2005 Reddit Interview

Uploaded by BoondoggleFilms on 04.07.2012

I gave a talk to the Harvard Computer Society,
which is this undergraduate organization, invited me to
give a talk and I thought "What'll I give a talk about?"
"What would these guys wanna know?" um so I gave a talk
about how to start a start-up and in the process
of giving the talk I told them that um they
they should go and get their initial funding,
their seed funding from individual rich people,
preferably ones who had gotten their money from doing
technology stuff themselves and then I'd said don't come to me
(laughs) I don't want you know all these people bothering me
with their start-up pitches.
Then afterwards I felt kinda guilty um and also
afterwards I had dinner with some of these guys and
I was talking to them and I thought you know these guys
probably couldn't start a successful start-up even
though they were still college students
so I thought alright um time to bite the bullet and
actually give seed funding to some start-ups but if
we're gonna do this we'll you know we'll really do it
um so we started Y Combinator whose plan was
to do seed funding and uh the Summers Founders Program
was our first test batch you know, our first experiment.
We announced it only ten days before the deadline um
and fortunately a lot of people managed to hear about it
so we got 227 applications of which we picked eight um.
We picked nine actually and one of them imploded before
the summer started uh and we were a little worried
that um with so little time we wouldn't get al, enough
good groups this summer but maybe the giving people
only ten days to get their shit together and apply was
a good thing because um this batch this summer is
really good.
When I was probably eight or nine my dad he he bought
this old chunky computer and he bought um well not
that he bought but he had these books on programming
and Basic and so he got me started playing with those
and so I couldn't really program but I could copy
other peoples' programs from the book and that's
and I think that was that was the first thing
I remember how I got into it and then um and then all
through from from then on all through high school and
college and all I was, well definitely college
I studied computer science but, through high school
I was always programming in my room and just kinda just
kinda into it I guess.
Uh you can ask any programmer my age and
they'll tell you I played with Legos when I was little,
I like to build things, I like to take things apart,
and so I think it's that type of person
who probably could have gone either the
mechanical engineering or the software route at any point
and um most of my friends chose software but
it's that whole wanting to build things motivation
I believe that we all have in common.
I think gaming was the very first way I got into computers
and it was pretty much as about as deep as
I got really into uh the computer science world.
I'd always dreamed of the day when I could create my
own computer game and that's all my friends and I
did actually throughout middle school and high school
uh we spent uh probably unhealthy amount of time
playing video games.
I distinctly remember going to college thinking aw Christ,
everyone is going to be you know with that
that that notion of that like the the typical college
students all very hip and preppy and cool
and it you know there are plenty of those kids
but you know all throughout high school I'm growing up
there with one of those kids and I I just like
I said remembered all those times with my friends who
all you know they were just playing video games and
just hanging out in computer stuff and
admittedly uh geeky and I I was worried that college
was gonna be I don't know, just not that
and I was gonna lose that and those friends that I had there
were gonna be guys that you know I could go home and
you know play a couple games of Goldeneye with but eh
it'd be a whole different I'd have to take on
a whole other persona and try to accommodate you know
this new reality.
Uh first year we lived across the hall from each other um
and we we were just buddies and actually we had been
buddies all through college.
We lived together all four years of college
in various apartments.
His first day I walk in and uh he's playing on the PS2
and I'm thinking okay, alright there's hope, there is hope.
We have a gamer in the building and uh throughout
that entire first year uh Steve made my life a living
hell uh with the various pranks that went on
back and forth.
I mean I admittedly I uh there was a little pranking
of my own uh but it was it was a pretty solid year and
One of the most vivid is uh you see that sort of
messenger bag uh I had one of those.
You know just to carry around my stuff, my laptop,
my books, and uh it rather useful little bag, right,
you can carry it around, fill it up with books,
lotta room and uh Steve thought it'd be a good idea
if he filled it with liquid Styrofoam uh which is an
insidious product because it comes in this sort of
spray foam that you literally just sort of sp,
spray into an area and uh after a certain amount of time
it normally hardens and thickens and becomes
this nasty sort of Styrofoam um yeah but the
problem was I sorta caught it halfway in the act and
so I found my bag filled up with this foam-like substance
that had kinda hardened or at least I thought it
hardened uh on the the surface uh but in fact
it it takes quite a bit of time for that much foam
to dry all the way through and so when I punched my hand
into it I I discovered that it was covered
with liquid Styrofoam and for uh a good two weeks
that stuff it's very strong.
