Ellen Pao Part Of A “Long Con” At Reddit?

Former Reddit CEO Yishan Wong posted a tantalizing conspiracy theory to the site on Saturday.

Ellen Pao Part Of A “Long Con” At Reddit?
[Photo: © STEPHEN LAM/Reuters/Corbis]

When ex-Reddit CEO Ellen Pao announced her decision to resign last Friday, it came after a week of heady debate over her future at the social news site. Many in the Reddit community reacted angrily to the company’s dismissal of talent director Victoria Taylor the week prior, resulting in a temporary shutdown of hundreds of subreddits and many users calling for Pao to step down.


On Sunday, Gawker found a post by former Reddit CEO Yishan Wong that might point to a more disquieting–and very likely fabulist–explanation for Pao’s trajectory at the company. In a response to a Reddit thread titled “What’s the best “long con” you ever pulled?”, Wong spun a wild tale that almost seems plausible:

Here’s one.

In 2006, reddit was sold to Conde Nast. It was soon obvious to many that the sale had been premature, the site was unmanaged and under-resourced under the old-media giant who simply didn’t understand it and could never realize its full potential, so the founders and their allies in Y-Combinator (where reddit had been born) hatched an audacious plan to re-extract reddit from the clutches of the 100-year-old media conglomerate.

Together with Sam Altman, they recruited a young up-and-coming technology manager with social media credentials. Alexis, who was on the interview panel for the new reddit CEO, would reject all other candidates except this one. The manager was to insist as a condition of taking the job that Conde Nast would have to give up significant ownership of the company, first to employees by justifying the need for equity to be able to hire top talent, bringing in Silicon Valley insiders to help run the company. After continuing to grow the company, he would then further dilute Conde Nast’s ownership by raising money from a syndicate of Silicon Valley investors led by Sam Altman, now the President of Y-Combinator itself, who in the process would take a seat on the board.

Once this was done, he and his team would manufacture a series of otherwise-improbable leadership crises, forcing the new board to scramble to find a new CEO, allowing Altman to use his position on the board to advocate for the re-introduction of the old founders, installing them on the board and as CEO, thus returning the company to their control and relegating Conde Nast to a position as minority shareholder.

JUST KIDDING. There’s no way that could happen.

Wong suggests–just as a joke, of course–that Pao’s resignation and the events that led up to it were all part of a conspiracy to bring back the company’s original leadership and wrestle its autonomy back from Conde Nast. As Gawker‘s Sam Biddle writes, this was likely not how things played out–but it’s frighteningly close to the truth.

Reddit board member Sam Altman, also the president of Y Combinator, penned a tongue-in-cheek response to Wong’s story:

Cool story bro.

Except I could never have predicted the part where you resigned on the spot 🙂

Other than that, child’s play for me.

Thanks for the help. I mean, thanks for your service as CEO.

And newly instated CEO Steve Huffman chimed in with his own quip: “We all had our roles to play.”

Pao was not amused, it seems at first glance, though the /s at the end of her comment may indicate otherwise (/s generally denotes “sarcasm” on Reddit): “How is this funny? /s”

Our favorite comment, though, came from user SmileyMe53, who wrote: “This is like OJ writing a book called if I did it.”



About the author

Pavithra Mohan is an assistant editor for Fast Company Digital. Her writing has previously been featured in Gizmodo and Popular Science magazine.