On Thursday, Reddit announced a big shakeup at the top. Founder Alexis Ohanian was coming back to the company full-time as executive chairman, heading up marketing, communications, strategy, and community. Meanwhile, senior vice president Ellen Pao, an electrical engineer, former corporate lawyer, and one-time partner at venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caulfield & Byers, would be stepping in as interim CEO. (Learn more about her here.)
There was plenty of speculation about why Reddit CEO Yishan Wong was stepping down. Y Combinator president Sam Altman wrote on his blog that Wong’s resignation was self-imposed, with no pressure from management:
The reason was a disagreement with the board about a new office (location and amount of money to spend on a lease). To be clear, though, we didn’t ask or suggest that he resign—he decided to when we didn’t approve the new office plan.
We wish him the best and we’re thankful for the work he’s done to grow reddit more than 5x.
The New York Times notes that “the exact circumstances around Mr. Wong’s departure are unclear,” before pointing to an event a few months ago that may have made Reddit’s employees uncomfortable: When a former engineer took to a Reddit Ask Me Anything thread to speculate about why he was fired from the company, Wong jumped in and embarrassingly chewed him out.
Now taking to question-and-answer website Quora (a company that he advises), Wong attempts to demystify the circumstances surrounding his departure. “All of the reasons that Sam has outlined in public are true,” he writes in a post. “I know it sounds somewhat unbelievable because it’s so weird, but if it was made up, I think any PR person would have come up with a better made-up story.”
Wong continues (emphasis added):
The job as CEO of reddit is incredibly stressful and draining. After two and a half years, I’m basically completely worn out, and it was having significantly detrimental effects on my personal life. If anything, I probably pushed myself way too far – as a first-time CEO, all I knew was that such jobs are supposed to be stressful, so I never really had a good baseline, 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.
Before coming to Reddit, Wong was a longtime engineer at Facebook until 2010, and was instrumental in helping the social network scale. With Reddit under his stewardship, Wong faced a tidal wave of outside scrutiny as the community grew, particularly with regard to gross subReddits like r/creepshots and blanket bans on publications critical of Reddit’s practices.
In his farewell, Wong goes on to congratulate the new team, noting that Pao—whom he “personally hired”—is a “close friend” and “one of the most capable executives” that he has ever worked with. “I hope she’ll become the permanent CEO,” he adds.