He'd been gone a long time. But Reddit co-founder Steve Huffman returned in person to Reddit's office on Friday, and reclaimed his role from a decade ago: chief executive.

Turns out the move had been a long time coming.

 

In a few minutes on the phone with Inc., Reddit's other founder, Alexis Ohanian, explained he'd wanted Huffman--a whip-smart coder and serial entrepreneur--back from the first day Ohanian returned to Reddit late last year.

 

"When I first thought about coming back eight months ago as executive chair, I really didn't have many people to talk to," Ohanian said. "I actually asked him back then to join me."

 

Huffman echoed this sentiment in an AMA on Reddit Sunday. "The first time I was asked was way back when Yishan left," he wrote, mentioning Yishan Wong, the company's CEO prior to Ellen Pao, whom Huffman will replace. "At the time, I was too focused on Hipmunk to seriously consider it."

 

Pao, who will remain an advisor to the company's board through the end of the year, resigned as interim CEO last week in the wake of widespread protest on the site over the dismissal of a popular employee, discussion-coordinator Victoria Taylor. During the week, moderators shuttered some of the site's sections, and much vitriol was aimed at Pao.

 

Ohanian said that while Huffman will remain CTO of Hipmunk, the travel-search company he founded after stepping away from Reddit, he will only physically be away from Reddit's office for a few hours each work-week. 

 

In Huffman's recent AMA, he addressed Reddit's future money-making plans (there are none), the importance of new features and tools (very), and the controversial practice of "shadowbanning" trolls (it is a practice he created, but one, he said, that should only be unleashed on spammers).

 

The pair have been commenting on questions about the new leadership on Reddit all weekend, and Monday. It's all a quite speedy and transparent set of responses to fresh concerns from the massive Reddit community, which the company estimates is composed of 164 million monthly unique visitors, and which has seen some of its thousands of sub-communities become extremely agitated since Taylor's departure. 

 

Meanwhile, on Saturday, former CEO Wong stirred the pot on Reddit, by answering a thread titled, "What's the best long-con you ever pulled?" He not-so-subtly set up a scenario in which the site's founders, along with Y Combinator president Sam Altman, used Wong himself to dilute Conde Nast's shares in the company, before manufacturing "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."

 

On Sunday, in a separate post, Wong accused Ohanian of firing Taylor, and of letting Pao take the collective blame. Ohanian responded in part that, "we didn't handle it well, and again, I apologize." (Ohanian has not responded to requests for comments on these specific threads.) And on July 13, Re/Code broke the news that Reddit's chief engineer--Bethanye Blount, who came over from Facebook just two months ago--quit shortly after Pao did, citing discomfort with the company's new direction. 

 

For his part, Ohanian says he is thrilled to work again with Huffman, whom he met back in 2001 in their University of Virginia dormitory, when they were both incoming freshmen. They founded Reddit in 2005 upon graduation, when they were admitted to the now-prestigious--though then-fledgling--startup incubator Y Combinator. Both Huffman and Ohanian left Reddit three years into the site's 2006 acquisition by Conde Nast.

 

"We each have the benefit of five more years of experience now," Ohanian says. "Both the experience of building things, and maturity."

 

Given all the tumult, they may need both. 

 

 

 

 

Published on: Jul 14, 2015