I was wearing uh socks on my hands to bed uh in order
to keep that Styrofoam in place but it uh needless to say
it seriously destroyed that bag but on the plus side
and this is a life lesson uh for anyone who's dealing with
return policies, I wrote a letter to L.L. Bean,
wonderful company, uh and uh enclosed the bag,
sent it back to them and said that this bag you know
suffered some very noticeable cosmetic damage
and uh asked them if they could replace it and they did.
Wonderful company L.L. Bean.
Uh but so things like that so if it wasn't liquid Styrofoam
it was uh oh well see now this is Steve
you realize they're gonna know who destroyed the showers
in the hall first year, uh that's another story.
We had no entrepreneurial notions until I told him
the cell phone idea about a year ago and then
and then he got all carried away with it and convinced me
it was a good idea and we should actually try it and
um, so that was kind of basically the start of how
we got here was me telling him the idea and him
getting excited about it and decided he wanted to
work on it.
Steve was like hey I got this idea and it sort of sp,
just sparked this uh this notion of hey,
self-employment, not a bad idea.
Uh it's sort of everyone's I I don't wanna say
everyone's dream but it, that that kind of freedom
is very desirable and uh and there really wasn't any
other option.
If I was gonna be doing this it was gonna be with Steve
uh and uh it just seemed like a natural fit.
I had a job at XYZ Corp for four years through college.
I worked for them on all my breaks um and and that was
probably that the group of people I worked with were like
some of the nicest people I've met and and I was
miserable there, not because of the company,
just because of the nature of the work, so I figured if I
was unhappy there I'd probably be unhappy anywhere um.
But that being said I accepted a job offer them
and it and it took Alexis a lot of convincing to get me to
to drop that and do this start-up thing.
He sort of said it passingly is aw this is just one of
those many ideas I have and something
I was thinking about when I was sittin' on the can one day
and you know I think this is you know potential
and uh admittedly I I'm also well I also was in the
commerce school and so that business part at some point
triggered and uh and I realized then maybe there's
um some potential there for an actual business
opportunity, something that could work because I think
the last thing I think I wanted to do when I
graduated was to work for someone else and uh this
seemed like a pretty decent way to do it.
Y Combinator so they they swarmed in around March and
basically said you know if you have a good idea apply to us
and we can give you some money to get you started
and we applied and were ultimately rejected.
That night we uh we mourned it at a Border Café
with a few Coronas and souls and then that morning
slightly hung over uh we came back uh well we were
heading back to Virginia, we got a phone call
actually in the middle of God-forsaken Connecticut uh
and it was Paul and he called us and he said listen guys,
I'm sorry uh you know even that we had talking about it
and I didn't mean to be jerking you guys around
but we we'd like you guys to come back and uh we have,
we don't want you to do your idea.
God forbid you let us to do your idea but I've actually
got an idea, this was Paul, and uh and we'd like you to
do it and so uh we were shocked and and quite excited
and so we we sort of turned the tables on him
and asked him alright Paul you know, pitch us.
It's it's time for you to give us this uh this
opportunity and uh and he laid it out to us and we got off
the train uh took another later train back uh up here
to Boston, Paul gave us the whole whole everything
and he said listen if you guys wanna do this
it's yours and put it on the table, we'll fund you
and come out here and do our idea for the summer
and so uh we we could not turn that down and so
basically that's how Reddit came to be.
At its core it's um it's basically just a list of
headlines and users submit headlines to us and then
other users vote up and down on which headlines
make it to our front page and um and that solves
what's new and popular and then what's good is we're
um we're working on this stuff where as you use the site
um the site starts to remember what you've done so
clicking on links and voting stuff up and down,
it remembers what you like and dislike, so when future
sites come in it can judge whether or not you'd like
them or dislike them.
