Snap's Team Letter Shows How Clueless It Is
A missive from CEO Evan Spiegel reveals a struggling company that hasn't learned anything from its mistakes.
Executive director, Ed Kaplan Family Institute for Innovation and Tech Entrepreneurship, Illinois Institute of Technology
For a company founded and premised on the idea of ephemerality and thereafter sustained by a continual series of mea culpas claiming (as we so often hear these days) that "we were just too busy building" to pay attention to such mundane things as privacy, it doesn't seem to me that things have gotten much better over time for Snap. This outfit is still headed for history's dust bin. Maybe that's what they meant by ephemeral.
If you're a glutton for poor draftsmanship, calculated ignorance, gross redundancy and other self-serving dross, feel free to read the latest "leaked" team letter from Snap's CEO Evan Spiegel. In it, he attempts in vain (and vainly, as Carly Simon once sang) to catalogue the most recent sins of commission and omission, chart the latest version of the path forward, and wax eloquently about the amazing turnaround we're all soon to witness.
First, the sheer sloppiness of the letter, with typos on almost every page, fairly reflects the underlying lack of actual concern, commitment or attention to detail that this kind of offhand messaging to his team (and ultimately to the market) really represents. The desperation of the rushed and often incoherent writing shows what happens when there's no one with the power to edit, limit, control or even tell the two main inmates that they're continuing to run the asylum right into the ground.
Yes, Evan, we get that you want to make Snap the fastest way to communicate. But do we really need to see every possible variation of the word "fastest" more than 20 times in this muddled missive? You sure beat that pony to death.
And yes, Evan, we all know that, according to Warren Buffett, "economic moats" are good things to build and extend, but, little buddy, you've got bupkes in that department. You're screwed in all three of the departments you bragged about: brand, economies of scale and network effects.
As far as brand goes, you've done a great job of trashing it. Recode's Kara Swisher may think you're still cool and smart, but everyone else thinks the game is over. All the good hair, company planes, and supermodels won't feed the media beast much longer. Even the rats like the Kardashians are leaving the sinking ship.
As far as economies of scale go, your results to date show no such thing. You guys keep spending like sailors with next to nothing to show for the effort. And, it's pretty clear that when your whole premise is that any given Snap user tops out at engaging with his or her best 20 friends, there are no follow-on network effects because no one cares about the next zillion users. It's the same problem with incremental Uber drivers. Beyond a relatively small number of drivers in a given area, every added driver is bad news for everyone - more congestion, less money per driver, more pollution and no material or appreciated improvement in service or response time.
Your own letter says the same thing - your users got pissed because all the changes you made did nothing more than make it harder and slower for them to find and connect to the few people they cared about. As your own note notes, Snap today runs slower on an iPhone X than your earlier 5.0 version runs on an iPhone 4. One step forward, two steps back. Your engineering is no better than your English.
And your alleged "moat" reminds me of a paper sailboat floating further and further from the shore and getting soggier by the moment as it drifts toward an eventual demise. You're still the same old Snap. Mouthing the words and using the jargon isn't going to get you anywhere, because saying doesn't make it so. Facebook's the ocean of moats and you're basically a drip.
But the most frightening part of the Snap story, and the lesson for every entrepreneur to take away because even bad examples can be educational, is that these guys never learn from their mistakes. And because they're so arrogant, they keep doubling down on the most obvious errors. No one ever gets it right all the time. But the best entrepreneurs walk before they run, take what works from prior attempts, avoid repeating the mistakes of the past, and constantly move forward while - at the same time - listening carefully to their customers.
The guys running Snap know it all and don't listen to anyone. The consequences show up every time something new blows up in their faces. Facebook doesn't just test A/B, they constantly use small user segments to test everything from A to Z before they roll out anything major. And they tweak, iterate and improve all the time rather than dumping an untested, unrequested and unworkable set of changes on a massive and unsuspecting group of users as Snap did. Reading the team letter, it's clear that you can expect more of the same.
Snap's Android rewrite is called Mushroom, which is so very Freudian. To grow mushrooms, you cover them with dung and keep them in the dark. Just like Snap's users.