I am Sam Altman, reddit board member and President of Y Combinator. AMA
EDIT: A friend of mine is getting married tonight, and I have to get ready to head to the rehearsal dinner. I will log back in and answer a few more questions in an hour or so when I get on the train.
EDIT: Ok. Going offline for wedding festivities. Thanks for the questions. I'll do another AMA sometime if you all want!
I honestly know almost nothing about that situation, sorry.
EDIT: Obviously I know about what happened when she left. I mean that I don't know about any future plans.
Does /u/spez have full hiring and firing powers of Reddit?
Seriously, what is your plan for monetizing Reddit?
At some point (Pao made it seem like it's months from now) the VC funding will run out.
The money made from Gold and from ads simply is not enough to keep up a site of this size.
Is the plan to monetize AMAs? Perhaps have sponsored posts on the front page? There has to be some plan to keep this site going, just give us some type of hint so we won't be blindsided like we have been with every other change in the past.
reddit has more than $50MM in the bank, which will last many many years.
At some point the business needs to be profitable. Monetizing AMAs does not seem like the right way to do it to me, but again, Steve's call. Ads will work but it'd be great to figure out something better that actually makes reddit better.
Why did you bring in Ellen Pao to be CEO? (You as the board collectively, not saying Sam Altman was personally behind it)
The previous CEO resigned on the spot. Ellen said she would do the interim work, and I am very thankful she did. She walked into an incredibly difficult situation and move the ball a good bit down the field for reddit.
She made some mistakes, for sure, but I think she did remarkably well in a very tough situation. And Steve is happy to be taking the baton for her here.
There are suggestions that Ellen Pao was brought in to be the sacrifical scapegoat, making unpopular changes in order to be the lightning rod for the ire of the internet mob.
What can you do to put those rumours to bed?
It's simply not true--not sure how to better put it to bed.
How do you think we can best prepare ourselves for the advance of AI in the future? Have you and Elon Musk discussed this topic, by chance?
Elon and I have discussed this many, many times. It's one of the things I think about most.
Have some news coming here in a few months...
What does being a "board member" mean exactly? What are your responsibilities? What do you do?
Most board members? Very little that's helpful :) You could ask Ellen if I've been a good one--I hope so!
Your job as a board member is to hire and fire the CEO, approve the annual financial plan, and help the executive team set the strategic direction.
Bad members don't do a good job of those things. Very bad board members try to do the CEO's job.
Do board members get paid ?
Not usually at private companies (and not at reddit, but in my case I own a lot of reddit stock) but usually yes at public companies.
What do you do when you're not boardmembering?
I spend almost all of my time running YC. It is an intense job.
How did Ellen's resignation come about?
She resigned. Thankfully, she did it a thoughtful way that gave us time to hire a successor and have a smooth transition.
About how many emails do you send / receive per day?
I receive about 1200 and send about 200. When people ask me what my job entails I just say "email".
Care to give some insight on how you manage that? Apps you like (I'm assuming you use Outlook), add-ons, tips for staying sane?
gmail with a lot of labels and filters. i also write extremely short emails, and honestly just spend a lot of time doing it. i'm also quick to forward things to other people.
Hi, Sam. A simple quick question, where did this sudden burst of GREAT communication suddenly come from? I am referring to your announcement of Steve Huffman returning. It was an amazing post, and not something we have seen from recent reddit communications over the past month and a half.
Well, I wrote it, so thanks for the complement I guess.
My style is generally just say what's going on and to do it before the lawyers and PR people can slow my roll.
Given the power of the vocal minority - think gamergate, 4chan, the vitriol levied against Ellen Pao, twitter abuse, [insert other incident here where "the internet" knee-jerks] - in the current modern communications environment, how can communities like reddit ensure and protect freedom of expression? Is a service like reddit where downvotes en masse can instantly hide unwanted views the best place to do this?
This is an incredibly good question.
Free speech is great and terrible. We need freedom of expression; we need compassion. Part of the reason I voted to hired Steve is he is one of the most thoughtful people I have ever met on this intersection.
I think figuring out how technology can encourage empathy is one of the more interesting and important open research problems in the world right now.
