Former CEO Wong throws major accusations at Reddit

Yishan Wong says Alexis Ohanian used Pao to get control of the company back, and the he fired Taylor

Financial trends and news by Steven Loeb
July 13, 2015
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Things went tospy turvy over at Reddit last week, with interim CEO Ellen Pao resigning this past Friday and with, Steve Huffman, founder and the original reddit CEO, returning to his old position.

A lot of redditors are happy about this news, given that over 150,000 of them signed a petition to have Pao fired. But at least one person is pretty angry about this whole situation: former Reddit CEO Yishan Wong. And he spent the weekend throwing accusations at his old company, most specifically at Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian.

First, a little background: Pao came under fire following the firing of a popular Reddit employee, Victoria Taylor, who ran the site's Ask Me Anything (AMA) feature the week before.  There was a mass protest from subreddit moderators, who  set their communities to private, essentially blocking them from public view.

Now Wong has taken to Reddit to say that it was actually Ohanian, not Pao, who was responsible for Taylor's firing.

"I'm glad redditors have started to piece together all of this. Here's the only thing you're missing: It travels upstream, except when it comes from the CEO's boss," he wrote (emphasis his).

"Alexis wasn't some employee reporting to Pao, he was the Executive Chairman of the Board, i.e. Pao's boss. He had different ideas for AMAs, he didn't like Victoria's role, and decided to fire her. Pao wasn't able to do anything about it. In this case it shouldn't have traveled upstream to her, it came from above her."

Ohanian, said Wong, should have been defending Pao "when the hate-train started up."

"Instead, he just sat back and let her take the heat. That's a stunning lack of leadership and an incredibly shitty thing to do," Wong alledges. "I actually asked that he be on the board when I joined; I used to respect Alexis Ohanian. After this, not quite so much."

Ohanion then replied to Wong, saying "It saddens me to hear you say this, Yishan. I did report to her, we didn't handle it well, and again, I apologize."

Wong then responded back to Ohanion, again coming to Pao's defense.

"It wasn't 'we didn't handle it well' - Ellen actually handled things very well, and with quite a bit of grace given the prejudices arrayed against her and the situation she was put in - you didn't handle it well," he wrote.

"There was tremendous amounts of unnecessary damage done as a result, and we are only able to say that things might turn out ok because Huffman agreed to return and take up the mantle."

Ohanian, it should be noted, returned to Reddit as full-time executive chairman only when Wong abruptly resigned in November following a disput over a new office space (yup, you read that correctly). Wong wanted to move the office from San Francisco to Daly City but the board pushed back, and Wong resigned in protest.

That is what allowed Pao, who was then a business and partnerships strategist at Reddit, to take over the mantle as CEO.

Also, it was Ohanian who apologized for how the Taylor situation was handled, not Pao.

Honestly, given how his tenure with Reddit ended, Wong doesn't exactly seem like the most reliable source for what was happening, especially given that he left nine months ago. Also, he went on Reddit on Saturday and essentially accused the company, including Ohanion, investor Sam Altman and Huffman of an elaborate conspiracy theory to return control of the company to its original team.

It started, he says, with the acquisition of the site by Condé Nast Publications in October 2006, becoming a direct subsidiary of Condé Nast's parent company, Advance Publications, in September 2011. 

"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," wrote Wong.

The founders, and Altman, then "recruited a young up-and-coming technology manager with social media credentials," meaning Wong, to be the new CEO. Ohanion "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," Wong wrote. "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."

The next part of the plan meant the company would have to "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."

Essentially, what Wong is alledging is that he, and Pao, were simply pawns to get Ohanion and Huffman back in charge, and in control, of the company they founded.

There is just one problem, as Altman pointed out: nobody ever forced Wong, who was CEO for over two years, to resign.

"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."

I honestly didn't think things could get crazier at Reddit, but now we have a major fight between a former CEO, a co-founder and a major investor, all playing out right in front of the public eye. I can't wait to see what happens next!

Credit to TheNextWeb for first reporting on this exchange.

VatorNews has reached out to Ohianian, Wong and Pao for further comment on this story. We will update if we learn more.

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