Reddit Surges on Its First Day of Trading

Reddit’s IPO is a test of investor appetite for tech IPOs, which have been a rarity in recent years. Low interest rates had made raising and borrowing cash on private markets easy and economic effects from the war in Ukraine and a slumping stock market had made it too risky to plunge into the stock market.

The last notable social media stock debut was Pinterest’s back in 2019. In a good sign for Reddit, which lost about $91 million last year, Pinterest shares are still trading about 80 percent above their IPO price—despite the company remaining unprofitable, with a loss of nearly $36 million last year.

Second Exit

Reddit’s metamorphosis into a public company is the second time it stopped being a startup. Huffman and now estranged cofounder Alexis Ohanian founded Reddit in 2005 but sold it to publisher Condé Nast in 2006 just over a year later. Advance Magazine Publishers, parent of WIRED’s publisher Condé Nast, still holds a 30 percent stake, a much larger share than other major stakeholders, which include Chinese tech giant Tencent and OpenAI CEO Sam Altman.

Since spinning out from Condé Nast, back into startup mode in 2011 and welcoming back Huffman in 2015, Reddit has grown steadily. About 73 million users visited the service each day on average last quarter. The service is home to over 100,000 communities on topics across news, entertainment, and science. Power users known as moderators, or mods, create and manage these subreddits. Users submit text, photos, and links to the forums, with votes and comments from fellow contributors helping determine what gets promoted in the community. A personalized news feed brings together content from the 20 or so communities that users on average follow.

Reddit’s challenge has been reining in the unsavory sides of that anything-goes culture. Hate speech has been prevalent on the platform in the past, and millions of users still come just to view pornography. The decentralized structure affords mods incredible power, and they’ve wielded that to temporarily shutter their communities when they disagree with strategies of Reddit’s executives—including a bitter battle last year.

Veteran users and employees have long wanted Reddit to improve the reliability of its platform and focus on core features, which the company has prioritized over the past year. But for a while, the company pursued new projects, including live video broadcasting and a betting prototype, that former employees have said turned out to be costly distractions.

The content moderation challenges also never seem to get easier. In addition to the feature upgrades, Reddit is having to focus on ensuring its forums aren’t overrun by ChatGPT-generated spam that detracts from the genuine conversation users crave. That’s not to mention still cracking down on conspiracy theories, ongoing hate, and pirated sports, anime, and music streams.

Then there’s taking care of staff. In a poll last month on the anonymous forum app Blind, two thirds of nearly 200 apparent employees responding said they didn’t feel valued by the company. Reddit said in its investor prospectus that its labor relations are good.

The company has some runway to tackle the to-do list. Reddit had over $1.3 billion in working capital at the end of 2023, much of it raised through venture capital financings. The IPO cash will add to the pile and aid the company’s efforts to improve its offerings for advertisers. The company drew 98 percent of its $804 million in revenue last year from advertising.

More advertisers are making Reddit a permanent part of their strategy. A few are spending up to 10 percent of their annual online budgets there, says Natasha Blumenkron, vice president of paid social at performance marketing agency Tinuti. But she and other ad buyers say to attract substantial more dollars, Reddit needs to grow its users and also increase closer to the standard of Meta and Google the sophistication of its tools that measure whether ads drove sales. That could require collecting more information about users—a strategy privacy-minded Huffman is loath to pursue.

This is a developing story. Check back later for updates.

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