By Heather Somerville
San Jose Mercury News.
The leader of popular microblogging site Reddit is out, and taking over the top position is Ellen Pao, a former venture capitalist who landed in the spotlight in 2012 after suing her firm for sex discrimination.
The leadership shuffle is the latest challenge for the Internet discussion site, which has been in a tumultuous period as it grapples with growing from a small, intimate community to a social network with more than 3 million users and high-profile investors to answer to.
Last week, Yishan Wong resigned as CEO of Reddit, ending a rocky tenure during which he was credited with the company’s growth but also became involved in a heated debate over relocating the company’s employees, according to posts on Reddit.
Pao, Reddit’s business and partnerships strategist, and former partner at fabled Silicon Valley venture firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield and Byers, will serve as interim chief executive, according to a company blog post.
The shuffle also brings back one of Reddit’s founders, Alexis Ohanian, who is also a writer and investor. He will be returning as full-time executive chairman.
Pao “has already shown tremendous capability and poise over the last two years holding the No. 2 role at the company,” Ohanian wrote in a blog.
Ohanian could not immediately be reached for an interview, and Reddit did not respond to this newspaper’s requests to speak with Pao. But in an interview with Fortune magazine, the company’s leaders suggested Pao’s “interim” title may be short-lived, and some are hopeful she will take the position permanently.
“Speaking as a board member and the executive chairman, I’m hopeful this is not an interim position,” Ohanian told Fortune.
Pao becomes the face of Reddit just three months before her high-profile case is scheduled to begin a jury trial in San Francisco Superior Court. In 2012, Pao sued Kleiner Perkins for sex discrimination. She alleges she was pressured into sex by a junior partner, and when she complained about his behavior, was retaliated against by management.
Pao says she had brought complaints to management since 2007 about the firm’s treatment of women. In January 2012, after the interaction with the junior partner, she filed a written complaint, and in October was told to leave the firm, according to her attorney, San Francisco-based Alan Exelrod.
Kleiner Perkins has said that Pao’s allegations are without merit.
Trouble began after the company raised $50 million in September; Reddit management, including Wong, required that the company’s global employees relocate to San Francisco — or leave the company — which caused discontent throughout the Reddit community.
Some employees said Reddit didn’t pay them enough to move from places like Utah to one of the most expensive markets in the country.
According to Y Combinator president and Reddit investor Sam Altman, Wong left the company over a dispute about moving the company to the new office in San Francisco and how much to spend on a lease.
“The reason was a disagreement with the board about a new office (location and amount of money to spend on a lease). To be clear, though, we didn’t ask or suggest that he resign — he decided to when we didn’t approve the new office plan,” Altman wrote in a blog post Thursday.
Altman also praised Wong for the extraordinary growth Reddit experienced under his leadership.
Before the $50 million funding round, Reddit had mostly steered clear of the VC world, raising just $80,000 in seed funding.
High-profile investors including Peter Thiel and Marc Andreessen joined the round, as did celebrities such as rapper Snoop Dogg and actor and musician Jared Leto. Reddit said it would use the investment to improve company infrastructure and hire staff, and plans to allocate around 10 percent of its shares to members of the online community.
Location: San Francisco
Founders: Alexis Ohanian and Steve Huffman
Interim CEO: Ellen Pao
Former CEO: Yishan Wong
Active Reddit users: 3.3 million
Unique monthly visitors: 174 million