Ellen Pao, the embattled interim CEO of Reddit, resigned on Friday after a week of intense and sometimes vicious criticism over the dismissal of a popular employee.
"We are thankful for Ellen’s many contributions to Reddit and the technology industry generally," Sam Altman, a member of Reddit's board, wrote on the site Friday. Pao will remain on Reddit's board as an adviser until the end of the year, Altman announced.
“I am very pleased with the work that she had done with the company. I’m happy she’s a shareholder, she’s going to make a lot of money as a shareholder,” Altman told BuzzFeed News.
Steve Huffman, one of the site's founders, will replace Pao.
In a post on Reddit announcing the resignation, Pao wrote, "In my eight months as Reddit’s CEO, I’ve seen the good, the bad and the ugly on reddit. The good has been off-the-wall inspiring, and the ugly made me doubt humanity ... Why am I leaving? Ultimately, the board asked me to demonstrate higher user growth in the next six months than I believe I can deliver while maintaining Reddit’s core principles."
Pao came under fire after the company dismissed Victoria Taylor, one of the site's most popular employees. Users and moderators shut down large sections of the site in protest, and a petition calling for Pao's removal garnered more than 200,000 signatures.
Before Taylor's firing, some of the site's 160 million users had expressed their discontent at the company's decision to ban a number of communities dedicated to racist, sexist, and fat-shaming topics.
But Altman told BuzzFeed News that growth for Reddit means focusing on mobile over monetization. "The world has gone mobile and Reddit has not yet."
“People can be good at some part of their jobs and bad at others,” he said. The way Pao handled the community aspect of the role was “not optimal,” but Altman said it “does not negate” the strides she made, particularly entering into a tumultuous situation.
Reddit has had a rocky road since raising $50 million in venture capital from famed Silicon Valley investors like Andreessen Horowitz and Peter Thiel and a handful of angel investors like Altman and Ron Conway last September. In fact, Pao’s resignation is the second abrupt “resignation” from Reddit in recent months, in both cases following intense blowback from Reddit users.
Pao was asked to come on as interim CEO in November 2014 after Yishan Wong stepped down following his reaction to leaked celebrity nudes distributed on a subreddit called The Fappening. Pao made it only eight months into what was supposed to be a yearlong appointment as interim CEO.
When Wong resigned as Reddit CEO, Altman admitted that the company was “caught off-guard,” but both and he and Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian told the Wall Street Journal that they expected Pao would become the permanent CEO. “This is technically Ellen’s job to lose,” Ohanian told the paper.
At the time of Wong’s resignation, Altman said there had been a dispute because Wong wanted to move Reddit’s office to Daly City and spend more money than the board wanted. However, the New York Times pointed to Reddit’s failure to “attract the type of revenue it would like." Pao was tasked with “finding other revenue streams, like acquiring and releasing a mobile application, and debuting a crowdfunding site,” said the Times.
In the midst of her eight-month tenure in the top spot at Reddit, Pao was also at the center of the most high-profile trial in Silicon Valley: her $16 million gender discrimination lawsuit against her former employer, the venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins, for not promoting her to senior partner. Pao initially filed the suit in 2012 and was present in San Francisco Superior Court for every day of the monthlong trial, which became a rallying cry about sexism in the industry. Kleiner was found not liable for all four of the claims in Pao’s lawsuit.