What's the best part of your job? What's the worst?
The best part is constantly being around incredible people working on new ideas. It's hard to think of a more mentally stimulating job. I personally think the most fun part of starting a company is the first part, and so I love that I get to do that all the time.
The worst part, by far, is rejecting companies that want funding from us. It sucks :(
How do you plan on fixing some of the communication issues between mods and administrators in your new role?
That's up to the reddit team and Steve. Part of being a good board member is letting the management team run the company.
However, I think this is critical and would not have voted to hire Steve if I didn't believe he will make this a top priority.
You've been left bankrupt by a gentleman thief. Someone gives you $100. What do you do with it?
buy a beat up old used iPhone and a prepaid SIM.
Were you surprised by all of the vitriol directed at Pao from the Reddit community? Not in a "how did you feel about Pao" sort of way, but more of a "was this something you expected to see, or have past experiences led you to have a higher standard for Reddit's behavior" sort of fashion.
I knew there would be a lot, and I was still surprised how much there was.
Not sure if you're planning on answering anything startup related, but here goes anyways. In short, my cofounder decided to bail about 2 weeks into working on our startup full-time, after a few months of (admittedly inconsequential) part time work. YC heavily discourages single founders for good reason, so what would you suggest to someone in my position do now? Prioritize getting customers, or prioritize trying to get a cofounder? None of my friends are too into what we were/I am working on. Do I try to sell all of them on it? Do I try "cofounder dating" events? (Seems like a recipe for disaster) For how common cofounders leaving in the early stages is, there's not much advice on how to deal with it out there.
Prioritize getting customers. If you start to build a great business, you may attract a great cofounder. Trying to "force" a cofounder almost never works--I'd stay away from cofounder dating stuff.
You recently joined the boards of YC companies Helion Energy and UPower, both of which are working on bringing new nuclear power generation technologies (fusion and fission, respectively) to market. Technological challenges aside, do you think negative public and political perception of nuclear power in the wake of the Fukushima disaster will be a major obstacle to these companies' success?
Yes--in fact, I think that's the major challenge. It's easier with fusion, but it still feels uncomfortable to people.
However, I think the appeals of cheap, clean, safe energy will eventually win. It's too important.
Is there anything in the works for dealing with inactive "squatter" mods? Also, how do you prefer your eggs to be cooked?
That's a question for Steve; he is the CEO.
Quick question: startups or corporate companies, which one in terms of learning is best for a new grad?
A startup because you get to see much more and can gain more responsibility more quickly.
Hi Sam. I'm just curious as a generality.
How much influence does the board exert on the operations of Reddit?
I know some companies are more or less fully directed by their board in scope and direction, and other boards are completely hands off, and let the CEO do whatever they want. And of course there are all levels in between.
Was just wondering how much involvement the Reddit board has.
Edit: An example of what I'm asking is all the conspiracy theorists here saying Pao was just a temporary fall guy for the board to implement unpopular policies and then resign, keeping the blame with her and away from the board and site in general. I think this is complete horseshit, but it is the basis for my question of the influence of the board at Reddit.
Not very much.
I think good board members work with the CEO to set strategy and goals for the company, but leave it up to the CEO to implement them. Of course, whenever CEOs ask for help, I try to do anything I can to help.
I almost never take board seats, though. The list of things I'd rather do than sit in a board meeting is long. reddit is just special.
You might not want to answer this, but can I ask about the speculation that the board directed Pao to monetize the site, and that's where a lot of the unpopular changes have been coming from?
No; in fact we agreed as a board not to focus too much on monetization for now. Someday we'll need reddit to be profitable, but we want to do it in a thoughtful way.
Over the last 10 years at Y Combinator you have seen a lot of motivated and ambitious entrepreneurs with good ideas. Some of these succeeded, some failed.
In your opinion what are the most common traits between those who succeeded? This could be in the entrepreneurs themselves, their business model, and commonality you see in ventures that go on to succeed.
Determination, focus, clarity of vision, ability to hire great talent, and choosing a rapidly-growing market.
What plans do you have for Reddit going forward?
