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Can Snapchat's Evan Spiegel be the next Mark Zuckerberg?

Zacks Equity Research logoZacks Equity Research 3/3/2017 Ryan McQueeney

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Just a day after its historic initial public offering, shares of Snap Inc. (SNAP) are up over 60% from their IPO price and still climbing. As the parent company of Snapchat watches its market cap climb well above $30 billion, it now has the pressure of thousands of new investors who are curious as to whether Snap can justify this valuation.

Will Snapchat double down on hardware? How can the company keep users engaged with its application? Will clones from competitors steal any potential for future growth? These are the types of questions investors around the world are asking.

The man in charge of answering these questions is Evan Spiegel, Snapchat’s co-founder and chief executive officer. The 26-year-old entrepreneur is quickly becoming a household name, garnering praise, attracting criticism, and drawing comparisons to some of the tech world’s other famous leaders.

Who Is Evan Spiegel?

Spiegel was born in Los Angeles and grew up in the Santa Monica area. After taking college-level design classes while still in high school, he attended Stanford University to study product design. While at school, Spiegel pitched the original idea for Snapchat as a class project.

Still enrolled as a student, Spiegel teamed up with his buddies Reggie Brown and Bobby Murphy—the company’s current CTO—to develop “Picaboo,” a messaging app that allowed users to send disappearing pictures to each other. Picaboo would soon become Snapchat, and Spiegel would leave Stanford in 2012 to focus on the brand.

© AP

Throughout the company’s young life, Spiegel has been its public face and number one talking head. He has rejected takeover offers and deflected criticism from a number of angles. Most notably, Spiegel fell under fire in 2014 after Gawker published a number of emails sent by the CEO to his fraternity brothers while he was still at Stanford.

The emails revealed a rather unprofessional “frat bro” side of Spiegel, who commonly used offensive and misogynistic language to talk about women who were attending his fraternity’s events. “I’m sorry I wrote them at the time and I was a jerk to have written them. They in no way reflect who I am today or my views towards women,” he would later say.

Nevertheless, Spiegel has grown up quickly since his fraternity days at Stanford. He is currently engaged to model Miranda Kerr, and the young businessman has watched his net worth climb into the billions. He has already written his name in Wall Street history by becoming one of the youngest people ever to lead his company through an IPO, and alongside Murphy, he was donned a suit and tie to open the New York Stock Exchange on the day of Snap’s debut.  

Worthy of Comparisons

Fresh out of college and thrust into a leadership role in one of the world’s fastest growing companies, Spiegel’s story is one that has been told before. The young billionaire is quick to draw comparisons to Mark Zuckerberg, the chief executive of Facebook (FB), a company that not only shares a similar storied history, but is also a key competitor for Snapchat.

The two entrepreneurs do have a lot in common—notably their youth, potential, and incredible personal wealth—but in many ways, Zuckerberg represents what Spiegel can one day hope to become. Remember those questions we had about Snapchat’s future? Zuckerberg faced the same ones, answered them, and then delivered even more than anyone thought possible.

On a personal level, Zuckerberg strikes me as more reclusive, more abrasive, and much more cautious. Just look at where each of their companies were at when the decision to go public was made. Facebook was notoriously patient, only deciding on an IPO when very little other options remained, while many investors have questioned Snap’s decision to debut while still losing a ton of cash.

Check out how the financials for Facebook and Snapchat in the two years leading up to their IPO dates compare:

<p style="margin-bottom:1em;padding:0px 0.2em;font-size:13px;"><em>Chart Courtesy of MediaKix</em></p><div><em><br /></em></div>© Provided by Zacks-FinanceENUS

Chart Courtesy of MediaKix


Of course, we can’t have this conversation without mentioning that Spiegel and Zuckerberg are very familiar with each other. Not only has Facebook attempted to copy Snapchat’s ideas with the implementation of Instagram Stories and WhatsApp Status, but the leader in social media once saw Snapchat as a potential acquisition (also read: As Snapchat IPOs, Its Competition Is Stealing Its Best Ideas).

In fact, Zuckerberg and Facebook offered Snapchat $3 billion in cash to acquire the growing brand back in 2014. When questioned about rejecting the offer, Spiegel revealed that he has at least one very Zuckerberg-like characteristic: forward thinking.

“There are very few people in the world who get to build a business like this,” Spiegel told Forbes. “I think trading that for some short-term gain isn’t very interesting.”

Spiegel and his co-founder Murphy continued the same rhetoric in the wake of the company’s IPO on Thursday. Speaking with the LA Times, the pair talked about what has made the company successful so far and how they will communicate that success in the coming years.

“We built our business on creativity,” Spiegel said. “And we’re going to have to go through an education process for the next five years to explain to people how our users and that creativity creates value.”

Spiegel and Murphy have also proven their ability to think about how they can make an impact outside of Snapchat. The co-founders recently promised to donate nearly 13,000,000 shares of SNAP over the next 15 to 20 years to a nonprofit organization focused on arts and education. This pledge is eerily similar to Zuckerberg and his wife’s promise to donate most of their wealth to various charities around the world.

But if Spiegel really wants to be the next Zuckerberg, he will have to do something a little more challenging than coming up with more cool ideas or giving back to the community. Indeed, what separates Mark Zuckerberg from the countless number of come-and-gone tech CEOs is his ability to consistently deliver value for his shareholders.

With many investors already declaring Snap dangerously overvalued, this will be a tough undertaking for Spiegel. If he pulls it off, he can go ahead and write his name in the history books—right next to Zuckerberg, Jobs, and Gates.

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