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A forensics firm recently reported that Snapchat photos don’t actually disappear. Questions about Snapchat’s ownership are not disappearing either. The presumed co-founders turned down Facebook’s $3 billion offer while tangled in legal depositions defending their claim on the company. Business Insider reported the shocking admission by Evan Spiegel, Snapchat’s 23-year-old CEO, that Reggie Brown came up with the idea for Snapchat. Reggie Brown doesn’t work at Snapchat and says he was cut out unfairly. In the meantime, the distraction is keeping Snapchat from rightfully selling the business.
We recently decried the solitary webmaster myth where inventors don’t get the credit they deserve while others cash in on the idea, assuming credit for themselves. It calls to mind the movie Social Network, where Zuckerberg offered a similar apologia: “You know, you really don’t need a forensics team to get to the bottom of this. If you guys were the inventors of Facebook, you’d have invented Facebook.” While Spiegal refutes that Brown deserves anything, Snapchat will likely be forced to compromise, partitioning their future fortunes before company audits are recognized as accurate.
Greed has returned to Silicone Valley
Like most twenty-something Stanford University graduates, money was never much of an issue for current Snapchat owners Evan Spiegal or Bobby Murphy. At this juncture in their business path, these guys are all about power. Snapchat is much bigger than their 30 employees. Having raised $60 million from investors last June, Snapchat was already an $800 million company with 20 million photos being shared per day through their service. According to The Wall Street Journal, Tencent and other investors approached Snapchat just a few months later with a $200 million infusion for Snapchat, which would value the company at roughly $4 billion today. Jennifer Van Grove (
@All_Trends_IT) cleverly summarized the Facebook snub: “Snapchat, true to its form, discarded the deal just as it does the 350 million messages it handles every day.” Spiegal and Murphy’s unwillingness to share power or take a large payout demonstrates a growing shrewdness buttressed by idealism.
When will Snapchat sell out?
Snapchat perfectly embodies the Peter Pan generation, young adults who can afford to say no to money because of silver spoons wedged in their mouths. This generation is also characterized by a believe that their own genius is singularly responsible for their success. Many have never needed help outside family and social circles, and when they do get help they are careful to maintain control over their own destinies. They can afford to take gambles, and they have demonstrated their go-it-alone approach. Snapchat’s current owners believe they deserve a big league promotion on their own. They’re not selling out, but current legal problems and a shift in popularity of their platform could prove they missed an opportunity to share the wealth while partnering with an established firm willing to make them billionaires.
@joshuagans thinks Snapchat missed the boat:
Ultimately, while it is easy to pull apart these arguments, the actual real history of entrepreneurial firms tells us that most of them succeed by cooperating with established firms …. As a person responsible for much of that research (see here, here,here and here to name but a few), let me tell you that the struggle in getting acquired is getting a big payout from stronger incumbents; something Snapchat, like Groupon before them, seem to have overcome. To be sure, there are companies like Google and Dropbox (who each turned down a small amount), that end up doing quite well. But they are the exceptions rather than the rule. Snapchat may prove me wrong but I have to say, kids, you should have taken the money.
Do-it-yourself website companies propagate the solitary webmaster myth, an idea that common computer users become web wizards by using WYSIWYG software. You, too, can construct websites with the purposeful elegance of Google and all the features of Facebook. A few dollars more and they’ll SEO, too. Sites like Godaddy.com, Wix.com, Squarespace.com and Virb.com push these business card websites that do little to attract customers. They promise unrealistic returns.
When clients buy the myth
An effective and scalable website requires layers of planning and multiple participants–designers, programmers, writers and marketeers. Everyone suffers when a client oversimplifies what it takes to build a great website. While the webmaster rebuffs the low-ball offer, the clap-trap peddling of mobile Internet homes barks on, cheapening the experience.
No go it alone
A fairly compensated webmaster is skilled at constructing partitions and delegating responsibility. Webmasters report back to their clients in a timely manner and are moveable geniuses skilled at negotiation. Their team consists of technologists, designers, writers and marketers–all plying their trade in front of PCs and Apples.
Responsibility to explain
Tempting as it may be to keep clients in the dark about your mastery of the Internet–don’t. While a certain level of mystique can build reputation and confidence, smart business knows you’re also made better by the resources you bring. Webmasters work independently, have attention to detail and rarely forget to ask about the friends and children of clients. By communicating hierarchy and division of labor, the solution will be better accomplished. A good client doesn’t want a complicated road map, he wants to know you’re taking the right roads while he pays the tolls.
Origin of the solitary webmaster myth
Craig built Craigslist, Angie built Angie’s List, Zuckerberg built Facebook and Larry and Sergey made Google. They were game changers, revolutionaries and inventors. But they are unwilling participants in the solitary webmaster myth. While it’s true they created singular empires with loyal followers generating billions in revenue, none did it alone. Whether courting credit or not, history shows us these world famous inventors tend to be the best marketers of borrowed ideas. The cotton gin (Eli Whitney), telephone (Alexander Graham Bell), telegraph (Samuel Morse) and light bulb (Thomas Edison) were improvements on existing technology, fruits of collaboration allowing the execution of business plans. With the exception of The Darwin Awards, Lycos and Yahoo!, few notable websites were built prior to 1995. But Google will take credit for inventing the search engine.
When to fudge your power
Your PHP guy may be from Kochi, but your client only wants to know that your South Asian office is in the same business park as Google and IBM. Webmasters are skilled communicators above all. Approach each client as a project manager with intimate knowledge for all things websites–hands-on knowledge. It’s okay to claim you control the code, write copy and promote website, but it’s not okay to say you’ll cover it when you won’t.
“I have a team for that.”