Each year, the final day off Penn State’s Startup Week features a handful of notable speakers from various aspects of the tech world — and this year’s slate was no different. Among the speakers who came to present, Reddit co-founder Steve Huffman was arguably the biggest name present. He offered students insight into the site’s beginnings along with words of wisdom as one of the leaders of the industry.
“It just goes to show if you’re confident, and stumble your way through a little bit, you end up with the seventh-largest website in the world,” Huffman said as he reminded students of the importance of believing in oneself. It might seem cliche, but Huffman — the epitome of what every young entrepreneur aspires to be — lives that mantra every day. The story of Reddit is well-publicized, but hearing it from Huffman’s perspective offered a much different glimpse into the behemoth Reddit has become.
Huffman touched on his absence from the site and subsequent return six years later. “I left because I didn’t know — Reddit was the only thing I’d ever done — so I didn’t have any perspective,” Huffman said. “I didn’t really appreciate how special Reddit was, and I also felt like I was too young to not have anybody to look up to.” Despite all of Huffman’s success in the tech world, his words were extremely relatable to a room full of young, like-minded students. He would go on to describe how his experiences at travel site Hipmunk, which he co-founded with Adam Goldstein in 2010, provided him the necessary perspective he needed in both his personal and professional life. It was this perspective that gave him the tools necessary to bring Reddit to new heights when he returned in 2015 as CEO.
“Hipmunk was a great ride,” Huffman said. “I unlearned a lot of bad habits learned at Reddit — because Reddit always just grew; we really didn’t know how to grow. Learning how to keep a business afloat in a cutthroat environment — that was really really helpful. Now that I’ve come back to Reddit, I have a newfound perspective on a lot more skills that’ve been really useful over the last couple of years.”
Huffman fielded a number of questions ranging from Reddit’s unique “culture,” to the infamous Boston Bombing incident that cast Reddit in some hot water after users allegedly uncovered the identity of a “suspect” who would ultimately have nothing to do with the bombing — an incident that resulted in the site cracking down on this doxxing behavior. Huffman provided insight into his own thought process in describing the culture of his site — providing words any aspiring entrepreneur could put to good use.
“Every product decision we made on Reddit had a reason,” Huffman said. “We didn’t copy, for the most part, our peers. So, if we couldn’t come up from first principles why we were doing something, then we wouldn’t do it.” Huffman preached ingenuity — a trait all possess. Without explicitly stating it, it’s clear this trait is what’s helped keep him ahead of the game, and what can propel young entrepreneurs on a successful track. Rather than taking something good and merely putting a spin on it, one should learn from the competition, and think “what could I do that isn’t being done?” and have a reason for that decision.
Huffman’s words of wisdom surely left a palpable impact on the attentive Alumni Hall crowd, and capped off another successful Startup Week at Penn State.