Steve and the team will set the plans. I just reallyreally hope they make a mobile app :)
What is your favorite beer? And where is your favorite place to drink it?
On a farm in the midwest on a hot summer night.
As a board member -- what do you actually do, besides ask Steve to come back?
Not very much, honestly. Almost all of my work time is spent on other stuff. I will try to be a sounding board for him if he wants to talk, and warn him if I see a big strategic issue coming.
What are your views on the future of tech disrupting politics from an engagement perspective? Do you think Brigade or Countable can do what the others who have mostly failed in that space have tried to do?
I sort of think it's the best hope for democracy working long term. I don't yet know what the right solution is.
Any plans to expand the Y combinator model to outside the US?
We already fund companies from outside the US, and lots of them. I think there were founders from about 40 different countries in our last batch.
Do you still write any code?
Not always, but when I do I prefer dos equis.
I'm friends with two past YC co-founders. Both of them held a title similar to CTO and implemented the majority of the company's initial technical IP. This IP wasn't just back-end system design but included novel machine learning and optimization technology, and the companies were both offering ml/optimization as a service.
Both of these co-founders were fired by their other founders and their boards. In both cases, the other founders were not /particularly/ non-technical-- one co-founder had a scientific PhD and the other had a CS degree from a top school. In one case, I had worked with the CTO previously, and my take was that he was fired over mostly mild culture issues that I could see resolved easily at a larger company. In both cases, the boards seemed to struggle dearly with the CTOs' technical interests & communication abilities.
What advice can you give to ml/optimization start-ups to avoid this "fired CTO" problem? Do you think these start-ups underestimate the non-technical value (e.g. for recruiting) of a strong scientist?
It's really hard to make a general statement about this, the specifics matter so much. I think the best advice I have is to start a company with a CEO you really know well and have a trusting relationship with, and then talk frequently about how things are going.
Unfortunate that half the people seem to be confusing you with Steve.
What other things is Y Combinator working on right now that you're particularly excited about?
Figuring out how to fund lots of startup per year is really exciting to me.
Honestly, the most exciting thing is not any particular startup, but that YC as a sort of meta-company can have such an impact on stuff, and that the YC network is so helpful that companies we fund have a big advantage.
I've been quite floored over the years what a fun place this has been and I'm glad Steve is back on board. What right now excites you most about the future of Reddit?
It's such a powerful community, and it grows exponentially more powerful with more users.
I am most excited for a mobile app.
Sure wish I wasted less time here though.
Does it worry you that by rejecting thousands of startups each year from YC, you likely end up discouraging some good founders with good ideas from continuing to work on their companies? I realize you always tell rejected companies to keep at it, but is there more you could do to mitigate the real impact of rejection?
Yes. We are working on some new stuff, but honestly this is high on my list of worries.
That's part of the reason I do stuff like the startup class: http://startupclass.samaltman.com
Which Ninja Turtle would you most want to be?
Leonardo obviously. Turtle power!
You have been here 8 years but all of your comments are from AmA except two about business. Do you have another account or are you just really too busy for reddit?
When there is a mobile app I will make some comments. It's just too hard in mobile safari.
But I might use an alt account--everything in my life is now so public that it's sort of nice to be not recognized on reddit.
With the popularity of YC soaring ( https://twitter.com/sama/status/618247698378985472 ), do you think there's still room for the outliers, or do you primarily focus on getting the pick of the litter?
(Followup: has the application/accept ratio gone up or down over time?)
Totally room for the outliers. That's where we make most of our money and have the most fun; we try not to lose sight of that.
Related new thing coming soon.
What's one thing you'd like to see on Reddit? Be a feature, a tool, an anything.
A mobile app please please please.
It seems everyday now there is a new startup trend. Social networks spawned like crazy in the mid to late 2000s. Even more recently there has been a trend in delivery applications (e.g. Uber/Lyft/Instacart). What do you think the next big startup trend will be?
I think the enterprise startup trend will go a lot further. I think this would be a good time to start a new social product that is mobile-focused. I think biotech, AI, and energy are likely to big.
Are you considering getting Victoria back? she seemed pretty good at her job.
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