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Former Reddit Executive Launches New Platform For Communities, Partners With Lena Dunham, And…

There’s something really kind of magical that happens when you bring a community together and let them function in a good way.

A number of former Reddit employees have come together to launch Imzy, a Salt Lake City-based company that hopes to provide a platform for online communities to grow in a healthy and sustainable way. With former Reddit SVP of product and Reddit Gifts founder Dan McComas as the company’s CEO and co-founder, Imzy has raised $3M from Charles River Ventures and O’Reilly AlphaTech Ventures.

Today, Imzy is also announcing a partnership with Lenny Letter, a bi-weekly newsletter founded and run by Girls creator Lena Dunham and her co-producer Jenni Konner. According to a recent article by NiemanLab, Lenny Letter reaches “more than 400,000 subscribers, and the newsletter has a covetable 65 percent open rate.” The article also states Lenny Letter’s website topped 600,000 uniques in the month of February, and most of its readers are women between the ages of 18 and 34.

Throw in her more than 4.6M Twitter followers, two Golden Globes, and a #squadgoals type friendship with Taylor Swift, and it’s clear that, in the immortal words of our humble Vice President, getting Lena Dunham to hop on Imzy while it’s still in beta is a BFD.

“When we started I kind of thought who are some of the ideal, moonshot communities we could get on the platform and I thought of Lenny Letter,” said McComas. “I just emailed them, and they responded. I think it took about eight weeks of having conversations with them about what we’re trying to do, and how they might fit into it. Ultimately, [my wife] and I wrote a letter to Lena. A very personal letter — it was about nine pages long — about who we are, what we’ve been through, what we’re trying to do, and how we see [Lenny Letter] fitting in. Ultimately they agreed. It’s fun to see it all actually happening now.”

Lenny Letter and the more than one thousand communities currently on the platform seem to believe Imzy has an opportunity to help online communities organize, communicate, and connect in a way that doesn’t currently exist.

“Can we start a company that is as perfectly aligned with a community’s interests as possible? And can we do that and still be a successful company? That’s the question,” said McComas. “I know we can create a company where the employees are perfectly aligned with the communities — and we will take the best interest of those communities to heart when we’re making decisions — but can we do that and still have a successful company? That’s the big question.”

Rather than relying on advertising (the goal is to avoid ads entirely), Imzy plans to generate revenue by allowing communities to create commerce inside the platform.

“We want to see if we can provide a payment infrastructure that allows for things like paid communities, subscription-based communities for content creators, marketplaces for communities to sell products related to their brand and cause, and then kind of an interesting concept that we’re currently testing is determining whether community members will pay the community leaders to keep their community healthy and running well,” said McComas. “We’ve learned from all of the other community platforms that there tends to be a small amount of people who tend to spend an inordinate amount of time running a community.”

Imzy also has a developer platform that will allow communities to build the tools they need to grow and ultimately become self-sustaining. Expect developers to build a way to facilitate events, job boards, chat features, and so on as more and more people begin joining the platform once it officially launches sometime next month.

In recent weeks, there have been a number of “news articles” labeling Imzy as Reddit 2.0. The comparison, while lazy and ultimately inaccurate, is at least somewhat forgivable considering most of the team has worked at Reddit at some point in their careers. Yet, the comparison is still lazy — and still inaccurate. And, you know what, scratch that part about it being forgivable. Let’s not grant forgiveness when an apology was never sought. Let’s go ahead and label those comparisons unforgiven. Maybe Imzy could even get Clint Eastwood and Morgan Freeman to star in a new version of the classic film “Unforgiven” that’s based in modern day Silicon Valley.

