How Evan Spiegel Turned Snapchat Into A Social Media Monster Worth Billions

Evan Spiegel is one of the youngest self-made billionaires ever.

When the budding internet entrepreneur created Snapchat with his fraternity brothers in 2011, he had no idea how well the app would do. But he says they knew it was original. On top of being unique, it would soon prove to be a calculated, well-crafted, and innovative risk worth taking.

Soon enough, Snapchat shares hit the one billion mark and kept going up. By 2015, the co-founder and CEO of Snap Inc had skyrocketed to billionaire status. He was 25-years-old. Flashforward to 2021, the Stanford grad is still one of the wealthiest people on the planet. Not to mention, his original concept broadened social media’s horizons.

Here’s how Evan Spiegel turned one idea into a billion-dollar business before turning thirty, where his net worth sits now, and where Snapchat could go tomorrow.

Early Life and Education

Born in 1990, Evan Spiegel grew up in Los Angeles, California. Both of his parents are lawyers. Evan has admitted he lived a rather privileged life. Following his parent’s divorce, Evan reportedly asked his father for a BMW. When his father said no, he moved in with his mother and she bought him the car of his teenage dreams.

But before he was driving, he became interested in computers. According to Spiegel, he was always “very curious about everything,” but especially computers. Sometime in middle school, Spiegel says he built his own computer and began playing around on photoshop. Ultimately, his endless excitement for computers led the future Snapchat CEO into design.

Spiegel attended the Crossroads School for Arts and Sciences in Santa Monica. While in high school, he was dually enrolled at Otis College of Art and Design. He was taking design courses. Spiegel also attended classes at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena. Thanks to his photoshop and design prowess, he landed an unpaid internship at Red Bull while he was still in high school. He’d pursue various other internships after that.

Discussing this time in his life, Spiegel has said, “I think networking isn’t particularly useful, like just “meeting people” isn’t very useful. I would do one of two things. If I found someone I really admired, I would basically just offer to work for them for free, and do whatever they wanted so I could learn from them.”

Experimenting With Social Apps at Stanford

Following his high school days, Spiegel attended Stanford. At the prestigious University, the budding entrepreneur studied product design. He also met fellow student, Bobby Murphy. Murphy hired Spiegel to design a social network similar to Google Circles. However, the online endeavor was not at all successful. After their first idea failed, they tried a prospective college student-oriented idea called “Future Freshman.” Spiegel has said it “totally failed” as well, noting that the biggest problem was “no one used it.”

While talking with Entrepreneur’s Handbook, Spiegel discussed how those failed attempts contributed to his looming mega-success with Snapchat. “That was a really informative experience for us because after that, rather than trying to build this really complicated, sophisticated piece of software, we decided we need to start with a simple concept, just build it and see if people like it, then go from there,” he explained.

Spiegel and Murphy began collaborating with another student, Reggie Brown. Soon enough, they found their winning formula. Brown and Spiegel began toying with the idea. They aimed to build a social app with disappearing pictures. At Stanford, they tested what would become Snapchat’s prototype for a class project. It was called “Picaboo” at the time. Spiegel, Brown, and Murphy began developing their idea more seriously from there. Some classmates said the concept of an impermanent photo app wouldn’t work, but they’d soon prove the skeptics very, very wrong.

Launching Snapchat

Snapchat
Shutterstock

While perfecting their prototype, Spiegel said he knew that to get their new app and running, it had to be 100% ready. So for their next big launch, they took their time getting it right, including a little bit of rebranding. In 2011, “Picaboo” was re-launched as Snapchat. Spiegel has claimed that he didn’t know if the app was going to be successful, but he and his team knew the concept was undoubtedly unique and innovative.

The cutting-edge application with vanishing pictures soon became an image messaging and multimedia mobile application. And the rest, as they say, is history. By 2012, 25 images were being sent per second on Snapchat. Soon enough, users were sharing over one billion photos on the Snapchat iOS app. One year after its launch, 20 million photos were being shared on a daily basis.

Snapchat continued to evolve and become more profitable. New features were always being added, like the “My Story” feature, which offers users the ability to communicate via video chat. Seemingly overnight, that particular feature made Snapchat incredibly popular globally.

From the moment it launched, the growth of Snapchat showed no signs of slowing down. It staked its reputation on always offering its users something truly new. But of course, its main claim to fame was that it offered photos that would “self-destruct” in up to 10 seconds. By 2016, Snapchat was up to 10 billion video views a day and soon became the top downloaded app in 28 countries.

