As seen on telegraph.co.uk
Evan Spiegel is 23. He lives at home with his dad. And he’s worth at least $3billion.
This is not thanks to inheriting a fortune or winning a lottery: the app he built is now on one in four smartphones in the UK and is used by 10 per cent of all Americans. Its global reach spans the world, with users sending each other 400m pictures a day, each lasting up to ten seconds and permanently deleted once they are viewed.
The app is called Snapchat, and it’s not been in the news so much for being Silicon Valley’s latest darling – that $3billion offer reportedly came from Facebook – or for its rapid growth. Its story has been dogged by the assumption that it’s used primarily by insatiable teenagers for sending explicit ‘sexting’ messages.
In a rare media interview, Spiegel is dismissive of the idea: “We’ve reached a position in the market where so many people are using the product,” he says. “And Snapchat’s just not a great way to do that. Every snap you take has to be taken in the application and sent in that moment. All day long, when people are at work? It’s hard to take your pants off in the office. The service is mostly used during the day, it’s continues to be over 70pc women. That’s not how we used it with our friends, that’s not how I use it with my mom.”
Instead, Spiegel argues it was Snapchat’s quiet revolution that meant people assumed it was for illicit purposes. Where almost every other website makes a virtue of letting users store information, photographs or data, Snapchat makes deleting the default.
“Snapchat changed that perception of deleting something as bad. Online typically you delete something if it’s bad or if it’s really embarrassing. What Snapchat said was if we try to model conversations as they occur they’re largely ephemeral. We may try to write down and save the really special moments, but by and large we just try to let everything go. We remember it but we don’t try to save it.” Spiegel argues the mass of material gathering online makes it hard to curate or find what’s special.
And he makes a broader point about social media, too, that is backed up by the fact that even if thousands to do use Snapchat for dubious persons, many millions presumably do not.
“I think it feels crumby to have to market yourself all day long; the whole notion of a personal brand got very, very popular and still persists today, as people manage all their profiles,” he says. “Social media is about friending someone so they’ll invite you to a party or get you a job. If that’s the work, Snapchat is the playground. “
Spiegel is also right to identify the rise of what he calls ‘ephemeral media applications’, and reckons that there are now 30 or so competitors to Snapchat.
“We’ve never been anti-permanence,” he says. “We just belief deletion should be the default.” Snapchat users can, in any case, always take a screenshot on their phones.
“Online one day you log in and you realise this is not me. Everything you’re posting you’re doing it in the context of everything you’ve posted before. Let’s delete everything, save the stuff that’s important and then you only have to organise the one per cent that’s worth keeping.” Spiegel argues that digital and physical worlds, thanks in large part to smartphones, are now one and the same.
That rise of the digital world in part explains the enormous valuations currently associated with Snapchat. Spiegel won’t comment on the numbers save to acknowledge that “there are lots of rumours”. And as with Twitter, they surround a company that has yet to make a profit. On this, however, Spiegel’s ambition is conspicuous, and his sharp, Stanford-educated mind is clear.
“Right now growth companies are being valued very highly. That has a lot to do with the market conditions and the Fed and a very low interest rate. Companies are enjoying the effects of that,” he says. “We’re a baby company, we’re two years in, we’re fortunate to be operating in an environment when the cost of capital is relatively low; but I think it’s important that a company like ours starts to think about revenue relatively early on, embedding the culture of making money into the product.”
Asked which companies he admires, the first answer speaks volumes: Google.