Coming to a theater near you…

Unforgiven II: Clint Eastwood and Morgan Freeman are back, but this time they’re seeking revenge on tech journalists who publish shoddy stories that are light on facts but full of innuendo and highly clickable headlines. Will there be a blood-thirsty rampage? Maybe. Just know most of the movie will focus on how Eastwood and Freeman are getting too old for this sh!. That’s kind of the main takeaway. They’re both pretty old. Remember Eastwood and the chair thing? That was four years ago. To be clear: he’s four years older than that now. I mean, yes, there will be something resembling a blood-thirsty rampage. We just really want to stress the old thing. You know what, can we be honest here for a second? It’s going to be rough. We don’t know how else to say it. It’s just going to be rough. Come see the movie or not. What does it matter? We’re all just going to get old, end up talking to empty chairs, and eventually die anyway.*

So, yeah, Imzy’s not Reddit 2.0.

That’s not to say McComas doesn’t have history with Reddit, or that his experience there hasn’t shaped his thinking around how to build a platform to support communities. He joined the company after it acquired Reddit Gifts in 2011, which he and his wife, Jessica Moreno, had founded two years earlier. Once that happened, he and Moreno moved to Salt Lake City to run Reddit Gifts underneath the Reddit umbrella and began to build a team and a life in the Beehive State. In 2014, Reddit put out a new policy forcing all employees to either be based in San Francisco or face termination.

“We ended up closing the Salt Lake City office of Reddit Gifts and moving the employees to San Francisco,” said McComas. “I took over the VP of product role for Reddit, and Ellen [Pao] took over the CEO role. I don’t think any of us understood how challenging it was going to be to move all of the employees to one central location while changing management. It was really hard. We lost a lot of employees. We had a lot of things going on. Ellen had a big, public trial that caused a lot of issues on the site, and I ended up in a leadership role running through these kind of things. So, I was there for about six months and things didn’t work out very abruptly and Ellen decided to let me go.”

Looking back, McComas describes this period in his and Reddit’s journey as a “very turbulent time.” With Moreno still working for Reddit as its head of community, McComas found himself suddenly out of a job and in a bit of an awkward position.

“I was very abruptly without a job and back in California, which is not exactly where I wanted to be. I had been happier here in Utah,” said McComas. “I just spent some time kind of reflecting on what happened over the last six years. It was an emotional time. It was hard. We’d moved our kids out there, and Jessica was still at Reddit. I found myself just thinking about what had happened — what I’d liked, what I didn’t like, what I would have done differently, and all these different things that I think are pretty standard to kind of run through when things like this happen.”

While McComas was planning his next move and thinking about how to create safer and better online communities, Moreno was still at Reddit getting harassed by disgusting online cornholes. In a post published on Lenny Letter earlier today, Moreno detailed the vile and insane nature of some of Reddit’s most batshit, truly evil communities.

“One community on Reddit, aptly titled Fat People Hate, was very vocal, very hateful, and very active, with over 100,000 members. They were shockingly attached to what they considered “a movement,” but which was just the hate and dehumanization of overweight people. The community organized by targeting individuals on Reddit and off, using social media as their tool to find more information to do as much harm as possible. They used images from personal accounts, from job sites, anything they could find, to make innocent people suffer.”

It gets a lot worse. You should take the time to read the full article to really understand why a community platform like Imzy is so important and so necessary.

“Imzy has built-in strong community policies, and by clearly stating what is and isn’t OK, it’s then possible to create a standard of behavior and consistently enforce that from the very beginning and set the tone for the future,” Moreno, now head of community at Imzy, explains in the piece. “On top of this foundation, we’ve built extensive tools to empower community members and leaders to manage their own privacy and safety and get help whenever they need it.”

A better, safer, and more diverse internet. That’s Imzy’s mission. It’s not another Reddit, or a different version of Facebook. It’s a platform for communities to come together to learn, serve, and meaningfully connect with one another. A place free from harassment where everyone feels welcome. It’s a hell of a mission, and a hell of thing to try to pull off. But read Moreno’s piece in Lenny Letter and tell me it isn’t needed.

“There’s something really kind of magical that happens when you bring a community together and let them function in a good way,” said McComas. “Things happen that you’d never expect.”

Published 5/18/2016