go downhill the moment it focuses on semantics, I disagree that reddit runs on donations. Reddit gold is not a donation scheme; it's a "premium membership program" [1]. There's a clear list of benefits tied to a reddit gold account. Compare this with Wikimedia Foundation donations which offer no intrinsic benefits for donors. And it's true that reddit community is responsible for keeping the company afloat. But if you think of them as loyal customers who buy a premium membership service, it's not really different from other companies.

Plus, reddit doesn't rely exclusively on premium memberships as their revenue. They also serve ads and sponsored links, and they have redditgifts Marketplace.

They indeed talked about opening ownership of the company up to their users. It hasn't happened yet, but if it will I can see how the users deserve to know the details.

As of now? I don't think they owe the users the full story.

1 - https://www.reddit.com/gold/about

There is no "satisfying curiosity and entertainment value". There is no better evidence of that human weakness than Reddit.

"Call me naive but I completely believe sama and yishan."

I believe them as well, the big question for me (still) isn't why yishan left but why reddit needs to be 100% in San Francisco -- not in the sense of SF vs Daly City, but the Bay Area (only) vs. having offices in SLC, New York, etc. I'm sure there are hand-wavy reasons for it like synergy-collaboration-focus-blahdeblah but nobody has yet convinced me that it wasn't just a poor decision (one that seems to clearly have had a large impact in this departure even if yishan and the board agreed on the Bay Area centralization).

My bet is on YC culture via their presence on the board. My signal as evidence is the requirement that teams relocate to San Francisco as part of being funded. If I'm right -- and I'm not sure I am -- I would hope that's something that gradually changes over time.

Twitter's choice to stay in the city was a big bummer for me, but I understand why it happened. Once Caltrain electrifies and gets a bit more optimized, though, I really want to see more of this industry spread out to the peninsula so we can have a bit of a breather. East bay too. There's an ember of startup love taking root in Oakland and it'd be awesome if YC would blow on it.

San Francisco is complicated and this industry isn't helping as much as it could, is my point.

The least savory reason would be that it was a way to lay off a percentage of the staff without the bad PR that comes with layoffs.

I believe Yishan now that he's saying that the issue was long-term burnout, and the office thing just the last straw. That's not how it was initially framed by anyone.

I can see people who haven't hit that level of burnout might think Yishan is being crazy or an idiot. The truth is that startups can be insanely difficult and stressful, especially if it's your first time.

Once you've hit the wall the smallest thing can crack you up. I've seen people break down in a boardroom over seemingly trivial issues, but through the lens of years of insane stress it made sense.

Stress is a result of expectations. Expectations lie in the future, which pulls us away from being present. Life sucks if you aren't present, so it necessitates reminding yourself of intent and not of unmet expectations.

Someone else has been reading Ekhart Tolle lately.

Or any of the large number of Eastern philosophies that Tolle has taken most of his stuff from, many of which manage to present it in far less pseudo-mystical packaging than Tolle.

Or massive amounts of therapy after having a mid-life crisis. :)

Of course, that was a half-joking nudge. I'm in the same position myself: having a quarter-life crisis and trying to read my way through it

I've never read him, but I'll have to check him out!

On top of what you have stated, every person has a different level of tolerance to burn out. Heavy workaholics can go on for months before succumbing.

Sometimes people do ill-advised things for completely understandable reasons. Doesn't make the situation any less bad.

This is DHH's take on Yishan's resignation via Twitter. He seems to be heavily implying that this was not a voluntary resignation.

DHH: Reddit CEO's forced uprooting of employees outside SF got full board support, but moving one BART stop? YOU'RE FIRED

DHH: @andrewstepner No CEO is ever fired. Everyone always "voluntarily" resigns, whether that's actually the case or not.

DHH: "Yeah, just force those families to uproot their whole life. Give them a week. Ok, two.", then, "want US to travel 20 mins longer? NO, NO".


It's 6-7 further BART stops to Daly City. The continuing leadership also seems committed to geographically-centralizing the team for improved collaboration. I don't think DHH is showing any insight into the situation or players; he's just projecting his pet issues.

> The continuing leadership also seems committed to geographically-centralizing the team for improved collaboration.

Centralizing a dispersed team for improved collaboration would put them somewhere in Nebraska, maybe Colorado. Just say that the investors want them close by.

