Evan Spiegel, the Product Visionary
Building Snapchat Into a $17B Company
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On to today’s piece!
In 2015, at only 25 years of age, Evan Spiegel became the world’s youngest billionaire.
He got there by building Snapchat into one of the fastest-growing consumer apps and turning down a massive acquisition offer from Facebook.
But, like many great ideas, Snapchat was dismissed early on. Many people just didn’t understand how this groundbreaking idea of disappearing photos would appeal to a large user base.
Snapchat has more than 375 million daily active users and a market cap of more than $17 billion.
It’s been a wild journey to get here, from a subpar launch to a major lawsuit to leaked emails to having competitors blatantly copy them and much much more.
Let’s get to it.
Evan grew up in Pacific Palisades, an upper-class neighborhood on the west side of Los Angeles.
Both of his parents were successful lawyers, with his mom, Melissa, choosing to resign when Evan was born and his dad, John, being a partner at the law firm Munger, Tolles & Olson.
Evan’s interest in technology started early and as a sixth grader, he built his first computer with the help of his teacher, Dan.
For high school, Evan attended the Crossroads School for Arts and Sciences, a private school known for its many celebrity alumni and parents.
While Evan would later become known as a product visionary, his fascination with design started when he was a teenager, after taking a graphic design course taught by Milka Broukhim at Otis College of Art and Design during one summer:
Evan would continue to experiment with Photoshop at Crossroads where he also worked at the school’s newspaper and even sold ads for it as part of his journalism class, walking around his neighborhood to sell to local businesses.
In his senior year of high school, Evan got the experience of working for one of the world’s most well-known brands, Red Bull:
Evan’s next experience, attending Stanford, would be one that’d change his life forever.
Stanford & Future Freshman
In the fall of 2008, Evan chose to attend his father’s alma mater for college, studying product design at Stanford and, by the end of his freshman year, getting into one of the fraternities on campus.
But the most important pieces of his Stanford experience for our story today?
One is how he got his first real introduction to the world of entrepreneurship.
Two is how being in that environment at Stanford introduced him to a couple of his classmates who he’d eventually start the precursor to Snapchat with. More on that soon.
Evan’s introduction to entrepreneurship came from his experience auditing a graduate-level class taught by Peter Wendell, founder of Sierra Ventures. Through the class, Evan was able to hear from guest speakers like Eric Schmidt, the former CEO of Google, and Chad Hurley, the co-founder of YouTube.
Another speaker was Scott Cook, who founded Intuit, and, after attending his session, Evan would end up getting a job for a short time working for Scott and an engineer at Intuit on a project called TxtWeb, getting to experience a high level of accomplishment working with a small team.
Evan was sold on wanting to build a startup and he’d do just that when he was recruited by a classmate, Bobby Murphy, to work on a new social network. While the project ultimately went nowhere, it wasn’t a waste.
When Evan had the idea for his next company, Future Freshman, he recruited Bobby to write the code.
Future Freshman would be described by Evan as:
They launched Future Freshman in the summer of 2010, but by the fall, with Evan and Bobby both studying abroad, Evan in Cape Town and Bobby at Oxford, it ultimately failed.
Not only did Future Freshman struggle to keep their attention, it wasn’t resonating with users and was battling other well-financed companies.
Even though they shut it down, it was an important experience, allowing them to understand that they worked well together and showing Evan that he needed a more original idea to build his next startup.
The original idea he needed would soon come running to him.
Evan met Reggie Brown during his freshman year at Stanford. They lived across the hall from each other and eventually were in the same fraternity where, a couple of years later, they were both kicked out.
Reggie was a notoriously hard partier, which, as it turned out, ended up being important.
Because through that partying, he came up with an idea in Spring 2011 that he told two friends in his dorm room:
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