Kara Swisher: Social media is important to our country, as it turns out, so we have a lot to talk about in these next two sessions. The first person I’m bringing out is someone who’s been at Code before, was here many years ago, he just pointed out to me. Someone I think is really creative, a really interesting entrepreneur, has had a tough time since he went public and lots of issues. But he’s here to talk about that.
He just got bothered by my 13-year-old explaining what he did and didn’t like about the app. My 16-year-old just sent me a whole long list of things, so we’re going to get into that. So without further ado, Evan Spiegel, co-founder and CEO of Snap.
One of the things, you just, congratulations, you just had a baby. You can just say congratulations to him.
How’s it going so far?
Evan Spiegel: It is literally the greatest thing in the world.
Yes, as it turns out, it is. And it’s a boy, right?
Little boy. Yeah.
Good. Well, you’ll like that. I have mine. I like them very much. I’m enjoying them very much. So let’s start about that. I’m not kidding. My kids are on Snapchat a lot, especially my 16-year-old. He grew up with Snapchat. I hate to do anecdotal things, but I watch him use it a lot.
He was mad about the redesign, like furious. He sent me, he was like, “Tell Evan I’m very upset about this.” I’m like, “I think I won’t.” But he had a whole long list of issues, and yet, he uses it almost every day. He’s always on it. He uses it for communication. He uses and he does it so, in such a facile way. So talk a little bit about this redesign, because it was very controversial, impact on your business, so talk about, walk us through what you think happened and the mistakes you made and what you were trying to do to fix it.
Well, first, please thank him for using the service despite the redesign.
Yeah. Okay. Good.
I think fundamentally, if you look at the redesign, it’s really important to try and understand the problem that we were trying to solve. When we looked at social media, one of the biggest problems that really stood out to us was this constant conflict between needing to have a small group of friends to feel comfortable expressing yourself, but also needing to have a large group of friends so that you can watch more content.
Traditionally what’s happened, especially because social media businesses make their money with advertising, is that those businesses try to encourage you to add as many friends as possible. And then at some point, because you’ve added all these friends and some of them you don’t know and maybe you now have 1,000 friends, you feel uncomfortable actually creating yourself.
That for us was worrisome because our business is all about empowering people to express themselves. That’s what we tried to do. That’s why we open into the camera. And so we wanted to find a way to empower people to express themselves, to keep that small group of friends but at the same time expose the whole world of content that’s on Snapchat that people want to watch.
I think if we look at the execution, in terms of the philosophy, I’m excited about the progress we’re making. In terms of the execution, we have to continue to evolve and iterate the product to get the result that we’re looking for.
You and I talked about this. We had a great talk in Venice at your office, which ... Evan has a hard time talking in public, in private, but in public, you’re quite private, you’re quite passionate about how you were thinking about the theories around what you were doing. You were solving for a problem that these social networks have gotten too big and too anonymous and the behaviors change on them as people use it.
When you got this feedback, when you saw it, what did you think and how did you make the decision? Because I think you just made it on your own theories, not on data, which other people tend to ... or not? Explain how you decided to do it.
We use a combination, obviously, of data and also our own intuition about the underlying problem and our philosophy that guides us there. I think the thing that we always try to do when we release a product, if we believe that that underlying philosophy, that that reasoning is sound, we’re willing to push out a product, knowing that that solution may change over time. We try to stay open to the wide solution space effectively and iterate as quickly as possible.
One of the things that I’ve noticed with our team is that if we lean too heavily on data, we just wait and wait and wait and can get stuck in very small iterations, rather than looking more broadly at new solutions, and so for us to just continually push forward as a company I think is really important, as long as that underlying philosophy is sound.
So what do you need to do about this redesign? What did you learn from it as an executive? I mean, you’re a relatively new executive. We’ll get into the IPO part of it in a minute, but what did you learn to do about that because this is your ... You don’t have 20 products. You don’t have nine different divisions and things like that.
