Snapchat CEO Evan Spiegel said part of the reason his company is so successful is because he spends nearly half of his time searching for the right employees.
About 400 students gathered to hear Spiegel speak Thursday afternoon in an event sponsored by the Yale Entrepreneurial Society. Spiegel, who is only 24 years old and is estimated to be worth $1.5 billion, discussed the origins and development of Snapchat and his personal journey as a founder-turned-CEO. He talked about how he came up with the idea for the company, and why he thinks Snapchat is unique and will not just be a passing phenomenon.
Spiegel said Snapchat is special in part because of the quality and dedication of its staff.
“I spend half my time finding the smartest, most driven people in the world so that we can continue to build great products,” he said. “The biggest threat to Snapchat is not retaining really terrific people.”
Because Snapchat started in Los Angeles, Spiegel said, its original employees often had to leave part of their lives behind to join the company. This self-selecting group believed in Snapchat, he said, which ultimately benefitted the company.
Spiegel said he is naturally concerned about Snapchat turning into a temporary fad, but he does not believe that will happen because of the company’s commitment to innovation.
“We really do believe that innovation is at the core of consumer technology,” he said. “And if you are not able to innovate you are by nature a fad.”
The Snapchat team strives to think about human emotions and what it means to share a moment with a friend when working to improve Snapchat, Spiegel said.
The company already has an estimated worth of $10 billion, and Spiegel said that ideas to improve the application are in development.
During a question-and-answer portion, students asked about the addition of groups, which would enable users to send photos to a specific set of people, as a possible innovation.
Spiegel said there are two downsides to that sort of function: the possibility of hurting feelings through exclusion and the fact that friendships are constantly shifting, potentially making users hesitant to send a photo to a group containing a former friend.
“If we do a groups product, we’ll try to make that reflective of the fact that friendships change,” he said.
Spiegel said he tends to admire those closest to him. But he also looks to Edwin Land, the creator of Polaroid, and Mark Zuckerberg for inspiration. Zuckerberg, he said, is an inspiration for him because he was the one who demonstrated that it is possible to build a massive business around social media.
The idea for Snapchat, Spiegel said, emerged when he was at Stanford University. Together with his fraternity brother Bobby Murphy, Snapchat co-founder, he tried several startup ideas during their freshman year. They looked toward photography almost by coincidence, he said.
“One of my buddies wanted to be able to send disappearing pictures,” Spiegel said. “It seemed like you could have fun doing that, so we built a very simple app.”
The breakthrough for Snapchat, he added, was a simple alteration — the detection of screen shots. This innovation, he said, formed the foundation on which Snapchat has since built.
Audience members interviewed said the talk was important for budding entrepreneurs on campus.
School of Management Director of Entrepreneurial Programs Kyle Jensen said students should be inspired by Spiegel to think big.
“You can build a startup as a college student and be the next Facebook or Snapchat,” Jensen said. “It’s imminently feasible, and Evan demonstrates that.”
Jennifer McFadden, the SOM associate director of entrepreneurial programs, said bringing speakers like Spiegel to campus helps to create an entrepreneurial environment at a historically non-entrepreneurial school like Yale.
Sandy Jin ’16 said that since Snapchat is the fastest growing messaging app in the world, this talk as an opportunity to learn more about entrepreneurship.
Before founding Snapchat, Spiegel and Murphy started futurefreshman.com — a guide to the college application process.
Correction: Nov. 7
A previous version of this article misidentified the event’s host organization. It also misstated the name of Jennifer McFadden, associate director of entrepreneurial programs at the School of Management.