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Snap’s Evan Spiegel admits that he needs to communicate better with Wall Street

Spiegel says he “underestimated” the importance of communicating as a public company.

Vanity Fair New Establishment Summit - Day 1 Photo by Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images

Snap CEO Evan Spiegel says he has no regrets about how or when he took his company public earlier this year, even though the stock is down almost 40 percent since its opening-day close.

One thing that surprised him, though: How important it is to communicate with public market investors.

“One of the things I did underestimate was how much more important communication becomes,” Spiegel said on Tuesday at the Vanity Fair New Establishment Summit in Los Angeles. “When you go public, and you really need to explain to a huge new investor base — instead of having 10 investors, you have 10,000 — you have to explain how your business works, and at the same time that you need to do that, there are also all these new regulations about what you can and can’t say.”

After the company’s first earnings call, Spiegel was grilled for being flippant about competition from Facebook. CNBC’s Jim Cramer called him “arrogant.”

“One of the things we’ve been going through this year is learning how to best communicate the Snap story,” Spiegel continued. (Thankfully, Spiegel’s No. 2, Imran Khan, is a former Wall Street banker!)

Spiegel says has miscommunicated “so many things,” but one was the importance of self-expression, and why it’s valuable. Unlike decades past, where conforming to the status quo was important, young people are understanding the value of being unique, he says.

“There’s a profound shift that’s happening right now, I think, towards empowering people to express themselves and be the best version of themselves,” he said. “And that’s really different than, sort of, this past generation that was sort of seeking acceptance, trying to be liked. I think that’s why people have a hard time understanding the power and importance of creativity.”

(Snapchat is a product that enables that creativity, of course.)

Spiegel, who rarely does public speaking events and was interviewed on stage by the writer Walter Isaacson, said there isn’t one specific thing that Wall Street doesn’t get about his company. Instead, he thinks, there is a general fear that Snap won’t ultimately make it, and that’s normal.

“Investors are fearful, and I think that fear is a powerful motivator,” Spiegel said. “So they’re fearful that we’ll never be profitable, or they’re fearful that competition will kill us or something like that. But I think those are kind of normal fears really for any startup, and that the really successful companies just grow through that.”

Spiegel’s public speaking practice was on display. When Isaacson asked if he thought Google and Facebook needed more human oversight to combat fake news — a struggle Snap hasn’t had to deal with, given that its publisher section, Discover, is limited to select partners — he stalled.

“You can just say yes if you want,” Isaacson joked.

“I’m trying to learn to be diplomatic,” Spiegel said. (On cue, Spiegel answered by talking about Snapchat, without ever mentioning Facebook or Google.)

Spiegel spent a large portion of his interview talking about creativity, and how Snapchat helps people be more creative by doing things like opening users into the camera, instead of a feed of other peoples’ content.

The interview started with a video of artist Jeff Koons, who is partnering with Snapchat to put augmented reality versions of his famous ballon artwork into the app via Snapchat’s filters product. Snapchat is asking other artists to reach out, presumably for other partnerships, but the company hasn’t specified how that will work.

Snapchat unintentionally let the partnership with Koons leak out on Monday. The company quietly started a countdown clock on its website signaling that an announcement was coming, but wouldn’t say what the announcement was. But the internet is not a patient place, and someone discovered that you could see what was behind the countdown clock by changing the date on your computer’s clock.


An augmented reality version of a big balloon dog statue.
Jeff Koons’ balloon dog, as seen through Snapchat.

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