Well, one of the things, honestly, that I underestimated at the time was how much it would impact, for example, our investors or our team. You know, if you remember, I think after our Q4 earnings, our stock was up like 50 percent in one day, right? So everyone’s like really excited, and they just could not comprehend why we would totally change our product and redesign the service, right, after that amazing blockbuster earnings.
And so for me, that was a really great lesson because to me, it teaches the importance of having that long-term conviction even though it’s going to surprise people, even though it’ll make people feel uncomfortable, and so we really tried to let people know that we expected some disruption. But despite doing that and despite trying to prepare our community but also the investor community and our team for the disruption that we thought would come with the redesign, it still really had an impact.
I think as people get to know our business over time and as they build trust with us and they see us make more of these decisions ... You know, I think when we were a private company — and we’ve talked about this a million times — we made a lot of decisions that people thought were totally wild, right? Whether it was ephemeral communications or stories or lenses. These are concepts that were really hard for people to understand at the time, but our conviction and that underlying philosophy that drove the product development is what allowed us to continue to build for the long term.
Can you upgrade that space in public? You do have public investors. You have the stock. You have the pressure on the stock. Does that make it impossible? Or I mean, you can be in a Jeff Bezos-like position. You did that for years, but do you have that trust in investors to be able to do that?
It’s going to be a process to build that trust. I think the first time we started building that trust was really around the transition in our advertising business. So about 18 months ago, all of our advertising was sold by salespeople, right? Direct sales. We realized that we would be unable to scale the business to reach millions and millions of advertisers if all of our ads were sold by people. We had to create software to do that. We had to take our business through a transition to move from that direct sales force to programmatic advertising. That was another example, I think, where people were worried about it, because with a direct sales force you have fixed prices for your adverting, and with programmatic you have a dynamic auction that determines your pricing.
Because we don’t have as many advertisers in our auction yet, that pricing is lower because there aren’t as many people competing to buy those ads.
But it’s the right decision?
And it’s the right decision for the long term. We saw that impact on our revenue after we went public, and we took that criticism, and then by Q4, I think people saw how the programmatic business really impacted revenue and got comfortable with that decision. But they punished us for a couple of quarters, and so I think it’s going to take a cycle of doing that a few times before we build that trust.
So you’re just going to piss people off for quarter after quarter? Or what? It’s funny.
We’re going to try really hard not to piss people off. We really try to be thoughtful and communicate about the decisions we’re making, but ultimately, I think people are going to have to see that consistency where we release ephemeral messaging and it doesn’t make sense to people, and then several years later it makes sense and it’s the dominant behavior.
I think we’ve done that now with a number of products, and so a couple of years from now, I hope we’re sitting here and talking about ...
The design is fantastic.
Yeah, talking about how great it is.
Would you go back on the design and some of these things that people didn’t like? What don’t you think people ... What would you change back? Or what do you ... that you listen because a part of you doesn’t want to, right? “This is the way I want to go.”
We changed one big thing almost right away. One of the mistakes that we had made was combining your communications with the Stories that you wanted to watch. We tried to put that all in one place for your friends because we thought it would make the app feel more familiar. So instead of seeing, for example, opening the app and seeing a celebrity, you always, you saw your friends. We really thought that was important to building deeper relationships with your friends.
I think the mistake that we made was that people think really differently about their communication than they do about watching Stories. Stories is more of a lean-back experience. You’re bored. You have some time. You’re waiting for your friend to reply. And so you start watching content on our service, and so having Stories get in the way of that communication behavior I think was really frustrating to people, so we changed that really quickly. That’s already out and I think making a positive impact. We’re just going to continue to iterate.
But I think the important thing is really that I think we solved this really challenging problem of being able to maintain a smaller group of your close friends who you feel comfortable expressing yourself and also opening up the world of content on Snapchat.
All right. Let’s talk then about going public since this is about that. How is it going?
It requires ... I would say a bit more grit than being a private company. I think one of things that’s interesting, when you’re a private company, you can sort of smooth out the ups and downs. In a way, that’s harder when you’re public because you have to talk about metrics all the time.
But I think the important thing for us is building that muscle of not putting numbers before doing the right thing for the people that use our service. This is a really good time to do that because embedding that culture really early in our business is extremely important, and so for our team to see our commitment to doing the right thing for our community, doing the right thing for people over the long term I think will really serve the business for a long period of time.
