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The Power of Community, with Reddit - Steve Huffman + Derek Andersen

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2020 Startup Grind Global Conference
February 12, 2020, Redwood City, CA, USA
2020 Startup Grind Global Conference
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About speakers

Steve Huffman
CEO at Reddit
Derek Andersen
Co-Founder at Startup Grind

Steve Huffman is the co-founder and CEO of Reddit, the "front page of the internet" and fourth most visited site in the U.S. He is also the co-founder and former CEO of Hipmunk, the popular online travel company. Raised in northern Virginia, Huffman pursued his passion for programming from an early age and followed it through a computer science degree at the University of Virginia.

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Derek co-founded Startup Grind, a community of over 600 Chapters in 150 countries designed to educate, inspire, and connect entrepreneurs. Since 2012 Startup Grind has hosted 7,000 events for more than 250,000 people.

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About the talk

A Fireside chat with Steve Huffman, Co-founder + CEO of Reddit talking about the impact of the community at Reddit. Interviewed by Derek Andersen, Founder + CEO of Startup Grind/Bevy.


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Thank you so much for being here everybody so grateful for your time. I I feel like over the last. Start going to start 10 years ago this month but congratulations. Thank you future. But really it's been the last eight years was really sort focus on Billy and I have had so many conversations community of people and the Reddit Community is is I think one of these ones that just always comes up again again again, as one of the very best most important communities in the world couple of quick stats 430 million users last of this is as

of last year 200 million posts on Reddit last year 1.7 billion comments 32 billion upvotes in a hundred thousand active communities. Wow. You can clap for that. laughing in my head What does community mean to you? What is it? It's such as big nebulous thing what tell us what it means to you. I mean, I think even think even community on Reddit as a thing is it is a nebulous idea. It's something we spent a lot of time thinking about and trying to understand. In fact, I think these days of our work as

less of that of product people are you know, it's tech people and engineers and in more of that of like anthropologists trying to understand this thing. That's right. It was like living organism. That's right in the community behind it. When we started Reddit, which is almost 15 years ago to be 15 years this summer. We we had this vague idea that we wanted to build those kind of tooth to ideas bouncing around her head one was a place where people can find new and interesting things online. And in that area. I was just

links or just likes to stop and we didn't have subreddits wouldn't have communities on Reddit so interesting things and then I wanted to have the community feel of flash. Which was a website / community that I was a part of for a long time. But if you would ask me then like what is a community. I don't know. What I would have said cuz I don't know if I'd be able to articulate it. It's even now it's difficult Concepts. I think so articulate. But it's kind of like the world like Soul right like

conceptually kind of know what a soul is, but it's like hard to articulate it. And so I think a community is is like a it's a group with a soul but me that's what I would have said that and I think I could be a little bit more precise now but suffice to say it's I think it's a big Concepts even for us you think about it everyday When did the soul of Reddit start to come together while the soul of read it? I think actually this is when I when I look back on our time we've done you know, some things right in a lot of things wrong. I think one of the things we actually had I don't own once I

figure it out but stumbled upon early was always had a soul from like almost they want at least call Mike days 60, we faked all of our traffic for the first two months. So maybe it didn't count quite yet. But once we had users we had us all and in fact, it is funny. I haven't used the word soul to describe read it in a really long time. But I remember a 15 years ago. I used to talk about that a lot. Talk about Dick who is our biggest competitor in that are there about five times bigger than us. And I remember the one who sings I was frustrating to

me is like that company has no soul was just like this. If I throw around that like was meaningless. But it but I guess coming back now. What do you think? It is a Ubee not worked in several startups. You sure have devised a lot of companies and if they like at what point should a start-up start thinking about actually free in the song name is it is it to Salina Founders? Is it sort of tied to the values? Is it like where does it like in the hierarchy of things that you need to do and figure out where does that sort of fit?