Yes, so it's it's about half news and about half
you know the other half is like blogs and just kind of
funny web sites so it's not strictly news it's it's it's
it's they're links to websites of just what's what's good
We can see things like what's new you know on the web,
stuff comes out all the time, if it's just the news article
or if it's a new website some new trend and
they always just sort of spurt up and come out of
nowhere and all of a sudden there's this new popular thing
you have to see and uh we wanted somewhere we could go
to find all these things that we found interesting
that other people found interesting that
that were just the things to see, what was new
on the web, and not have to search twelve, fifteen
different websites you know, the internet's given us
such a wealth of information yet yeah every morning
I'm still waking up going through ten, twelve websites
to get all the news I wanna get when I'm going to see
an ad or BBC and slashdot in the New York Times,
uh the the even the best news aggregator
like Google News still doesn't totally encompass
this entire world of information that's out there
and I'm still looking at different places to get info
from blogs and from different sources so this Reddit
is essentially an aggregator for all of that
and uh some of the features we've got in the pipeline
are gonna make it really really interesting and I
I've the way I've sold it to my father and my mother
is that they'll essentially be able to use the same site
that Steve and I use, even though our interests
really rarely overlap.
My dad and I share the football thing but that's about it
and ideally and then the goal and the vision we have
for Reddit is a site that you know uh people with
totally divergent interests uh can still find the same
well rather can still find the news that they're
personally interested in and so we're working on a
recommendation system that will uh filter out the stuff
that you're not so much so interested in and clutter,
get rid of that sort of noise and clutter that fills
uh all that wealth of information, so.
I've learned a ton um hanging out with Paul's
been very cool um and his his cohorts, other em uh
famous computer guys.
Um so that that side of it's been cool, programming
has been a lot of fun um maintaining this you know
big website has been great.
It's been very stressful however um just you know
I basically work 24/7 so um it's basically our our our
mood is correlated with how well we think our company
is doing pretty drastically so on a good day things are great
and on a bad day things are are unhappy.
Oh um so let's see actually it was this morning cause
I woke up around eight and just kinda figuring well I could
I could sleep for another hour or two and then I had
this horrible dream that our site was hacked and
that uh there was this goofy goofy website up
instead of ours and so I s, I I duh I, actually I woke up
three hours later to the sound of the doorbell but
um you know it was it was actually really stressful,
I woke up all stressed out um I had this dream about
you know trying to fix our site and make sure it
didn't get hacked again and um but yeah I woke up
pretty pretty pissed off actually.
(Do you have any programming dreams?)
No, no not usually um I do sleep um I I did sleep with my laptop
for a while so I could check it and I would wake up
every two hours and have to stumble out here to make
sure our site was up, so I finally just took my laptop
into my room with me but now we have these little
cell phones that can do the same thing so I can at least
ease my fear that the site's up while I sleep but um.
(So, would it be safe to say this is more of a job?)
Oh uh eh yeah absolutely,
well it's more of a lifestyle um I mean
it's basically, you know a job can end at at five
o'c-clock you know you can go home.
This is you know we are home and it doesn't really
stop so it's yeah definitely 24/7 thinking
about Reddit basically.
Best and worst experiences, hmm.
This is Summer Found uh this is Summer Founders Program.
Uhhh (repeated tsk tsk tsk) see this is bad, alright eh
for for the the best uh let's see the best I'm just
gonna give you an answer you're not gonna like cuz
I'm gonna say aw the whole thing, but if I were to
nail down one thing or another, best experience,
I suppose getting that round yeah okay, best experience
would have to have been getting, well we sort of
well alright, would be eh was was getting the round
of funding that is basically gonna guarantee us
to live for another year uh, every morning
we kinda wake up and look at each other
going are we really, really doing this?
You know, friends of ours are either getting jobs
or going back to grad school and just kinda hanging out
and uh and we feel like we're still in college based on
our schedule and our eating habits, but eh we still
look across at one another and go wow you know
someone's actually invested money in us yeah and and
believe that we can, on our own, independently create
something good and that theoretically will one day
make them money and when that actually happened
when the the check was in fact, well the check hasn't been
signed so I should be careful, but basically the
agreements were made and we have enough money to live
for another year and so that that idea really kinda
I don't know, made it all seem valid in some way
even though sometimes I still wake up going
how is this possible?