> It's 6-7 further BART stops to Daly City.

THE HORROR! Let me tell you about my Alameda/peninsula commute!

Can someone explain the office location issue? I haven't been following the drama. I'm assuming there was a large disagreement over moving offices outside of SF to Daly City?

I can see why that might be a divisive issue, but totally agree with DHH regarding the remote workers part.

To someone from outside the Bay Area, it must seem strange that office location could play such a large issue, but the specifics here are important. First, they were (apparently) requiring remote workers to move to the Bay Area.[1] This is weird in and of itself, and not necessarily with much precedent: it's one thing to decide that you don't want to have a distributed work force and/or grow locally, but it's quite another to decide that you want an extant remote work force to magically become local -- especially when local is the most expensive housing market in the country, and one that is essentially impossible to enter as an established adult.

Then, on top of that, they're moving the office to... Daly City?! Daly City is essentially the worst of all worlds: it's not really readily accessible to anyone -- and it's an undesirable eye sore on top of it. There are places that make no sense to relocate to that still make more sense than Daly City (e.g., Pleasanton, San Rafael, Alameda, Walnut Creek, Burlingame) -- Daly City is almost where you would locate a company if you simply hated the employees. So at that point, you do begin to wonder about the mental stability of the CEO: the choice of Daly City is so completely bizarre that it almost certainly reflects other things amiss in the way decisions are made.

[1] https://twitter.com/yishan/status/517365027515285504

Daly City's actually pretty convenient if you live near 280 or, to a lesser extent, 101. Most of it is only a few minutes away from the highway. If they found an office that was within walking distance of BART and had dedicated parking, I could see it being an interesting compromise solution.

Either the next SoMa or the next pets.com

The only way you could move such a thing to Daly City is if you could somehow pitch as a cool place to be. But as the poster below says, yeah, it's a compromise, which makes it a non-starter.

> Daly City is essentially the worst of all worlds: -- and it's an undesirable eye sore on top of it.

104,739 residents (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Daly_City,_California) would probably disagree.

Also, outside of San Francisco proper, Daly City is the only destination served by 4 BART lines.

> it's not really readily accessible to anyone

Wouldn't it be much easier to commute by car there?

It would be easier than SoMa to commute by car from the South Bay. But it still wouldn't exactly be "readily accessible" from anywhere south of Millbrae...

I saw this a BT in the UK the building services prt of teh comany got ideas above its staion and tried to move peopel out of central london.

All the new buildings had poor transport links - they even tried to move the head office to "a shead at heathrow" which was stoped when the ex engineer CEO used "engineering" language to F off

Reddit has grown so much under Yishan's stewardship: http://www.google.com/trends/explore#q=reddit

According to the graph, Reddit has tripled in size since SOPA. People could say that Reddit would have grown with or without Yishan, and while that may be true, it ignores how completely easy it is to mess up growth, especially for a site like Reddit.

Is google trends really indicative of growth? Not that I'm contesting that reddit has grown, it most definitely has.

I've always wondered. Alexa has become unusable, and Trends was the only free thing I could find. One datapoint that it works: When I used Google Trends to claim "Reddit seems to have doubled since 2013," no one contradicted that: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=8567833

It seems like all tools are indicating that Reddit is growing like a weed, though. Actually, Reddit is in a pretty unique position. Subreddits mean that pretty much every person on the planet is going to find something interesting, so everyone from 13 year olds to grandmas are participating.

I wonder how long Reddit will continue to grow before people start comparing it to Facebook.

Interesting comparison between reddit and facebook: https://i.imgur.com/NUkB96v.png

Notice facebooks decline.

Anyone have an idea what's the FB bump in 2013?

Probably mobile traffic gradually was taking over and users on mobile searched less for "facebook"?

I mean the increase in 2013.

Interesting. Maybe it's actually around May 2012 and thus is when they public?


I imagine that one thing CEOs hold dear is the ability to set direction. While the issue at hand (where do we put our office?) might not seem significant, it was clearly the straw that broke the camel's back. Tough situation. I believe (and hope) he'll bounce back and start something awesome.

I'm a little critical of Yishan on here, but I think this sounds fair and reasonable. I won't discount the stress of the job at all, it probably explains some of the things I've been critical of.