It's really just a question. But I've all my answer I've never been asked that before. So I'll just think in real time here. I'm not sure. It's something that you can manufacture like wake up one day and say okay our q1 okrs to have a soul that feels a little off to me. And so but I do see this in the companies that I've been a part of I see the sin in companies that I'm close to whether it's it's friends companies or even our customers are advertisers. That's all I can tell when I'm talking to a brand that in my opinion has a soul over doesn't

cuz conversations really different and so I think I might ask in adjacent question, which is What is the mission of your company? What is the purpose of your company? Why are you working on this thing? And your answer might tell you something or am I tell me something certainly because I know people who start companies in their their purpose is to make money and that and they find that motivating and that's what they're doing. I don't think there's anything wrong with that per se but I do think it might mean there may be a little bit more impersonal then my nose with Reddit for

example Yeah, if if the if the soul is or the community is like sort of the sort of the essence of what is the what is the product or the customers that use it or something? Yeah, it's like maybe they're the sort of the fabric the makeup of the people that are doing it and sort of how they interact together and work together or how they have a product makes their life better or Orem. Yeah, I say said it's an interesting way. I haven't I haven't really heard it described that way. But certainly the question I asked whenever I'm meeting

entrepreneurs weather socially argue no more formally is why are you working on this end? Because but you know the fifth at that helps me understand it's a values question really and I think weather actually whether I'm meeting, you know, knots prayer or even like recording somebody it just helps me understand like what do I relate to this person? But if you think it kind of gets back to this idea of what's the sole of your company and from there and maybe we're talking about you know, what's what's the community around it? You have a hundred

thousand more than this because his numbers are few months old but you and a slash the end of last year in your metrics reporting that you share publicly. The Ya-Ya hundred thousand activecommunities wishes is just staggering like what metrics inside of that are important health indicators for you as to active obviously like Pride means there's people using it a certain intervals that are acceptable to be deemed active. But like what is actually a healthy Community inside of red it look like it's it's funny you just a lot of words in there that are

important to us that maybe you didn't even realize what you said like, these are your public numbers and that's totally true because when we think about are the numbers were operationalize on Star internal numbers. Those are always changing and then we do have operational number is like metrics that we track around active communities, but we have an internal definition of what an active communities for loud actually had an internal definition or try to have a definition of what a healthy Community was actually healthy to active because

anyway, there's all sorts of really really hard, you know that the numbers that we care about on the surface are users communities Revenue really output metrics and it's all sorts of things that that feed into those and we can start getting into quality versus quantity and long story short, I think. Metrics are really important but they are only one side of the story right there. Really what we're trying to catch with metrics weather alert internal or external is we're trying to give people a sense of the direction. We're going or give a sense of

what's important to us, but it's really easy. I think that a company in a lot of companies make this mistake, you know chasing a number just for the number safe and and losing track of the the reason for doing so and it's and we can fall into that trap as well. Right we can increase users. I have no doubt. But are they now that good users? Are they contributing to our communities? Are they? You know, where are they are they clicking on ads are they not clicking on ads? Are they creating content? Are they? You know misbehaving are they just you know, you know consuming video and

you know, I don't know whatever it was like all sorts of users that make them more or less valuable or good or bad in our opinion. So that's always a startup has these unique mattress to what they're doing. Like Airbnb would have some very unique metrics around their business that probably nobody else even knows how to Value but for them it it ties in a really important things what you're saying is, you know, it's a good lesson here for people that are just are

you you probably have metrics that people aren't used to evaluating our ways of looking at it and it may be that ties into your engagement at Tyson your usage and it's okay to be unique to you it is okay. If it doesn't fit inside of a Google analytics dashboard something. Well, absolutely and and I think that's okay for them to Change always spend time thinking about over the years now visiting the day time on site time and specific communities time and communities of a certain five votes, Ting rates length of comments. Like it was all sorts of stuff

that we've been dancing around. This idea of is Reddit getting bigger and healthier, but I guess bigger isn't easy but healthy really know. What does that mean? What are the questions for asking ourselves are sample Community grow? What are the signs that a community is going to grow up into being a Healthy self-sustaining interesting Community or not. Can we identify that early and that's not quite as clear right? Because obviously those numbers but the quantity

