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Snapchat succeeded for one reason, investor says: Snap CEO Evan Spiegel

Lightspeed Venture Partners’ Jeremy Liew explains Spiegel’s game-changing insights into social media.

Snap CEO Evan Spiegel Asa Mathat / Recode

As Snapchat maker Snap heads for an $18 billion IPO, its private investors are poised for a big payday. And one of them, Lightspeed Venture Partners’ Jeremy Liew, is using the time to reflect on what made Snapchat worth investing in.

Speaking on the latest episode of Recode Decode, hosted by Kara Swisher, Liew said* he thinks of consumer technology as popular culture. With Snapchat, he had to carefully put his own lived experience aside and look at where it was thriving from the get-go: Among young people, especially women.

“There was no way that I could have organically understood what that engagement process looked like,” Liew said. “But what I could do was open up the Flurry analytics dashboard with Evan and look at the numbers and see 50 percent month-on-month growth, and see engagement and retention metrics that were multiples of what you might expect from other companies.”

“Something was working, and it didn’t matter that I didn’t understand it right away,” he added. “It didn’t matter that my intuition was bad. What mattered was the data.”

The person who did have the right intuitions, he explained, was Snap CEO Evan Spiegel, who looked past the “unconscious metaphors” that constrain even the best product designers.

“Friendster started reverse-chronological order in the feed, and ever since then, every social network has done reverse-chronological order in the feed,” Liew said. “And then Evan comes along and says, ‘Well, how do people tell stories? They tell them beginning-middle-end. Reverse chronological order is end-middle-beginning. Hmm, that doesn’t make sense. We’ll do ours beginning-middle-end!’”

“That’s a great example where people never even questioned the metaphor, they just did what had been done before, and Evan comes along and says, ‘What makes more sense?’”

That sort of thinking helped Snap connect with people in ways that Facebook, Twitter and other social media companies did not. But what about all the times Facebook has “borrowed” key features from Snapchat? Liew said he’s not too concerned.

“Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery,” he said.

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* This episode was taped before the mandated pre-IPO quiet period.

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