Being stressed out is the worst, being stressed out for months on end is like living in a personal hell. You're constantly fighting your animal fight or flight instincts, and you behave in ways that will seem (in retrospect) bizarre). I hope he can find some calm and peace. My experience is that it takes a terribly long time to come down off of a continuous stress high.

Good luck to Yishan in the future and to the new Reddit executive team.

The investors forced Yishan to do the relocation thing which was a backhanded layoff in order to keep more.money for the investors. And then he recommended not trying to make everyone go to San Francisco because at this point it is clusterfuck and a bad value.

From what I can tell, Yishan is a good guy, the investors are scum who make poor decisions, and Yishan couldn't fit in with that culture.

I truly do not see why people are so worked up over this.

It is a big site, yes. But it isn't publicly held, so its internal politics don't really have an impact on anyone who is not an employee or an investor. Its internal business operations, profitability, and ROI to its previous owners or current investors really have no impact on my life as a general user of the site. Its continued success or failure really doesn't either, if we are being honest. Maybe they will bring a grand vision to fruition in the future that will make it more important, but right now, it is just a site I go to when taking a coding break.

So I have no reason not to simply take the public statements at face value. Certainly, there is a PR spin on things. But so what? What does it gain anybody to dig deeper and push for more details?

Let it go, Let yishan move on, and let reddit's new team get to work.

A lot of startups would love to see the kind of growth (5x) Reddit achieved under Yishan's stewardship from around 30m to now 175m. That's some achievement imo!

I hope Yishan takes some time off before starting a new professional adventure.

>> i.e. how stressful is too stressful, until multiple outside people and coaches I was working with remarked to me that I looked incredibly worn down for months on end and it wasn't supposed to be this hard.

@sama did just tweet about saying you look tired[1].

[1] https://twitter.com/sama/status/532684505081864192

I've spoken to Yishan a few times over the last year about the stress of running Reddit - I can confirm the story as told by Sam and Yishan is true. Sometimes there is more to the story than what you see on the surface, but sometimes there isn't. In this case, there isn't.

When I see questions like this I ask myself what real impact it'll have on my life as an user of $x. Usually the answer is none or "I don't care".

I have quit jobs due to burnout and said it was something else, too.

No mention of this, though?


I would not want to work for any company whose CEO takes the low road on personnel issues. That was truly cringeworthy.

I don't know, Jeff, I'm on the fence on that one. I've been in situations where formers just make shit up about the company and trash it in discussion threads around the Internet, and it's a pretty demoralizing experience when none of it is true. My CEO at the time said "no, just ignore it, it'll blow over," which is advice I've hated since grade school when I was told to do that with the kids teasing me (at least now I understand why I was given that advice, but it did take me longer to discover that standing up for yourself pays more dividends). I mean, the situation it creates sucks: we can't say absolutely anything about it but Dickbag McFired can call us all lazy and incompetent all over HN and Reddit? And we just have to take it ... why? Because it'd be bad for the company if we didn't?

If my team is getting shit on constantly like that and none of it is true, I can kind of get behind a leader taking a stand and calling bullshit bullshit. I can also see the other side of how some folks would consider it the low road and unprofessional, even though I don't necessarily agree.

As I said, on the fence. Part of me appreciated calling bullshit bullshit. Part of me sympathized that he should probably have spoken through a PR mouthpiece. Honestly, I probably would have done the same thing in that situation, and that might be why I'm not a CEO.

Real talk: if considering whether or not to work for Yishan, that little incident might slip to the "pro" side instead of the "con" for me. The rest of his management of Reddit, not so clear.

Yes, but unless you're suggesting that Yishan was secretly fired because of it, that seems like an unrelated and unnecessary flame. Can't we be nice on HN just once?

Maybe we should see Yishan's comment as a sign that he was burnt out?

From the new york times article:


"Mr. Wong also recently had a public argument with a former employee of the site in which he laid out the terms of his former employee’s termination in excruciating detail. That incident, according to people close to the company, made some of Reddit’s current employees uncomfortable."

This was not some minor gaffe. This was a very public, major lapse in leadership judgment from the CEO.

It's possible, but Occam's Taser (I've decided that's a cooler name) seems to apply.

Either Sam and reddit employees and everyone else are risking their public reputation of being trustworthy people by saying things that were obviously untrue (like "Yishan really did resign because he felt like it"), or Yishan left because he chose to.