And so do you feel like, do you regret not staying private then, smoothing out things as you do this?
I think this was the logical step forward in being an independent company. When we raised a lot of money from venture capitalists, I guess our first investor invested at like a $4.25 million valuation, right? The understanding from the venture capitalist was that we were going to provide an exit for them. That was either going to be in the form of an acquisition or that would be in the form of an IPO.
Right, so you did it for venture capitalists or ... because they don’t care. You shouldn’t care about them, but go ahead.
To be honest with you, we do care about them, and we do care about our investors. I think for us, this was a really great transition to take what is ultimately short-term capital, venture investors are short-term investors. They invest for a couple of years, and then they rotate out of their investments, and so we were able to transition inherently short-term investors to long-term investors, and despite that are being — a little volatility that comes with that — ultimately, that’s the right thing to do to build our business.
How do you develop this as CEO? I mean, you started this very young. You’re still very young. How is it being a public company and what has it done? Because you spend a lot more time on creativity, on instinct, it seems. Talk about that, how you think you are as a manager, and we’ll talk about things that have happened internally. You’ve lost a lot of executives. Listen, I remember when Facebook went through nine CEOs at once before they settled on the right one. But talk about that, that transition of your ability to move forward.
For us, this year, the big theme for us, the No. 1 priority in the business was our team performance. Our entire leadership team has really been focused on that. We totally changed a ton of our processes around people. I can speak specifically to the way that I give feedback to our team and sort of how we’ve evolved in the last year or so.
One of the things that I noticed is that I really needed to spend a lot of time thinking about what works best for my style, like what’s the best way that Evan can be a great leader instead of trying to emulate other CEOs or other great ...
Were there any ones you were trying to emulate?
Oh, my gosh. There’s so many, and tons that are mentors.
John Donahoe is a good example. He’s actually the one who inspired me to really focus on coaching, because we went on a walk, and he’s like, “Evan, think about how much time athletes spend training for every minute they spend playing.” He’s like, “Why don’t you do more coaching?” It’s like, “Great idea. Thank you.”
So one of things that we’ve done is really formalize our coaching practices. At Snap, we actually have coaches that work with every single member of our leadership team, and then I work together with all of those coaches to try and constantly improve.
I think outside of that, I’ve noticed that written feedback works really well for me, so I write letters to our team about — individuals —nspecifically about their performance. We combine that with 360 reviews both for myself and everyone else on the team, so it’s not just my perspective, and then everyone develops their own plan and then works with their coach to implement it.
And so I think taking that personal development as a leadership team really, really seriously has made a huge difference for our company in a really short amount of time.
So what is an Evan management system? Because you seem like a loner comparatively, are you not? That’s the perception I think people have, that you ... a lot of companies, they operate with two people or something like that. Who is your partner? Do you need one or ...
I am so not a loner. I think there’s been strange conflation of my personality ... I’m sort of like a private person.
I don’t really like talking to media and stuff with the exception being with you here today.
Oh, thank you. I appreciate it.
But I think that’s been conflated to say that our team works that way, and that’s not the case at all. We have a team that works really well together. I’m really proud of that. We all have shared goals. We hold each other accountable. That’s had to change. It hasn’t always been the case, but that’s absolutely critical. Otherwise, we wouldn’t be able to execute this quickly.
I think one thing that I help do at the company is really try to set the tone, provide the vision, and tried to guide people back to our philosophy sometimes when we stray. So, I think there are moments when, you know, it can be tempting for someone to look over their shoulder at what everyone else is doing and then try to do that at Snap. I can’t tell you how many people I’ve interviewed that have said, “You should just add ‘Likes.’” It’s like, “Well, let me tell you why that’s not what we do at Snap, and why we think that’s really important to self-expression.”
You just eject them out of the room when they do that?
I try to be really patient and explain. Another one of my mentors said, “Look, your job as a leader is just to explain stuff all the time.”