numbers besides numbers aren't there yet. We're talking about something that's by definition small so there other indicators and we spent a lot of time thinking about that. We're always at least for me my start like to hear what you all like the research you have around how to build active Healthy Communities like that be something I'd be very interested in learning from and probably a lot of other people. Do you think he's do you know, what like is there a is there a cam for total communities like are there million Community out there or their 10 minute? I mean, I don't know

are there any idea? I think the way I think about it is. Every person needs community community is like a it's a it's a basic need for humans. We are a social species we built things together. We help each other we collaborate it's one of the things that I think separates humans from the rest of the animal kingdom there for it and everybody in the world belongs to at least one community in a by geography and probably many more based on interests and passions and friends and family. And so therefore I think every person has communities in their lives

needs communities in their lives and I believe than that everybody in the world can be a Reddit user if our product is community. Now, how many communities is that? Actually? I don't know. It's a lot more than a hundred thousand, but and I will start And I will start there and work our way out. You did not say something nice. I think it's really relevant to this audience switches. One of the lessons I've been thinking a lot about is. What what helps a small community survive? Why did some communities on Reddit Thrive

and in most die in one of the things we've learned is that the that the creators of the community the first moderators the founders actually have a Disproportionate influence may be the only thing that matters there's some right place at the right time there, but I really it's the creators since I think that's probably true of businesses as well as some right place right time like be building a company in the right Market, but probably more than everything else is the founders. It's the people who are taking that idea from 0 to 1 that are

truly important cuz I seen great Founders make a good business out of a bad idea icing bad Founders just ruined great ideas. And so really I need to come down to the people. Do you think that every community in the world? Can live on Reddit is there like is there a space that is it that even necessary or it's it's definitely not necessary and no, I don't think every Community can live on Reddit nor does it need to yeah, right this way for example Reddit isn't used in I don't know if it ever will be used for

families for four groups of close friends. Now people use messaging apps for those are they use, you know that other massive social network there is there's many ways for people that interacts and I think products kind of fill your kind of specific needs within that certainly the market size for what it is and it's huge. Like I just think it's everybody in the world be every community in the Rothman. What's interesting to is is it the more I mean we see this in the research we see this in consumer trends of people are trusting what

they read online. Less and less every single day and and with all the information that is on online. Like they have a good reason to do that. It feels to me like that Reddit for some reason which you probably have the answer. I'd like like to hear your explanation Reddit has found his way of maintaining authenticity and sore is it so it goes like user-generated but it is like a high. I have a higher level of trust going there that I do going to many different media professional media Outlet sites that their whole job is to just write about the

news and so I wonder like like, why do you think what do you think do I have that right and it's my perception correct? And then why has Reddit been able to to sort of maintain they got a higher level trust a lot of other sites. I think you do have it, right according to Pew. We are the most the most trusted source of news for millennials. And as for how I act give you a nebulous answer and then maybe a more specific one. The nebulous answer is We didn't we didn't go out of our way to lose that trust,

which it was actually kind of one of the founding ideas within Reddit both of my product point of view and kind of like content moderation point of view. We didn't do anything or build anything unless we had a reason for doing so and so this in the early days since we didn't like over categorize we can try to force everything into a meat category. We didn't try to we didn't have an editorial voice that we were trying to maintain. We didn't choose the news right right at was like the idea was used and they would do the ranking

