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I was Reddit cofounder Alexis Ohanian's executive assistant. Here's how being an EA gave me the skills to help run a company.

Polly Thompson   

I was Reddit cofounder Alexis Ohanian's executive assistant. Here's how being an EA gave me the skills to help run a company.
  • Eight years ago, Lissie Garvin was hired as an executive assistant to Reddit cofounder Alexis Ohanian.
  • Garvin now runs a foundation with Ohanian and said being an EA can help you move up in a company.

This is an as-told-to essay based on a conversation with Lissie Garvin, a cofounder of 776 Foundation, about her career working with Reddit cofounder Alexis Ohanian. The following account has been edited for length and clarity.

I first moved to the Bay Area in 2013.

Everyone was working in tech, so I applied for a position to be an executive assistant to one of the Reddit founders.

I remember Alexis Ohanian saying during the interview that he hadn't had an executive assistant before and probably didn't need one.

But I could tell that Reddit was a company where I could have a big impact, and for the last eight years, I've been his right-hand woman.

Reddit was just nine years old at the time

The founders, Alexis Ohanian and Steve Huffman, had just returned to the company and there was a lot of growth and new partnerships were happening. It felt like a new time for the company.

Alexis was busy and I made sure that he was taking meetings that made the most sense for the business and letting him know what to focus on each week.

But being an EA is about so much more than just administrative skills.

You are essentially the central hub of information. It's your job to know everything that is happening, to understand the day-to-day operations of the company, and to manage relations.

I was also had to be very protective of Alexis' time and privacy. Even though I'm 5"1 and he's 6"5, I was known as his bodyguard.

It's like 'The Devil Wears Prada'

There's a scene in the movie where Anne Hathaway's character says something like: "This is so-and-so walking over to you, you just met their daughter," to her boss. That's a real thing.

For me, it was not as intense, but there were a few times when we'd be at a tennis tournament, for example, and someone would be walking up to Alexis and I'd say: "That is the CEO of the North America branch of blah blah agency, you just met with them last week."

I didn't have a book of people to memorize like she did in the movie, but I sat in every single meeting with Alexis and saw it as my job to anticipate his needs.

I was even there for his wedding proposal. Alexis didn't want to hire a photographer because he didn't want the news to leak. So I hid in the bushes and took photos.

Being an EA gives you the skills to move up

When I talk to founders about hiring EAs, the four big things I say they need are trust, problem-solving, organization, and people skills.

Starting as an EA also gives you a holistic view of an organization. From the founder down to each department, you understand the company.

Mutual respect with my boss has helped me get here today

Alexis has always treated me like a colleague and our friendship has grown over the years.

I've followed him through four different companies because I respect him as a leader and he has respect for me as an employee.

After the death of George Floyd, Alexis was unhappy with the way that the company handled the subreddits, and he left the company in protest and asked to be replaced by a Black board member.

When you have someone like that who stands by his values publicly and uses his platform for good, it's easy to have a lot of respect for them. That's the type of person I want to work for.

Starting a foundation

Alexis had always talked about starting a foundation.

He got Reddit off the ground when he was 20 because someone believed in him — he was in the first class of Y Combinator — and had always wanted to do the same thing for young people around the world.

In 2022, Alexis, Katelin Holloway, and myself launched the 776 Foundation.

We're giving $100,000 worth of grants to young people fighting climate change around the world, and Alexis has pledged $20 million to do that for the next 10 years.

I now manage 40 fellows at the foundation.

One of our fellows, Helena Gualinga from Ecuador, has just got a bill passed to stop new oil drilling in the Amazon. Another, Roya Amini-Naieni, is innovating the labs that are vital for climate science research.

The EA skillset I developed over the years has been vital in making me good at my job today.


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