So, I really try to explain our philosophy and how we think about the world in our products. I think for me, as a leader, that’s been critical. I think the idea of me as a loner is sort of, it’s not ...
It’s interesting. It’s there, the idea that you’re ... It is. It absolutely is.
That’s a little depressing, I guess.
Yeah, it is. So, sad loner by himself. No, I think your life is just fine. It seems like it from your Instagram. No, I’m kidding. Teasing.
So, talk about ... You’ve had a loss of upper people in the management. It gets written about, and it may not be completely accurate, it might be accurate. What is happening there when different people leave? Because, ultimately, building the right team is over time. I’ve seen it happen in a day. I’ve seen it, like people come and go and they can either cycle up or cycle bad. So, I don’t find that that unusual, but you have had a lot of turnover. Talk about what’s the problem with people stay or go, what do you need there?
I think there’s a combination of factors. If I were to look at, I guess, maybe the key ones, I think first and foremost, obviously the company has changed so dramatically in a very short period of time. So we now have, I don’t know, almost 3,000 people; a couple years ago we had a couple hundred. So, to scale a team that quickly actually requires a changing skillset, because the things that work when you’re a really small company don’t work when you’re a lot larger. That’s been on huge factor, I think.
Another one, and it sort of relates to that, I think, is really about adaptability, and that has to do obviously with the rate at which the company is needing to grow faster, but also has to do with how you approach problems at Snap. One of the things I’ve seen is that people who are absolutely brilliant, who are geniuses, experts in their fields, come to Snap and have a hard time approaching problems in a new way. And they want to continue what they’ve been doing in the past. For us, that’s really challenging, because we really want people to approach problems with almost a blank canvas. That’s how we arrived at solutions like Stories or Lenses or ephemeral messaging. I think for us, having that open-mindedness and willingness to approach problems from different angles is really important.
I think the last one — and this has become more important to me over time — in the past, the way we ran the team, people were sort of responsible for their own verticals, and that just doesn’t work to be a high-functioning leadership team. You need everyone to be accountable for the same goals and to work together to do that. So, a huge part of that is then making sure you hire people who really work well with other people, and make them better.
So, I think across those three, I would say — and I’m sure there are others — those are how I think about building the right team.
Building the right team. So, let’s get to the story today, which ... we talked about diversity. There’s a very tough story on Cheddar, a good story, about problems at Snapchat, which just me, is so normal for the whole [industry]. Every single company has this issue, and this was your turn to talk about it. You had someone who left who wrote a pretty tough letter about the culture. Talk about what your reaction to that. Because you guys admitted this was a problem, we’ve been trying to fix it, this was ... They left last November. The letter that went to everyone, it was a woman engineer there, talked about a toxic male culture, models at a party, which you also objected to, but you’re the CEO. All kinds of things where ... a “Game of Throne”-type mentality, too male. Talk about that.
Yeah, that letter was a really good wake-up call for us because, obviously, we’re constantly thinking about how to have the culture that we want and how to reinforce the values that we want. And we’re thinking about it even more because, as I mentioned, the company has grown so fast. So, to take on that challenge of a company growing that quickly, hiring people that quickly, then reinforcing the culture and values is really challenging.
I think the wake-up call for us with that letter was that we needed to do even more, and needed to do it faster. Right? So, we reorganized the engineering team, put new leadership in place. We actually hired external consultants to come into the company, talk to people and help show us areas where we could improve. We ran a company-wide survey to identify other issues and act on them. We changed our promotion process.
So, I’m proud of the progress that our team made in the last six months. I’m glad we started moving a lot faster on these issues. And obviously, there’s a lot more to do. So, we’re gonna stay focused and keep going.
And you released the numbers, which are as bad as all of them, but why is that? I want to get to why it is. Because a lot of people are like ... Even Facebook is coming out next, “We were surprised by this. We didn’t realize this.” Why don’t you realize this? I know it sounds crazy, you know what I mean? I do feel like sometimes, and you do get that, “We think it’s important, we think it’s a priority.” One, it doesn’t change, and two, what is it? Is it an evolving nature of you, or your management team? Or what happens where it comes as such a surprise that is not a surprise to a lot of people?
