Reddit’s Long, Rocky Road to an Initial Public Offering

During a leadership crisis in 2015, Reddit asked Steve Huffman, one of its founders, to return to run the social media platform.

Mr. Huffman, who was working on a travel site, was not eager to come back. Reddit was a headache. It was experiencing a revolving door of chief executives. Its sprawling community of users was combative with management. Reddit’s ownership was also complicated, and its technology was lagging behind competitors.

“I ran into the burning building,” Mr. Huffman said in a 2017 podcast describing his return.

This month, Reddit is poised to reach the stock market in one of the first tech initial public offerings of the year. Its move stands out. Unlike a recent crop of start-ups that are focused entirely on artificial intelligence, the 19-year-old company is a throwback to an earlier era of social media. It is also trying to go public at a time when investors have been skeptical of tech offerings.

But what stands out the most is that Reddit is able to go public at all.

After being early to social media, the San Francisco-based company stagnated for years. It faced questions and controversies for its freewheeling stance toward free speech. It struggled to build a viable business, and was initially resistant to advertising — until it wasn’t.

After Mr. Huffman returned, the company’s revenues climbed to more than $800 million a year from $12 million, and its employees to 2,000 from 80. But Mr. Huffman continued encountering obstacles. Last June, when he increased fees for independent developers who used Reddit’s data, many moderators on the site revolted by shutting down sections of the platform. And questions have swirled about the company’s role in spreading misinformation.

Steve Huffman, a founder and the chief executive of Reddit. “I ran into the burning building,” he said about his return to the company. Credit…Amy Lombard for The New York Times

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