Who is Evan Spiegel, the founder of Snapchat

Who is Evan Spiegel, the founder of Snapchat

Who is Evan Spiegel

The rock star life of the billionaire furthest away from Silicon Valley stereotypes

(photo: Michael Kovac / Getty Images) "I don't think anyone expected us to be at this point," said Evan Spiegel speaking to the Financial Times in late May. The founder of Snapchat, born in 1990, had in fact just presented the new version of the Spectacles, the glasses until yesterday equipped only with a video camera - and known more than anything else for having sold very little - but which today are the first looking glasses (almost ) normal to offer augmented reality applications.

Why is this such an important novelty? There are two reasons for this: all the digital giants believe that augmented reality viewers are the next great technological innovation; up until now, however, all existing devices - from Google Glass to Magic Leap One - had little functionality or were so bulky that they were unusable in everyday life.

The Spectacles just presented - not yet for sale to the public - are instead the first attempt to combine the potential of augmented reality (which superimposes the digital world to the physical one, allowing for example to project the directions of Google Maps directly on the road) to an attractive design that can be worn nonchalantly. Evan Spiegel, in short, has decided to bet on a future in AR (augmented reality) and proceeds undeterred on his path despite the fact that until today the Spectacles have been a colossal flop

On the other hand, Spiegel is not used to backtracking and above all he has extreme confidence in his intuitions. And with good reason: "We no longer need to capture the 'real world' and recreate it online", he explained for example during a speech he gave back in 2014. "We simply live and communicate at the same time". Thus, seven years ago and in advance of even the greatest theorists of technology, Spiegel had summarized the evolution of our relationship with the digital world and the internet. No longer a separate area from the physical (or "real") one, but one that is one with it.

An intuition that, more or less consciously, had been behind the birth of Snapchat even before. Enough of the carefully curated images that we reproduce on Instagram or Facebook: the innovation of Snapchat, launched in 2011, was to encourage users to capture any moment of their life, without thinking too much, in an instant and spontaneous way: a lot. it would all disappear within 24 hours. Not only that: Snapchat was also the first to explicitly focus on vertical videos, adapting them to how we naturally hold the phone and ushering in a trend that is now becoming the new norm.

All this, as in the most classic Silicon Valley stories, has its origins in the university. To be precise, at the prestigious Stanford University, where many protagonists of the tech scene have taken their first steps. It is here that Spiegel, born in Los Angeles to a successful couple of lawyers, begins to put together some projects related to the online world together with Bobby Murphy, friend and companion of the university brotherhood Kappa Sigma. In the spring of 2011, however, a third member, Reggie Brown, had the right intuition, signaling to the two partners how much he wished that they could send photographs and videos that could disappear a few hours later.

Something clicks between the three fellow fraternities: they understand that this is an idea they can work on and get to work. They spend the month of June at Evan's parents' house in Pacific Palisades, a seaside resort a stone's throw from Santa Monica. This is where they design their application. A first version of this is ready in July, initially called Picaboo: an app that allows users to send photos that disappear shortly after.

August arrives and the harmony has already broken between the three founders: Spiegel and Murphy decide to do away with Reggie Brown from the group and partially change the project and its name, which becomes Snapchat. The initial public response is lukewarm, but then something starts to move: the application reaches 20,000 users in January 2012 and exceeds 100,000 in April. To cover server costs, the two founders receive nearly $ 500,000 in funding from a venture capital firm: Lightspeed Ventures.

It's a sign that their project is turning into reality and that Evan Spiegel, aged 22, has landed his first job: CEO of Snapchat (while Bobby Murphy is still CTO today). The next move is to drop out of university (a few weeks after graduation) and focus exclusively on the new social network, which over the months begins to become a phenomenon that captures the attention of younger users.

In early 2014 Snapchat exceeds the symbolic quota of 50 million active users every day, less than two years later it exceeds 100. In 2016, the newly renamed company Snap Inc. reveals that it has produced revenues for 400 million dollars. A few months later he made his triumphal landing on the Wall Street stock exchange. But this is where things start to go wrong. In August 2017, at the first quarterly of Snapchat, it is understood that the social network is not working as expected: users are not growing enough and neither are revenues. The share price falls from $ 27 in March to $ 12.

What happened? You can easily guess the reason, because it is what you most likely dedicate a part of your days to: Instagram, owned by Facebook, has in the meantime completely copied the idea behind Snapchat - photos and videos that disappear within 24 Hours - and introduced it to his app, thus sparking the resounding success of Instagram Stories and hampering Snapchat's growth.

If you like, it's a bit like Zuckerberg's revenge, who already in 2013 tried to buy Snapchat for $ 3 billion and was refused: “There are few people in the world who can create a business like this ”, Spiegel will tell, motivating his decision. "I think trading it for some short-term gains isn't all that intriguing." And all in all, despite the overwhelming power of Instagram has pushed it to the margins of social media talk, Snapchat is not doing so badly: in May 2021 it announced that it had exceeded 500 million monthly users (with approximately 280 million active each day). To get an idea, a social network always at the center of the debate like Twitter has around 350 million monthly users.

Evan Spiegel is not doing badly either: investors have started betting on Snapchat's future prospects again, with the result that in the last six months the stock market has skyrocketed, exceeding $ 60 per share and thus guaranteeing him an estimated assets of 12 billion dollars (197th richest person in the world).

But there is not only money in life, especially for someone like Spiegel who has never needed it and whose youth is the classic one of the rich and spoiled. In high school, his weekly allowance was $ 250, while legend has it that - following the separation of his parents, when he was 16 - he chose to move in with his mother even after his father refused to buy him a BMW. from 75 thousand dollars (granted by the mother instead). From his years of his in the Stanford Kappa Sigma fraternity, some e-mails have re-emerged in which he uses heavily sexist tones.

Two issues that he faced himself, admitting that he was particularly lucky in life and assuring everyone that the man he has become today is completely different from the one who insulted women in e-mails. But Spiegel is also a long way from the Silicon Valley type stereotype. Unlike Zuckerberg and others, for example, he is not a programmer: he has never written a line of code, his digital ability is all in the design. Above all, he is light years away from the classic nerd: already at university he organized events during an internship for Red Bull, while today he is known for his taste in clothing and furnishings (he also ended up on the cover of Vogue Italia), he drives a Ferrari and is married to Australian supermodel Miranda Kerr.

To be at the head of a social network that many believed to be on the verge of failure, in Evan Spiegel's life everything is going in the right direction. Waiting to find out if he will also be able to win his ambitious bet on augmented reality.

Social Network - 11 Jun

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