Well, I think if we go back a little bit, I’m not sure it was surprise to us. For example, I think the article talks about this female engineer feeling uncomfortable because she overheard something that a senior leader had said. She went to HR, and HR had a conversation with him and talked about it, and said, “Hey, that’s not appropriate.”
Ultimately, to me, that is the sign of a culture that we want, where people are identifying problems and speaking up about them. So, I think Step One, talking about that problem, having people come forward and talk about it, allows us to fix the problems. So I’m happy that that occurred in our company.
I do think we’re aware, and I do think we’re working on it. I think the question is always, “What else can we do?” And we’re constantly thinking about that and trying to learn.
Right. Then what do you do as a leader? Because sometimes I think leaders put them as priority No. 7, or priority No. 14, and never priority No. 1. The only thing, when I was reading that story today, they mentioned, as usual, there’s a party with scantily clad women. I looked. 10 years ago, I wrote one about Yahoo like that. There was like strippers onstage at a Yahoo event. Or Twitter they had a frat party that was ... I’m sort of like, what has to happen from your perspective? Because here you have all the power. What has to happen? I’m holding you totally responsible for all of it. I’m not, because I want to understand.
I think, Megan, for example, backstage, had a great idea. That, “Hey, at every single one of your leadership meetings, you should just make this a standing item and talk about the progress you made that week.” That was a great idea. It’s not something we talk about at our leadership meetings. Maybe every other week, but I think just relentlessly repeating and making it a priority for senior leadership is really important, and there’s more we can do there. Again, I think people are gonna make mistakes, and I was frustrated to say the least to see people dressed up as deer at a holiday party, or anniversary party, or whatever it was. Just because it’s also strange.
Yeah, it is.
But you get the party and get rid of the deer.
Oh, we did. Literally, like what is this happening? Why?
Right. Who made that decision?
That was someone who is on our events team, and she made a mistake and life goes on. I think, again, having a culture where people can make mistakes, we give them feedback and they grow, I think it’s really important. I think especially with the younger work force, people are gonna make mistakes, we should expect that, it’s part of the learning process. And having that mechanism whereby we turn that into feedback and then change is critical.
All right, let’s move on to another topic. Facebook. Oh, God. Poor Evan, he’s being such a good sport here. No, but you are a very creative person. You create these things and they borrow them rather extensively. Tell me how that feels. People borrow my things all the time, it drives me crazy, I want to kill them.
Yeah, I think it bothers my wife more than it bothers me. Gosh. I think fundamentally it’s important to understand that Snapchat is not just a bunch of features. It really has an underlying philosophy that runs directly counter to traditional social media. I think that’s why traditional social media feels threatened. Because, fundamentally, if people realize that competing with their friends for “Likes” and attention is kind of unpleasant and really not that great ...
... then I think they’re gonna look for alternatives. And what we said at Snapchat is actually, there’s this great alternative, which is all about building deeper relationships with people that you’re close to. And we believe that empowering that self-expression is really important. I think while, of course ... I think what they’ve done is they’ve changed their products and changed their mission, but I think fundamentally they’re having a really hard time changing the DNA of their company. The DNA of their company is all about having people compete with each other online for attention.
I think sort of, as time goes on, I think it will become clear to more and more people that our values are really hard to copy, and I think the reason why is because values are something that you feel. I think, over time, especially given the relationship that we’ve built with our community, which I feel is very strong, I think that it will be harder to really copy the essence of what Snapchat is.
What is the impact when they do? Because I had Kevin Systrom on my thing and I said, “You’ve just taken this. This is really kind of offensive to me that you’ve done this.” And he goes, “Well, just because Evan invented the car radio doesn’t mean I can’t do a better one. And yes, that’s what we did.” Just didn’t even bother pretending. And why should he? Because it’s obvious what happened. So, how do you then keep ... It isn’t a feature war, but what is the impact when they do something you do and do a pretty good job copying. People used to accuse Microsoft of that quite a bit. So talk about that, what do you do then?
