Lessons in Success by Snapchat Founder Evan Spiegel


At the young age of 26, Evan Spiegel has already made a name and a couple of billion for himself. He hasn’t just created the incredibly popular app, Snapchat, but has revolutionized social and brand communications. The controversial, smart, and savvy tech entrepreneur rebelled against the archived timelines of Facebook and Twitter feeds to allow users to communicate in the moment via temporary pictures, video, and text. Currently, there are 100 million daily active users sharing 9,000 snaps per second. What do we know about Spiegel and what can we learn from his Snapchat success?

He Comes from Money

Spiegel’s story is less rags to riches and more riches to recognition. Both of his parents are Ivy league graduate lawyers and he spent his childhood growing up with two sisters in a $2 million dollar home in Pacific Palisades, enjoying a private education at Crossroads in Santa Monica, Calif and luxurious vacations across the globe. But the privileged life he grew up with is something he isn’t scared to own up to, remarking once at a conference: “I am a young, white, educated male. I got really, really lucky. And life isn’t fair.”


Pacific Palisades

Snapchat Was Born in a Dorm Room

Much like the heavyweight tech geek Mark Zuckerberg’s idea for Facebook, Snapchat was also thought up in a college dorm room. The idea came after a conversation with his frat brothers Reggie Brown and Bobby Murphy at Stanford University about sexting. Like Mark Zuckerberg, Evan too would also drop out of the school. He was just a few credits short of graduating with a degree in product design and would later enter a legal battle with Reggie Brown about the app’s conception.


Stanford University

His Advice to Aspiring Entrepreneurs

At the University of Southern California Marshall undergraduate ceremony last year, Spiegel was invited to make the commencement speech. Spiegel shared some insight into what drives him and his success and he offered advice to aspiring idea makers on how to best mold your ideas, make a name for yourself, and do something you love.

  • Dare to be different
    Spiegel explained he too had participated in his class’ graduation ceremony, despite not actually receiving his degree. He even wore the cap and gown and walked onto the stage. And he did so because he wanted to conform, remarking “often times we do all sorts of silly things to avoid being different but the things that makes us happen are the times we listen to our soul and allow ourselves to be pulled in a different direction.” He credits a single dissenting voice and the ability to communicate privately in a group as the threats to conformity. He quoted President Kennedy “Conformity is the jailer of freedom and the enemy of growth.” Ideas are born out of differences, that should be celebrated and not silenced.
  • Build a foundation for those who come after you
    Spiegel told the story of artist Bill de Kooning who was approached by one of his fans Bob Rauschenberg who had set out to find a piece of work by his idol and erase it (which was part of his creative process). De Kooning obliged and gave him a piece which then took Rauschenberg two months to erase. Jasper Johns later framed the artwork and titled it, “Erased de Kooning” and in doing so he recognized that in the process of erasing de Koonings work Rauschenberg had created something new. Spiegel states: “I love this story because Bill de Kooning had the humility to recognize that the greatest thing we can do is provide the best possible foundation for those who come after us.” He added, “We must welcome our own erasure.” We must welcome those who come after us, and accept that while we have a part to play in building their success, we must also concede to their new ideas and conceptions.
  • Don’t sell an idea you love
    And if you do, don’t let your dreams end there. Spiegel recommends the fastest way to figure out whether what you’re doing is important to you is to find someone who will buy it. If you sell maybe it wasn’t the right dream, if you don’t maybe it’s the right path for you. He remarks that the question he is asked most often is “Why didn’t you sell your business? It doesn’t even make money. What’s wrong with you?” He was famously offered a buyout from Mark Zuckerberg but declined. People called him arrogant and entitled. So why did he refuse Zuckerber’s offer? Because he does have a sense of entitlement and responsibility for the world he was brought into, and oftentimes with that comes the inclination to make your own mark. He states: “Find something important to you. Find something that you love.”
  • Failure is inevitable and no one has the answers
    Spiegel concludes his motivational speech with reassuring the graduates that failure and adversity are essentials parts of  carving out your career. He assures the crowd, “You’re going to make a lot of mistakes. Just apologize as quickly as you can and pray for forgiveness,” and “You’re going to face a challenge, a full-time job. The hardest part is going to be getting used to solving problems that don’t have answers.” It’s so true that often the biggest lessons in our careers are accepting the learning curve of failure and the acknowledging that you don’t know all of the answers, and are not expected to. Spiegel advises the crowd “Have faith in yourself. Know that you will be capable of all the growth expected of you and that you expect of yourself.”

You can watch the entire speech here:


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