Reddit, the social news and media aggregator site and self-proclaimed "front page of the internet," is flirting with having an IPO.This represents a shift from just a few months ago, when Reddit CEO Steve Huffman was quoted as saying, "There are a lot of paths to liquidity...The one that we're on often ends in an IPO. But we don't have plans for that in the future that we can see."
The precise timeline of the IPO is not yet clear, but Reddit CEO Steve Huffman said during his keynote discussion at the Internet Association Virtuous Circle Summit in San Francisco that he expects it will happen before 2020. Huffman believes that an IPO is "inevitable," and is simply the right thing to do for Reddit and its investors.
Huffman co-founded Reddit in 2005 with his college friend Alexis Ohanian. Conde Nast purchased Reddit in 2006 for a reported $20 million, making the then 23-year-old Huffman and Ohanian both very wealthy. In 2011, Reddit became a direct subsidiary of Advance Publication, Conde Nast's parent company. Reddit has operated independently since then.
Reddit has been doing well of late. According to Huffman, ad revenue from the site has quintupled over the last few years, selling both managed and self-serve ads. Reddit also recently began to test out other advertisement formats such as video, and to experiment with an ad-free premium subscription service.
Reddit also raised $200 million in a round of venture funding this past summer, reaching a valuation of $1.8 billion, and officially earning "unicorn" status - a designation so named for the statistical improbability of such successful ventures. This represents a huge increase from its last valuation in 2014 at $50 million. Reddit plans to use these funds to overhaul its dated homepage design, hire more employees, and create resources for user video sharing.
And Reddit's user base has only continued to grow. Reddit is now the 8th-most popular site globally, with an estimated 542 million monthly visitors.
All of this suggests that any IPO by Reddit could generate massive interest and perhaps be extraordinarily successful.
But Reddit has also faced challenges, too.
Reddit functions something like a message board. Users have discussions that take place within thematically grouped communities known as subreddits. Some of these subreddits are focused on controversial, offensive, or even illegal subjects. Some have criticized Reddit for hosting such groups, but efforts to ban or otherwise curtail such communities have also encountered backlash from either the banned communities themselves or free speech advocates. Huffman has considered having a formal hate speech policy, but has decided against it, fearing that it simply fosters resentment and turns "people into martyrs."
Reddit has also experience turbulence in leadership in the past few years. CEO Yishan Wong left in 2014 over a disagreement with Reddit's board. More famously, CEO Ellen Pao had a stormy 8-month tenure that ended with her resignation in 2015 in the face of user outrage over perceived flaws in her leadership. Huffman returned to the company as CEO after her departure, and things seem to have settled down for now, but turbulence may continue to pose problems for Reddit moving forward.