By founding Snapchat in his mid-20s, Evan Spiegel reached billionaire status at a very early age. Today, some 350 million people use the app globally. In the OMR Podcast, he talks about the failure of his first startup, drops his take on when augmented reality glasses will become part of people’s everyday lives and why he still believes in Twitter’s potential.
One of the many advantages of attending a university of Stanford’s pedigree is that you get to say things like “The lecture was called ‘Entrepreneurship & Venture Capital’ and was led by Peter Wendell and Eric Schmidt.” The same Eric Schmidt, who was a long-time CEO of Google and probably one of the best-known managers in Silicon Valley, and famous investor Peter Wendell gave the fateful lecture at Stanford years ago that changed Evan Spiegel’s life. The founder of Snapchat recalls the anecdote today almost in passing, although without it, it’s nearly impossible he would have gotten to where he is today. The founders’ stories shared in the lecture inspired Spiegel to start up his own company.
Evan Spiegel is not one for long sitdowns. But on his recent trip to Berlin for the company event “Snap Forward,” he makes an exception for OMR founder Philipp Westermeyer and the OMR Podcast. It’s a premiere, as it is the first long-form podcast the founder has ever done. “And I had to fly all the way to Germany for it,” Spiegel jokes.
“A total failure”
Evan Spiegel co-founded Snapchat with Robert Murphy. Back in 2011, Spiegel was actually still a college student, but his desire to start a business outweighed his interest in academia. However, his first foray “Future Freshman,” a software designed to assist people with college applications, flops. “It was a total failure. Both of our siblings were applying to college at the time, and even they weren’t using it,” Spiegel says. A friend, Spiegel recalls, then gives him the idea for Snapchat: “Wouldn’t it be great if you could send photos that then disappear again?” he says. In the world of social networks, where Facebook et al. are collecting and storing more and more data, this is a radical break. Snapchat, however, is not an overnight success. Evan Spiegel remembers the early days well, when he was still handing out flyers in a shopping mall to draw attention to Snapchat.
But at some point, the number of users increased, the first venture capitalists became interested in the young founders, and within a few years, the obsession of two students turned into a listed company worth billions. Just six years after its founding, Snap, as the company is now called, went public in 2017. Evan Spiegel, now 32, becomes the world’s youngest tech billionaire at the time. Attempts by competitors such as Facebook to take over the network had previously been blocked by the two. Not interested. Instead, they put the established networks under pressure with innovations. The fact that Instagram now has the Stories format, in which content disappears again, is not just coincidentally reminiscent of the original from Snap.
Snap focuses on augmented reality
Today, Evan Spiegel is deliberately trying to differentiate his company from the major platforms. With around 350 million users worldwide, he sees Snap more as a messenger service than a social network and is focusing on augmented reality (AR) for the future. More than 250 million Snapchatters are using the the AR functions available, Spiegel says. “They also use AR for things like trying on clothes or learning about the world by walking through the solar system in their living room, for example.”
A few years ago, Snap also unveiled the Spectacles data glasses, through which augmented reality is amplified. So far, however, they have not been available to end customers. Evan Spiegel says that the company has been investing in this area for eight years, but he believes it will take at least until the end of the decade for them to become widespread. “There are still many important technological breakthroughs to go for it to happen.”
Twitter needs time
Evan Spiegel believes that the fact that changes take time can also be seen in the case of Twitter. Since its takeover by real-life Tony Starks impersonator and Tesla CEO Elon Musk, Twitter has had a turbulent few months. Musk in particular has been in the headlines repeatedly and many are skeptical about the future of Twitter. But Spiegel is bullish saying, “Elon is obviously a super-user of Twitter and has a lot of really great ideas on how to improve the service.”
In the past, many users felt Twitter was not evolving as quickly as it could. Currently, Spiegel says it’s too early to tell which direction Twitter is heading. “When a big shakeup like this happens, people are always very quick to judge,” Spiegel says. “We need to give the team some time to think about how they want the service to evolve in the future.” He continues to believe in Twitter’s potential – and points to the multitude of leading politicians who rely on it to reach their constituents.
Check out the full episode of the OMR podcast, as Evan Spiegel reveals his views on a Tiktok ban, why the current phase for tech companies is not the toughest time as CEO of Snap despite many challenges, and why the U.S. company recently acquired a company from Berlin.