Reddit CEO resigns and is replaced temporarily by Ellen Pao

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Credit: Gigaom Illustration

Reddit’s CEO for the past three years, Yishan Wong, is out, according to a blog post by Y Combinator head Sam Altman. If you’re wondering why the leader of a prestigious accelerator is the one breaking the news, it’s because Altman led Reddit’s recent $50 million round.

Altman claims the resignation is the result of a dispute between Wong and the board about new office property and the budget for it, and that it was Wong’s own decision to resign, according to Altman. I’ve reached out to Wong for more information and will update this if I hear back.

It seems suspicious that such a disagreement, on its own, would be enough to convince Wong to resign. But without more details, it’s anyone’s guess as to whether tensions have been building between Wong and the board for some time, or if he had been unhappy in the role. One public incident might point to a bigger problem: At the start of October Wong confirmed on Twitter that remote Reddit employees would have to relocate to San Francisco or lose their jobs.

Fittingly, Sam Altman took to Hacker News Thursday to give inquirers more information on the office location disagreement. He said:

I realize that this sounds non-credible (and it’s certainly one of the craziest professional things I’ve ever been a part of), but it’s actually what happened.

Yishan wanted to move the office from SF to Daly City. The board pushed back but said we’d agree to it with certain data (we wanted Yishan to figure out how many employees would stay with the company through the move, get a comparison to other market rents, etc.–all questions I think a board should ask when thinking through a major commitment).

This is certainly not what I was expecting to be dealing with so quickly after investing in reddit, but we’ll make the best of it.

Altman served as interim CEO for eight days — fun fact: Reddit gained more followers in that time than all of Hacker News — while finding a replacement. Ellen Pao, formerly Wong’s second in command at Reddit, is taking the position until a more permanent replacement is found. Yes, that’s the same Ellen Pao who sued VC firm Kleiner Perkins for sexual discrimination.

In an interview with Fortune, Ohanian said that if Pao does the job well, she’ll remain CEO. Weirdly enough, since the trial date for Pao’s lawsuit against Kleiner keeps getting pushed back (it’s reportedly set for February 2015), it’s possible Pao will be the CEO of Reddit when she finally takes Kleiner to court.

Reddit founder and YC partner Alexis Ohanian will return to a full-time executive chairman role and transition to a part-time commitment at YC as a result.

The executive change comes at an already disruptive time for both Reddit and Ohanian. It was only in July that Ohanian joined YC full-time and Reddit just raised its first big round of funding in September to scale out the business.

For his part, Altman did his best to downplay the significance of the executive shift, saying “I am sure the new team will…take reddit to great heights.”

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