Thoughts from the Founder of a $58 Billion Start-up

Today I had the pleasure of attending a NOEW session where Evan Spiegel and Michael Lynton participated in a panel discussion. Evan is the cofounder and CEO of the parent company of Snapchat, and Michael is chairman of the board of directors. Evan has taken Snapchat from an idea during his product design class in college to a publicly traded company with a market capitalization of around $58 billion. A few big takeaways from his chat:

  • Mentorship – Mentors are enablers of founders’ visions. Be clear on where you want to be, and mentorship will help you figure out how to get there.
  • Indecision – Not deciding can be worse than making the wrong decision. Snapchat went back and forth on relocating from Los Angeles to San Francisco. The indecision kept everyone in limbo and made things like recruiting difficult because people couldn’t plan. Once the decision was made to stay put, everyone could plan and execute around it (even if they didn’t like it).
  • Visual communication – Evan saw the potential of visual communication as a richer and more expressive form of communication in 2011.
  • Rejecting takeover – Evan was approached by Meta (parent company of Facebook) to acquire Snapchat. He didn’t want to sell because he was confident that more value could be created by executing his plan. But he had to convince the board, which wasn’t an easy task. The company was very young, and a multibillion-dollar exit would have been a massive return for the venture capital firms that backed it (and had a board seat). He ultimately convinced the board to reject the offer, and the rest is history.
  • Quick to fire – Snapchat experienced a period of turnover at the leadership level before it found the right people. Michael praised Evan’s ability to quickly pull the plug when someone wasn’t working out. It was painful and the optics weren’t good, but it allowed them to find the right people sooner.

Evan is an impressive and visionary founder. I enjoyed listening to him share his wisdom and look forward to following his entrepreneurial journey.