Initial and Ongoing Snapchat Controversy

Snapchat does best with tweens, teens, and young adults. However, a significant chunk of the popular app’s users are reportedly between 13 and 14 years old. Over the years, this reality has added to the app’s most controversial aspect significantly. If you do a quick internet search, you will discover countless parental guidelines and sites warning about the dangers of Snapchat and its “disappearing” format.

Public opinions aside, Evan Spiegel always had forward-thinking confidence in the potential of his app. As noted by Business Insider, Spiegel once stated, “When we were just getting started, many people didn’t understand what Snapchat was and said it was just for sexting, even when we knew it was being used for so much more.” While it could certainly be used for much more than “sexting,” numbers showed that the app was often falling into the wrong hands.

Since “Snaps” are “erased” after ten seconds, false safety was cultivated amongst the app’s users, especially in regards to their privacy. Statistics surrounding teens and preteens “sexting” or sending sexually suggestive or bullying images or messages, were unsettlingly higher for those using the app.

Due to the growing popularity with younger audiences, Snapchat was also deemed controversial for the face filters it created and promoted. Many filters were designed to “perfect” the user’s face. Critics of the app said it was contributing to body image issues globally for younger and younger demographics. And the controversies didn’t stop there.

Snapchat’s Experimental Features Lead to Lawsuits

Evan Spiegel
Wikimedia Commons

As it turned out, the immensely popular app was not as safe as first thought or advertised. At the height of its popularity, Snapchat was hacked. The hackers bypassed the security system and exploited the data of almost 5 million users. Privacy issues proved an ongoing problem, but Snapchat continued churning out new ideas.

Some of Snapchat’s more experimental features backfired and led to lawsuits on more than one occasion. Take the “Lens” feature for example. It recorded a user’s speed while they recorded a Snap. When an 18-year-old wound up in a car accident while using the feature, it led to one of many “Lens” related lawsuits. Inevitably, Snapchat removed the feature.

On top of lawsuits, privacy issues, and parental concerns, Spiegel has been criticized for alleged remarks about Snapchat’s target audience. The Snapchat CEO allegedly stated that Snapchat was “only for the rich” and not for “poor countries like India and Spain.” Spiegel and Snap Inc have adamantly denied these allegations, calling the claims “ridiculous,” and continue doing damage control.

Nevertheless, online campaigns to cancel Snapchat and get users to uninstall the app completely are still going on globally.

Snap Inc Proves Its Staying Power

Once the social networking service entered the top ten most-used apps on the planet, it stayed there. After its stock began to significantly drop, Snapchat saw a massive rise in usage in 2019. By 2020, users were collectively creating 20 million snaps daily. Reportedly, the average user was opening their Snapchat camera at least 20 times per day. The numbers went up from there. But Snapchat is no longer the newest app on the block. Many have argued that Snap Inc can’t keep up with the ever evolving competition, but Spiegel thinks otherwise.

As of 2021, Spiegel continues searching for ways to make sure Snapchat keeps growing. So far, he’s been pretty successful. Per Orbelo, Snapchat boasts 265 daily active users as of 2021. Those numbers are up by 22% after a notable slump just one year earlier. Within five years, some experts estimate that Snapchat will be worth well over $200 billion.

Snapchat remains one of the most popular apps worldwide. Earlier this year, Snap Inc’s net worth briefly hit the $100 billion mark for the first time and experts say there’s still room for Snap Inc’s revenue to grow. As noted by the Los Angeles Times, this sudden stock rise was due to “surging usage and a rebounding market for digital ads.” Thanks to lucrative ad partnerships with companies like Discover and the creation of Maps and Spotlight, Snapchat’s stock seems to be exponentially increasing once again.

In the process, Spiegel’s already astounding net worth has increased along with it.

Evan Spiegel’s Net Worth

Evan Spiegel’s current net worth is estimated at $11.3 billion.

Even though he’s now the CEO and co-founder of one of the most successful companies in the world, Spiegel says his favorite part of the job is still design. Although, the 31-year-old billionaire admits he doesn’t get to do nearly as much designing as he’d like to. In his current role, he’s often joked that the “boring stuff” comes with the territory. But he’s still focusing on the bigger picture.

Per Inc., Snapchat’s CEO is focused on tech innovations, privacy issues, and looking to the future of social media as a whole. Spiegel continues to say that Snapchat is still capable of much more than people realize. Thus far, getting behind that belief has made him a very rich man.

For budding entrepreneurs, Spiegel offers simple advice on where to start. The centibillionaire stresses the importance of endlessly learning from and with others. Spiegel believes, “The number one thing at this stage is to just get exposure to the business world and people doing stuff. Do that by making yourself as useful as possible to people. Literally, I would just be like ‘how can I best serve you?'” 

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