Mike O'Connor Alexis used to joke one of our early odds. I don't know if it's a mad cuz I guess that's only put on T-shirts that was freedom from the press and and I still feel that way which is like Reddit in an era. It's only gotten worse where we just telling everybody was lying to us. Right that the media is lying to us. The news is lying to us politicians were lying areas. That's actually watching. So I've just kind of pick up new users when there towards the end of high school

and college to develop their own world use. The mechanics of Reddit are you know where our reputation platform right the our communities have the rules they have their values ever user through uploads and downloads can enforce those rules and values pick and choose what important event that can reject behaviors that don't that aren't acceptable in through that I think actually a higher-quality answers come out whether were talking about news or reviews or advice or whatever it is that we have

even even in today's political climate. An optimistic view of humanity and of the world and I think much more so than maybe we tend to give people more credit than the average person does. Because what I've learned from Reddit, and actually this is like a lens exam most thankful about in Reddit is that has taught me that people like all people are more interesting and collaborative and funny and supportive. Nice if we give them credit for and what really matters is the context, right? You know, I I wrote down here

just a moment ago from San Francisco 101 was super crowded and it's easy to look at everybody else. I think you all are assholes and you're going to make me late and I don't know why you would do that. But you are those very same people might actually be you for all I know lovely interesting people who have plenty of interesting things and we have plenty of things in common. It's red. It's really good at putting people in a context to behave better, you know, that sort of early vision of and the Very authentic vision is very hard as a Founder

because You see all these different things. You see somebody being successful something you like. I was sure I should just copy what they are doing exactly who I am or what we are like it's hot right now. So I'm going to do it but I remember when the whole big, you know, you said and I've heard you talk about this another interviews, but it did was 5 times bigger was was there and had all this momentum and then you know, I remember speaking with some of the the very important in a members of that team as they were making changes in like we just don't care that literally

that I've heard them say that we don't care what you think we're going to do this and they're going to do what we want them to do and they sort of if they had a sale before. What do you said they didn't it was definitely gone then and you all in a really like kept that authenticity and you know, and if it was there in the beginning it was there when you know You know you're growing slowly and then as your grocer take off, its or to maintain. Yeah, and that's the word. You know, the funny thing about the egg is they start about 6 months before us but we didn't we didn't know that and so we

had the Good Fortune of building Reddit based on our own first principles, even though the products were similar certainly at first glance. It's really easy to copy a future it in all the copy the pixels. It's hard to copy the decision-making framework that led to a feature in the philosophy behind it. And so I think it's challenging challenging. And I will admit though. There was certainly a Time. Where we started we're only a year or so younger than Facebook. We're older than Twitter and YouTube and insta and

Tik Tok and I don't know whatever this other platforms and and I remember for a while watching, you know, Twitter you no xplode past the sand YouTube Explorer pass lesson in the Explorer pass us and I remember just thinking like what am I doing wrong? And obviously there's actually a lot of stuff we were doing wrong. Like are our values is out of sync like we've made all of these trade-offs in favor of you often to city or privacy that and I remember thinking like this people just don't care and it's like influence or celebrity stuff that I'm just like allergic to other people

just really really into it and maybe we're just like this corner of the internet of these like, you know, a tiny idealistic weirdos, 430 million of a happy is that we've we've done our best to not compromise on those values and things like privacy on authenticity and community that I've been important to us for a really long time or are now important. I'm an insult feels like actually the markets coming to us a little bit in that regard. And so I'm glad we didn't copy those

other platforms are copy their features and and and I'm sure we did hear there but didn't work cuz it doesn't fit our platform. And so I think it's overall. I think much more fulfilling to have kind of State on our path and try to kind of figure out how to do things the right away you talking about Community we talked about online community. You also have a bunch of IRL and offline Community programs at huge scale. You have the redditgifts program is the largest gift exchange in the world. I've I've got

friends have been part of this and I have watched this over the years and just been amazed at the whole thing that it works. You know, it's kind of like Airbnb. It's like UniFirst happening but know if he will stay in your house. Like I don't know if he was changing gif. She donated it actually like really touches people's life some of the gifts the people in exchange in the stories behind them getting your moderators in person. How do you look at Community from a face-to-face versus versus digital perspective? How does that has a plane to read it? I think the first thing in there is

like why do these things work and it goes back to the previous point which that I was trying to make it just felt like things work when we give people the benefit of the doubt and I think the fact that like we are here like as a species suggest that we should give ourselves the benefit of the doubt and I've been just overwhelmed and humbled and surprised and delighted at watching people, you know our users but really we just talking about people who really incredible things for that, you know each other and so the difference between online communities in offline communities. This is

