Back in 2011, USV invested in Chris Poole’s startup Canvas. I worked closely with Chris on that investment and they built something great called DrawQuest. But it did not turn into a sustainable business and eventually Chris shut it down. All through this time, Chris ran and managed 4chan, a service he built and launched when he was 15. Yesterday Chris announced that he had sold 4chan to Hiroyuki Nishimura, a pioneer of Japanese web culture and founder of 2Channel, the inspiration for 4chan.
I have watched Chris struggle with his creation. He felt enormous responsibility for it. Like a child who has issues and you know it but you love him or her anyway. He did the very best he could with 4chan and from where I sit, never really got any credit for that.
Communities are not like other websites and mobile apps. The people who hang out in them feel a sense of ownership of them. The regulars here at AVC feel that way to some degree I am sure. And so running a community on the web/mobile is probably a lot like running a community in real life.
I have sat on condo and coop boards. They are not like regular businesses. They are where people live. And so the debates and disputes are more personal and more emotional. Take that and multiply it by the millions and you get a web/mobile community like 4chan or reddit. Managing that sort of thing is not pleasant.
And yet Chris did it dutifully for over twelve years. Contrary to the beliefs of many in the 4chan community, Chris didn’t take a real salary from 4chan. It was truly a labor of love.
And so when I sat with Chris for lunch last week, a day or two after the sale had finally closed, he seemed more relieved than anything else. This was not a Internet entrepreneur after a big exit. This was something else entirely.
There aren’t many who understand the Internet like Chris. And I’m not talking about the technical architecture (although he understands that pretty well). I am talking about the social architecture of the Internet. I am talking about what people do on the Internet and why. He’s seen the belly of the beast. He’s lived in it. And he’s come out the other side with his soul and his spirit intact. That is a massive accomplishment that dwarfs whatever financial return he made on the sale.
I am not sure I’ve ever been prouder of someone I’ve worked with to be honest.