I think we do what we’ve always done, which is just continue to innovate and continue to deliver really great products for our customer. And we’ve always believed that if we really listen to our customers and provide them with things that they totally love, that they’ll use our services.
Do you feel ... What is the pressure like when they do that? What does your wife do then? Tell me what your wife does.
I like a good dramatic pause, so it’s fine.
I guess, what I’m saying is that fundamentally ...
It doesn’t matter?
Yeah, fundamentally, we have to stay true to our DNA and who we are as a company. And our desire to empower people to express themselves. I think people are going to continue to follow the innovations that we’ve created, and that’s part of how this industry works.
Ultimately, I think if you want it personally how I feel about it, I think as a designer — and I think the designers on our team would say the same thing — that the No. 1 feeling for a designer, the best thing in the entire world is if you design something that’s so simple and so elegant that the only thing other people can do is copy it exactly. That, as a designer, is the most fantastic triumph in the world. So, I think from ... thank you. Thanks. It really is the most fantastic thing in the world. So, I think that because our team gets their joy out of changing the world in the right direction, that will continue to be our strategy.
I guess what I’m saying, to take it a step further, is that we would really appreciate it if they copied out data protection practices also.
I was waiting for that.
Maybe that’s what Sheryl’s announcing after.
Speaking of that, I want to finish up on values, because you said the word value. And I say the word value a lot, and I think values are important, because with values you have to make choices, and you can’t be a benign platform that has ... no “we’re trying to be everything to everyone.” You cannot do that. You can try, but it always runs into humanity. So, picking values, I think, is critically important and very few tech people want to do that. They want it always ... And that’s, to me, where a lot of the problems [arise]. Talk about tech responsibility. You and I have talked ... 18 months ago, he was talking about the things that Facebook ran into this year. Which was interesting. I remember that conversation. The inability to control your platform or understand what’s on it, if you take the hands off the wheel. Talk about those choices, because I think it really is important.
Whew. I guess ... This is sort of at a high level. I guess what I would say about this, and how I feel ... Obviously, life is not about making money, life’s not about winning awards, it’s not about winning competitions or whatever. Life is really about having an impact on the world, changing the way that people experience the world, changing the way that you experience the world. I think for me, one of the things that I worry about is that businesses very quickly reduce problems to numbers. They think about themselves in terms of numbers and they get obsessed with driving numbers. I think the interesting thing about humanity and about values is that these are things that can’t actually be quantified.
For me, I think the big red flag for all of us should be when we put more weight on things that can be counted instead of the things that can’t be. Because the things that can’t be counted are the things that make us human, and the things that are the most important to protect.
So what happens now with the tech industry? These hearings, these ... I get, I’m gonna ask this question I asked of Tim Cook. What would you do if you were Mark Zuckerberg in this situation? You almost sold your company to him and then you didn’t, allegedly. Knock on wood. Is that wood? Okay.
Fundamentally, I think the changes have to go beyond window dressing to real changes to the ways that these platforms work. I think the thing that concerns me the most, and we’ve already seen this with GDPR for example, rather than complying with the actual spirit of GDPR and the data privacy practices, some companies just took their data processing practices and jammed them in the terms of service. Then they said, “Because our data processing practices are in the terms of service and that’s a contract with the user, we’re compliant with GDPR.” That’s why people got sued on the first day that GDPR was enacted.
I think for me, it’s very clear this is a long road. It’s a road that’s going to be litigated, but I think if you look at the shift and you look at the appreciation that people have for user privacy and how fundamentally important it is to humanity, I think we’re just getting started in the way that people are gonna have to change their businesses.
To what? Because it’s all predicated on that.
I think it’s important to point out that there wasn’t any Russian manipulation of Snapchat.
No, they just used the system.
Right. That there are alternatives, and that the way that you treat user privacy is really important. For us, that goes back to when we were in my dorm room. When it was just me and Bobby, when there were three or four people using our products, we cared about data retention. It’s taken seven years for people in the technology industry to take a look at what we’ve done, getting rid of personal information rather than storing it, hoarding it forever. And to say, “Hey, that actually kind of makes sense.”