I have a lot of respect for you, and you're not just some random person. Do you feel there's a nonzero chance we're living in a world where nobody can say the truth, and everyone chooses to play along with a social game of "Oh, yes, this is what I really believe, wink wink"? I mean, it's possible, but why believe that? Isn't the simplest explanation that Yishan didn't want the job anymore?

If this is a case where the simplest explanation is mistaken, is there any evidence?

Notwithstanding any relevance here, the entire concept of 'manipulation' is to put forth an easy to follow line of logic that is at once intuitively appealing and deliberately false.

With respect to context, the principals involved are too sophisticated to be treated as simpletons-- the principal owners of Reddit are the owners Conde Nast et al.


Only simpletons would simply tell the truth? I don't understand what you mean.

All I'm saying is that I have direct, personal experience with Sam, and it seems more likely that we didn't visit the moon than that Sam is manipulative in a "I'm telling real lies that people would care about if discovered" sort of way. That'd make pg manipulative by definition, for one, since he appointed Sam as his successor. Everyone is manipulative to an extent, but going on record with "Yes, this really did happen in this way" is the line between social graces and the type of manipulation people spend their lives trying to avoid.

So are we fools for believing them? Or, given the propensity of people to call people sheeple, do you think that maybe the simplest explanation might be the better one here?

> it seems more likely that we didn't visit the moon than that Sam is manipulative in a "I'm telling real lies that people would care about if discovered" sort of way

All the best manipulators seem that way; most people vastly overestimate their own ability to judge character.

(I don't have a viewpoint on the larger question, but "seemed decent when I personally met him" is not at all convincing)

PG and SAMA have good facts I'm sure -- but those are not interchangable with their public writings. Divining one from the other is at best a speculative enterprise. And in this case, poor logic is not a substitute for good facts.

There are many ways to tell an incomplete, partial truth. It's still truth. It just isn't the whole story.

> This was a very public, major lapse in leadership judgment from the CEO.

And there may have been others. What bugs me about this whole discussion is that Reddit is not exactly a publicly traded company. If the CEO decides to quit and/or is fired then that's a company internal affair and their obligation to explain it to the world stops at 'nothing'. If both the CEO and a major investor take time out to give an explanation that apparently dove-tails why on earth would we not just believe them and move on. There is absolutely nothing to gain by trying to prove that he left because of some other reason because all the parties involved appear to be in agreement. If they weren't then that would be another matter (but it still would not be a productive discussion).

It looks like he was under a lot of stress and he snapped. If I was the CEO of Reddit I'd be tempted to tell the users to fuck off on a daily basis.

You see that's the reason you can never attain such heights. Alot of professionality is required at that level which means maintaining your composure. Thats why companies have PR manager.

You're right, but Reddit's user base seems particularly... difficult.

> that seems like an unrelated and unnecessary flame

Yes, and especially unrelated to the comment it was replying to, so we've detached it.

"If the job had been a energizing one rather than one that had been so draining, this probably wouldn't have been an issue I resigned over."

From this sentence itself, it is a clear sign that he has reached "I am burned out" staged. Time to move on when that stage is reached.

But the California defamation laws still needs to be fixed. Read http://www.reddit.com/r/bestof/comments/2igkke/reddit_ceo_ca... (particularly those words highlighted in bold) and weep.

Statements must be false to be defamatory (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Defamation#Truth).

While Yishan's actions may be considered unprofessional, he is legally in the clear so long as he was not lying.

I think you may be confusing defamation with disparagement; if a non-disparagement contract existed, then Yishan could be in legal trouble.

I see nothing wrong with that law.

If a company wants to say something negative about someone they better be able to prove it.

I am talking about the automatic damages and the requirement that it must be fact not opinion for example.

I wouldn't say it's California; it's Common Law. It's a legal system that's pretty much everywhere:


If an ex-employee of yours was spreading morale- and image-damaging falsehoods about your company, and misrepresented the reasons for their departure, and did this on your own platform no less, how would you respond?

"[Reporters: if you want to share this URL, append "?share=1" to the end of the URL so that viewers can view this answer without the regwall]"

Or maybe do that be default instead of forcing people to register?

When Quora first came on the scene I was a power user. That kind of shit spoiled things fast for me.