actually something we are actively trying to better understand. I think that's a lot of qualities of offline community that we can learn from cuz we kind of stumbled into this, you know, the community work that we're doing and I said like, you know, we we started off as product and text people now, I feel like anthropologists and so there's a lot for us to learn but even that the line between offline and online is really blurry. For example, I'm a A member of a dinner group does about a half a dozen of us that get dinner once a month. And I mean that sounds like an

offline Community except we spend way more time texting each other than we do the talking at dinner. And so I don't know. What's that an online community or North Light Community. It's a lot of our communities on Reddit. Not just the stuff that we do with secret Santa Ana or meetups in the moderator stuff. But a lot of our communities meet up on their own, you know, those online communities are off my communities. And so I think that the qualities of both are really important that people have some shared interest in passion. They have some shared values. There's a kind of an idea of

being a member of that Community or not. I think those Concepts work across the the digital divide as they say It feels to me like a lot of successful people that we've had that I've been able to meet our interview over the years start crying like a lot of their success is just wrapped around how long they were able to just sort of last and survive and you know, I I look at you know you and and thinking I know you work to read it for a long time. He done some of the things you come back like but 15 years on one idea is is especially in our industry

is pretty pretty long time. So I wonder like how do you still sort of are you still excited about it tonight at unco a minute you're going to say or to even if you weren't you say we're so don't ask more excited than I ever have been and I'll tell you why. Can I tell you why? You can find out if there was one criticism I could give myself 15 years ago. If there's only one there are plenty I could do there's only one lot is that we didn't think big enough. I always felt like our company was like we had one more day. And so we just kind of in our planning Horizon was

one day every day. I was like, wow, this is way more successful. Holy I'll just like when we have like a thousand years or so. It's like I thought we're going to have two users. So like this is amazing and we've made it and that's why we sold the company so early because we didn't have a vision Beretta and my motivation wasn't any of the lofty stuff I talk about now. It was I don't want to look stupid in front of Paul Grant and it's so I'm way more excited about it now, then I was 15 years ago because Even though we're big now.

The opportunity is even bigger. We're talking about having every user on the platform and my belief. Is that a threat it puts people into context to behave better. And if everybody in the world are on Reddit than everybody in the world would be behaving better than we've done something really special and that makes me really excited. So yeah, I'm actually more excited today than I was 10 years ago in 15 years ago. And I think it's really fun to think about that and give yourself something big to chase. So and if you're if you're talking to an entrepreneur who's been working on the same

idea long time and who is struggling to get a lot of traction. You know does think it's something that's worth continuing on with how do you power through some of those weeks and days and months where things look Bleak but you know, maybe it's some sort of temporary clouds until you get to where you know, you are now 15 years later. Honestly, I think that's one of the hardest questions in business and it says it's as a Founder you need the ego to proceed on everybody's telling you to stop but the humility to quit before you spend your whole life on something that's not going to work and

I think that's really challenging and so I would it's it's this is I think actually great opportunity to get advice from friends and from you know, smart people in your life who can kind of see a little bit more than you might be able to we went through the second monk that company. We are hitmarkers lasted with it for the first five years. I think we sold after 6 or so that was not Good business and my co-founder Adam and I could not see that we like we built a good product. We use this product everyday people. They tell us they love our product. They shut it down

like two weeks ago. I'm super sad about it and are organic traffic was always on a vector 2 0 and you know, we were able to like crying it out through marketing and trickery deals here there. I felt like the fundamentals weren't there and so I don't have a great answer for you other than I can tell you. I've lived it. It's really hard because not every business not every product is going to be a massive success. Even if it's good, but I think we're telling us that actually maybe not quite simply

or maybe we just weren't listening. That's actually more likely. So hard question. The last thing listen to my advice is listen to the smart people in your life. Look at the data and see if you've actually are you just lying to yourself? Steve Hoffman co-founder CEO of Reddit. Thank you for being you.

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