Snap to the future: The rise of Evan Spiegel

Live is good for Evan Spiegel. His company went public with a US$33 billion valuation, making Spiegel – with a net worth of at least US$5 billion – one of the youngest billionaires in the world.
By Thomas Shambler
Thu 22 Jun 2017 11:50 AM

Spiegel spent his early years at an ultra-exclusive school called Crossroads in Santa Monica. Other notable alumni include the Tinder co-founder, Sean Rad. Along with celebrities like Kate Hudson, and Gwyneth Paltrow.

Spiegel went on to study product design at Stanford University where he met future Snapchat cofounders Reggie Brown and Bobby Murphy. "We weren't good" Murphy would later admit, "so we tried to build things to be cool".

It wasn't until Spiegel's junior year that the idea for Snapchat was born, "I wish these photos I am sending this girl would disappear" Brown told Spiegel in April 2011. They immediately got excited about the concept of disappearing photos.

When Snapchat launched on the App Store it was called Pictaboo, and Spiegel drew the now famous Ghostface Chillah ghost icon. The app wasn't popular, it only had 127 users by the summer of 2012.

Having changed its name, Snapchat started to gain popularity after Spiegel's cousin began using it at a high school in Los Angeles. The teenagers took to the platform, as it allowed them to send messages that would disappear.

By March 2012, the app had more than 100,000 daily active users. With rising server costs – Spiegel and Murphy were paying US$5,000 out of their own pocket to keep the app going – Lightspeed Ventures Partners gave Snapchat its first cheque.

Spiegel dropped out of Stanford just a few credits short of graduation to work on Snapchat full time. The team developed the bulk of the disappearing messages app in 2012, while headquartered at Spiegel's dad's house.

In February 2013, Reggie Brown sued Murphy, Spiegel, and Snapchat for cutting him out of the business and not given equity. The lawsuit was eventually settled for US$157.5 million.

Snapchat's rise soon gained the attention of Mark Zuckerberg. The Facebook CEO came to Evan Spiegel with an offer: $3 billion for the company. Spiegel famously said no.

Snapchat was hacked early in 2014 – and usernames and phone numbers of more than four million accounts were exposed online. The company settled a few months later with the FTC over charges that it misled its users.

That didn't slow Snapchat's success. It finally added a chat function and launched Live Stories.  By July, investors valued the company at $10 billion. In three years, it had gone from a million-dollar idea to a $10 billion dollar one.

Chief Strategy Officer, Imran Khan, joined in January 2015 from Goldman Sachs. Snap's CFO, Drew Vollero, joined from Mattel in August 2015. Still, Spiegel was the one clearly in charge — and mapping where it would go next.

Snapchat also started welcoming outside content in. In January 2015, it added the Discover section, which allowed publishers to post Snapchat-friendly news items. Snapchat also found a way to make money — much to the relief of its investors.

While Snapchat took off, Spiegel and Murphy started working on a new secret project: sunglasses. Snap Labs was so secretive that only a few people knew that it was working on a hardware project at all.

It was only when Snapchat finally unveiled the Spectacles — a surprise to employees internally — that it also revealed that it changed its name to Snap Inc. in September 2016.

The name change was a clear sign that the company was ready to go public: "You can search Snapchat or Spectacles for the fun stuff and leave Snap Inc. for the Wall Street crowd :)" the company said in a blog post.

On February 2, 2017, Snap Inc. finally filed to go public — ending a drought in tech IPOs. More than 158 million people use the app daily, something the company attributed to the fact that "we eat, sleep, and poop with our smartphones every day."

When we were just getting started, many people didn’t understand what Snapchat was and said it was just for sexting, even when we knew it was being used for so much more," the company wrote in its filings.

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