For an entrepreneur who has built a social media empire on the idea that people like to share what’s going on in their lives immediately and often, Evan Spiegel is obsessed with privacy.
He doesn’t give much away. He doesn’t tweet or post on Instagram. In fact, the easiest way to find pictures of Spiegel online is to follow his fiancee, Australian model Miranda Kerr.
But the 26-year-old co-founder and CEO of Snap, the parent company of the social media platform Snapchat and the wearable tech company Spectacles, last night had to reveal a whole lot about corporate finances. Spiegel took the first step towards taking his start-up public.
Filing an “S-1” document is a big first step. It means letting people buy shares of stock in the company, and by doing so Snap is trying to raise $3 billion. When the company does go public, it is expected to be worth $25 billion or more.
That means Spiegel and his co-founder Bobby Murphy, who both own 20 percent of the company, could be worth $5 billion each.
The tech start-up’s filing yesterday broke with convention in a couple of ways. It stated that the company may never be profitable. And Spiegel used the opportunity to take a pot shot at Mark Zuckerberg by saying Instagram’s new “stories” feature was a ripoff of the Snapchat user experience.
Snap’s irreverence in its public filing is in line with the way Spiegel has run Snap, as well as his own life. To begin with, the company is located in Venice Beach, Calif., not Silicon Valley.
“We love LA, our office is on the beach, and that’s pretty nice,” Spiegel said at a reCode conference in 2015. “Frankly, for us, it’s nice to get a little space from everything going on there, so we can really focus on our business.”
Spiegel, the son of two successful lawyers, grew up privileged in Los Angeles. In high school, he wrote out a budget to convince his parents that he deserved a monthly allowance of almost $2,000.
Spiegel dropped out of Stanford when he was just a few credits shy of graduating to work full-time on Snapchat. In 2014, a cache of leaked emails between Spiegel and his fraternity brothers when he was in college at Stanford revealed a brutish, offensive attitude towards women. He has since apologized.
In 2013, Facebook tried to buy Snapchat for $3 billion. Then only 23 years old, Spiegel refused the offer. The media response was incredulous. A college dropout shut the door in Zuckerberg’s face? Why? According to a Forbes profile, Spiegel said, “There are very few people in the world who get to build a business like this. I think trading that for some short-term gain isn’t very interesting.”
In a 2015 address delivered at the USC Marshall Undergraduate Commencement, Spiegel framed his decision somewhat differently. “I’m asked one question most often: ‘Why didn’t you sell your business? It doesn’t even make money. It’s a fad. You could be on a boat right now. Everyone loves boats. What’s wrong with you?'”
But, he said, “I am now convinced that the fastest way to figure out if you are doing something truly important to you is to have someone offer you a bunch of money to part with it.”
Spiegel intended Snapchat to be the social media platform where users can live in the moment as their more authentic, unpolished selves.
“This traditional social media view of identity is actually quite radical: You are the sum of your published experience. Otherwise known as: Pics or it didn’t happen. Or, in the case of Instagram, beautiful pics or it didn’t happen AND you’re not cool,” Spiegel said in a speech he delivered to the AXS Partner Summit conference in 2014.
“Snapchat says that we are not the sum of everything we have said or done or experienced or published. We are the result,” he said. “We are who we are today, right now.
“We no longer have to capture the ‘real world’ and recreate it online. We simply live and communicate at the same time.”
His idea has resonated. Snapchat sees 161 million daily active users globally, with 60 million of those in the United States and Canada. Those users spend between 25 and 30 minutes a day on the platform.
As a manager, Spiegel says he knows he has some work to do. He’s decisive, but he changes his mind frequently.
“I’m not a great manager. I try to be a great leader. And for me that’s been going through a process of, not how to be a great CEO but how to be a great Evan, and that’s really been the challenge,” Spiegel said at the reCode conference.
And he’s had to move fast, since the industry does.
“I think the key thing there, in all that, is just trying to grow as quickly as possible,” Spiegel said. “Again, I probably can’t say this enough, but we’re in a business that is growing really, really quickly, and at the same time evolving and changing really, really quickly.”
In his commencement address, Spiegel also reflected thoughtfully on why he participated in his Stanford graduation ceremony, even though he hadn’t completed enough coursework to graduate.
He attended because, in the moment, he “didn’t want to be left out,” but, he said, “it only recently occurred to me, while preparing this address, how totally absurd this whole charade was. It reminded me that oftentimes we do all sorts of silly things to avoid appearing different.”
“Conforming happens so naturally that we can forget how powerful it is. We want to be accepted by our peers, we want to be a part of the group. It’s in our biology. But the things that make us human are those times we listen to the whispers of our soul and allow ourselves to be pulled in another direction.”
Also in the speech, Spiegel told the story of Bob Rauschenberg erasing the work of his artistic idol, Bill de Kooning. The effort took Rauschenberg two months, and then their contemporary, Jasper Johns, framed the results.
“I love this story because Bill de Kooning had the humility to recognize that the greatest thing we can do is provide the best possible foundation for those who come after us. We must welcome our own erasure.”
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