So I think for us ... It’s exciting to me that seven years later after we built our business on this idea of data minimization, effectively, that the rest of the industry is starting to embrace that and I think that will have a positive impact.
Do you expect a lot of regulation coming?
I think that foolishly some big companies want that because they believe they’re best equipped to deal with regulation and that there are times in history when regulation has actually entrenched big companies because they’re the most capable of complying. I think that’s a huge mistake because I think that that would inhibit innovation, but I do think that there are some really great legal frameworks that are developing — like GDPR — that’s really well thought out, that puts the user first, that gives the user control and choice, that will make a big difference.
I think there’s gonna be a balance. I think there will be some regulation, but I think at the same time, technology companies need to incorporate the spirit of protecting user privacy, and if they’re willing to change their businesses to do that then I think we’ll be able to find a happy medium.
All right, questions from the audience, please? For him? We’re going to start over here.
Speaker 1: Hi. You were so thoughtful about talking about how you brought in business consultants from outside to help you and the leadership team and then Kara pressed you pretty hard on the ... for want of a better term, the frat boy culture that appears a lot in tech. How many of those consultants, if you don’t mind me asking, that are helping you with your business are women or people of color?
That’s a great question. I don’t have the exact breakout, but obviously that’s something that we pay attention to because we wanna have a wide variety of perspectives in terms of people who help us. I actually can follow up with you and then figure that out and give you the exact number.
Kara Swisher: I’ll get you in touch with him.
But I don’t have them off the top of my head.
Speaker 1: Thank you.
Josh Topolsky: Hi. Found the tall mic, which is great. I have a question about news. You know, Facebook obviously dealing with a lot of the Russia stuff, a lot of the hate speech. Twitter clearly dealing with a similar problem. You obviously think of Snapchat as a different kind of platform, but you’ve got Discover, right? Which is kind of this forum for news and information for the broad set of users. How do you curate that? Are you gonna continue to curate that very closely and as the user base grows and more people want in, when the Daily Caller ... maybe they already have a Snapchat channel, the Daily Caller calls up and says, “We wanna do it.” Or Stormfront is like, “Hey, we have a big following and we really wanna talk about the issues that are facing white nationalists.” Or whatever. How do you guys manage that? How do you curate that? What is your policy, what is your thinking? What is your technical and intellectual thinking around how you manage that as you grow?
That’s a really great question and I can talk a little bit to the foundational elements. First of all, we have humans review all of the people who distribute content on Discover. I think that works because really only like 1 percent of content is good, so we don’t have to have zillions of people doing that. We just really try to curate things that people wanna watch.
Kara Swisher: So you use all humans? It’s not an AI?
You know, I’m sure we use some technology tools, but human beings look at it.
Kara Swisher: Right.
So I think that’s one piece. I think the second piece you bring up that’s really important is it really has a lot to do with how we’ve structured Discover in the first place, which is to surface a lot of different perspectives and to put the publication front and center.
So I think what’s really interesting about Discover is that you start understanding that someone like the Wall Street Journal, for example, has a different point of view than the New York Times or the Economist or whatever when you’re reading Discover. Having people making it really clear that those perspectives are different and then providing a wide variety of them I think is really helpful to our user base. I don’t think we’d ever include something on our platform that is blatantly hate speech, but as long as we’re very clearly labeling different peoples perspectives, I think we’re open to a wide variety of those perspectives.
Josh Topolsky: So on that, if it is Breitbart or maybe they already have a Snapchat or the Daily Caller. How do you rate the publications, I guess is what I’m saying. Where do you draw the line and how do you draw that line?
So I personally probably do not have the right skill set to do that so we have people with editorial backgrounds that really think deeply about those things and make those decisions.
Josh Topolsky: So you’re not blatantly just like, “We’re the free speech platform, anybody who wants to put news on here can do it.” It’s gotta be ... you guys have to look at it and say, “Yes, we want this. No, we don’t.”
Yeah, we’ve taken a very different approach in that regard.
Josh Topolsky: Good, thanks.
Kara Swisher: So you’re not having a crowdsourcing “who’s good?”
No, not on Discover.