Um, but needless to say we don't tell that
to potential investors.
Worst was probably the e-mail we got from Paul
it was basically like what the hell have you guys been
working on?
I haven't seen anything yet.
Um that was pretty frustrating but um that
actually kind of got us kicked in the gear a little better.
(Tell that story, what were you working on?)
Um well basically um he actually hit hit it on the nail
in his e-mail um this was let's see this was mid-,
mid-June towards the end of June so we'd been here
three weeks or so and hadn't really shown him anything,
we didn't have anything online yet and he sent us
an e-mail, it was basically like you know,
what's going on, I haven't seen anything yet.
And and he gave us two options, he said either
it's cause a) you couldn't produce it and so you know
that got me all fired up, it was like of course I can
produce it, or b), he said, um you're waiting until
it's perfect to show people which is still a horrible idea.
But that's what we were doing was waiting until
we had something worth showing.
So we end up having lunch with him the day after
I showed him our stuff.
He gave us quite a bit of input that, input that day
that kind of directed the direction we took from there
and so that was a a very frustrating morning.
It sort of uh it was it was a jolt to the system,
it was the uh the fire under our asses
as I mentioned earlier.
It it really kinda for a moment there woke us up
and it wasn't that it we I mean we had been working on it,
we'd been taking it seriously beforehand,
but uh it was at that moment that there was this sort of
shift in the mentality of how we'd go about doing
this site and working on it and uh and but for for a
little while there there was definitely a bit of resentment
and a bit of anger and just um just frustration
I think because when you have, when you have two people,
I'm speaking for Steve as well but,
when you have two people who are used to doing things,
doing them well and and we're not I mean we were,
we had been to that point genuinely,
working on it and to not, to get that kind of feedback
and to get it so bluntly was uh was pretty serious.
The re, whole reason we applied was we had met him
after a talk he gave and we went to that talk because
I liked Paul Graham you know I'd I'd read his books
in high school, he was a big influence on me when I was
learning how to program and so it's been it's been very
cool to get to you know to to basically uh you know to
work with him and have his have his input on
everything we do um for better or for worse,
but eh ultimately it's been it's been very cool.
Paul is his very own, uh in one person he is his own
good cop and his own bad cop and there's this
amazing dichotomy between the Paul Graham that we
often get e-mails from and the Paul Graham we know in person
and uh not for better for worse it's just that he's
very uniquely Paul and he's been able to really light
that fire under our ass sometimes via the e-mails.
I'm sure Steve commented about that one big e-mail
we got that one day uh but at the same time in person
it just it seems like a totally different person,
he won't even har, harp on anything about the site,
it's usually very positive feedback and it it's very
interesting because normally I understand this
good cop/bad cop routine is between two people uh
but yet Paul somehow manages to do it in one and uh uh
I think for better for worse it it's definitely been uh
an interesting element to this whole thing because he
has been very much invested in, in not just us
but in all the groups and I think I've heard similar
feedback from others but yeah we noticed that best eh
for ourselves these past three months with Paul.
Well we have we have about another year of money left
so we're gonna continue to work on it.
Um we haven't really we haven't done this stuff
that's gonna make the site cool yet so we need a
another month or two to get that, to get that live
and online and after that we'll start promoting it
and hopefully we can gauge whether or not it's gonna
be a success or not within within a year probably.
I think at the end of a year we'll know pretty well
whether or not it's gonna it's gonna work or not.
But so that's basically our plan is, we're gonna work
really hard for the next few months, get everything
online and then um Alexis will take over trying to
promote the thing and uh and see if we can make
something happen.
It's been it's been three months now and uh I don't
think I would have done, No I know I would not have done
anything differently uh particularly given some
issues that have come up in my personal life
in the past month or so.
It's been uh really great working with Steve and I
realize that if I were in this scenario with anyone else
that I I would be far less happy so, yeah.