Personally, I'm less inclined to put up a fight about that than I once was. I argued pretty passionately that it was terrible and etc, but I've since spent some time on Quora. It has fascinating content. We should probably accept that their growth strategy is either brilliant and succeeding even without our Expert Input, or their growth strategy is dumb yet Quora is successful in spite of it. Either way, bringing it up every time Quora pops up is probably more harmful than helpful at this point.

Quora is successful? Their userbase is still below 5 million and most of their traffic comes from a third world country(India), and they still have exactly zero ads 5 years on after raising 161 million in capital.

Quora is an unmitigated failure at this point.

>>and most of their traffic comes from a third world country(India)

I'm not sure what you mean by this. But what has the traffic coming from India(third world country, seriously?) got anything to do with their success/failure?

India is an unique, magical and increasingly important country and I love its culture and people. However if half of its citizens don't have a toilet in their homes, yeah, its a third world country.[0]

As usual, that's not the problem with the people of India per se, but with the long term path-dependent development of country that has been a British colony for too long.


It contributes to their failure because third world advertising rates are quite low.

You might want to let their investors (who include Y Combinator) know - because they keep pouring money into Quora at ever higher valuations.

Pouring money into a company more or less requires ever higher valuations otherwise it would be much harder to find future investors.

The question then becomes what kind of assumptions underly their businessplan that they use to justify these higher valuations. These can make for very interesting reading, usually they translate into a loose form of: for every 'x' dollars of investment we can generate 'y' dollars (usually a multiple of 'x' ;) ) of turnover keeping the ship afloat long enough to pull in the next round of funding. As long as the funding keeps coming it will look really good to the untrained eye. The real issue of course is what the expected lifetime value is of the customers when taking into account the amount of overhead. If the balance here is close to zero it can become quite hard to distinguish the ultimate losers from the winners. 'At scale' then becomes the key, if you can't make it fly at a small size the theory is that the company will do just fine if you just scale it up drastically while keeping the overhead steady. This is a hard problem.

Since Quora's investors presumably did financial due diligence before they invested it is safe to assume that the story is a complex one and any variation on the theme mentioned above will be hard to dig up. The degree of desperation with which they try to monetize their traffic is a good indicator about what's going on behind the scenes.

Barometer: slowly dropping.

Oh, well, the investors said so. They're always right!

The greater fool theory of investing

Perhaps. All I'm saying is that they have good content. Give it a try, you may be surprised to find you like it. Even if they're on an implosion trajectory, Internet Archive will make sure most or all of it stays online. So it won't be a failure if you measure success as "generating positive contributions to the world" instead of dollars.


"Worth noting: Quora has no public API, no backup/export tools, blocks anonymous display of answers, and banned the Wayback Machine entirely."


"You agree that this license includes the right for... Quora to make your Content available to others for the publication, distribution, syndication, or broadcast of such Content on other media and services..."

"If you operate a search engine or robot... Quora gives you a... revocable... license... You must follow robots.txt at all times"

"We use these automated technologies to collect and analyze certain types of information... Quora itself does not respond to do not track signals"

"Quora agrees, in the performance of this agreement, to keep non-public information furnished by [government users] in the strictest confidence"

Having cake and eating it too

They banned Wayback Machine?

Quora, you're making it so difficult to like you.

Especially since they are eternally at risk of disappearing, I'm not too optimistic about Quora in the long run. Their competition is doing a lot better.

Wikipedia has good content and doesn't force you to register with some bullshit "growth hacker" tactic. Quora can die.

Wikipedia doesn’t have original content (i.e. the content needs to be based on other sources).

It doesn't have original content but it can link to such content.

Can the Internet Archive/ArchiveTeam scrape Quora with their regwall?

Question really is will. And IA respects robots.txt. Which is very reasonable given that they operate within a quasi-legal domain in which it's best that they don't archive anything that the archive owner doesn't at least implicitly want to be archived.

Which is why you scrape while the site is in business, and then only display once they've gone out of business.

Quora could be so much useful but they make it hard to use. Here's a pastebin link http://pastebin.com/FAYF2D9b to read freely what Yishan wrote.

I totally believe Yishan. Jokes aside, just look at his twitter profile picture! https://twitter.com/yishan This man is definitely burnout.

Yeah, I look at that picture and I see myself a few years back. It is far better to prevent burnout that try recover from it, as it's a pit that's really hard to climb out of.

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