Kara Swisher: Yeah, I think that’s fantastic. You? You have one? Okay, right here.
Tim Peterson: You said positive things about GDPR. I’m curious what your thoughts are on the California Consumer Privacy Act which is described as mini-GDPR. It’s not a perfect analogy. It’s something that Facebook and Google have supported the opposition group. Facebook’s kind of pulled the support, but not their money. Snap, what are your thoughts? Is it something you support or against and if you do support or are against it, how does that take effect? Are you actively supporting or opposing?
You know, I’m not familiar enough with the exact specifics of it to give you a thoughtful enough answer, so this is another one we could probably follow up on. But I think if it’s consistent with some of the basic principles of GDPR that’s something that we’d be supportive of.
Tim Peterson: It’s basically ... The foundation of it is right to know. It borrows that from GDPR but it’s opt-out by default.
Can I talk to you about it after?
Tim Peterson: Okay, cool. Thanks.
Kara Swisher: Very quickly, we only have a very short time.
Alex Heath: Alex Heath from Cheddar. I’m glad you already talked a lot about the diversity issues. Thanks, Kara, for that.
So I wanted to talk about the business. It seems to me that a lot of the wind has been taken out of Stories with the redesign and with Instagram. If you have metrics to share, please correct me. Given that your ad product is so closely tied to Stories now and Snapchat is also a messaging platform, how are you thinking about monetization outside of Stories? You’ve dabbled in e-commerce, you’re dabbling in hardware. What excites you the most about potential other revenue streams? If you could just turn off Story ads, what would you be doing?
I think I should clarify a little bit about what we did with the redesign because it is actually really closely tied to Stories and about opening up more inventory. If you look at the application before the redesign, the stories pages just had a list of your friends. Sometimes, mixed in there were friends like celebrities that you don’t actually know. What we found that over time, influencers, for example people who post really frequently often because it’s their job, were ending up at the top of the list because that list was recency based. Our Stories page, at the top of the page a lot of people had content from people they didn’t know very well.
What we wanted to do with the redesign was really put your friends first. Make sure when you open the application, your friends are at the top of the page, but then open up this world of content so you don’t just see content that you’ve had to add as a friend. You can see a bunch of content that’s personalized just for you but you don’t have to make that person your friend. I think for us that was really our way of thinking about how to scale the Stories opportunity, because you’re inherently limited if you’re only showing Stories that someone’s manually added.
For us, with the redesign we have an infinite scroll now of really, really great content that’s personalized for you. I think there may be some misperception about that opportunity for our business. Really, that was one of the big reasons why we wanted to do the redesign: To create that opportunity for our business and also stay true to our mission of empowering people to express themselves. We try to do both at the same time.
I can’t speak to future products or opportunities but ...
Alex Heath: You’ve dabbled in e-commerce already and hardware. Out of, say, those two things, what excites you the most about those two things or those things we could expect more of?
Hardware’s a really important pillar of our strategy. So if you look at the three things that we’re investing a lot in, we have Lens Studio which allows you to create all these great augmented reality experiences, we have the core Snapchat application that a lot of people use all day long and where we can iterate really quickly on those augmented reality experiences. Then we have Spectacles that, while still in its infancy, I think has a lot of potential to overlay computing on the world around you.
I think if you look at Snapchat — and again, it’s very early — to just open Snapchat into the camera, into your experience, but to imagine that with the evolution of computing, we’ve gone from mainframes to people now looking at really small computers in their hands. I think if we look at the evolution of computing over the next several decades, computing’s gonna be overlayed on the world around you. I think Spectacles is a really important part of making that happen.
For me, as it pertains to our hardware strategy, I don’t think that’s gonna generate a ton of revenue for us tomorrow, but I do think it’s a really important investment in the future.
Alex Heath: Thanks.
Kara Swisher: Great. I think that’s all we have time for. Evan, one last question: As a CEO, would you ever consider selling your company if you had to? You have not.
I think as a fiduciary we’re always required to consider it.
Kara Swisher: Thank you so much, Evan Spiegel.
This article originally appeared on Recode.net.