Photographer: Rob Kulisek for Bloomberg Businessweek
Spiegel is the co-founder, chief executive officer, and profane enfant terrible behind one of the largest and fastest-growing social networks on the Internet. At 24, he runs a startup with 330 employees and a valuation north of $15 billion, which claims more than 100 million mostly young users. He’s also incredibly secretive about his business plans and an unknown (and arguably underestimated) figure in the intersecting gossip circles of Silicon Valley and Hollywood.
Snapchat office on Ocean Front Walk in Venice Beach, California.
Photographer: Katie Falkenberg/Los Angeles Times/Polaris
So now Spiegel is eager to set the record straight. Over the course of a 90-minute interview, he discusses books, business strategy, the millennial mindset, and the future of his closely watched company. This time, the overall impression is of an independent thinker who’s taking the opposite path of many of his rivals not because he’s full of himself, but because he believes that young Internet users are not well served by other for-profit social networks. He
eschews data in decision-making, ignores design conventions with his app, and has placed his headquarters near the muscle beach in California made famous in the ’70s by Arnold Schwarzenegger, among others. And his unconventional attitudes extend to advertising. “A lot of people look at Internet advertising as a tax on the system,” he says. “That’s sort of discouraging if you care about making new products and especially discouraging if you feel like you can solve problems.”
In person, Spiegel is a lot like Snapchat: earnest, raw, and unpredictable. When he gets worked up, things aren’t “off the record,” they are “off the f------ record.” He’s occasionally modest (“everyone here is stupidly way smarter than me”), while also prone to bouts of inadvertent smugness (“I literally just invented this in my head,” he says, drawing a chart on a paper demonstrating the basic elements of the service). And he can be irritable. Heaven help the interviewer who poses a tedious query, such as: What’s your long-term vision for the company? Spiegel: “These are the kinds of questions I hate, dude.”