Evan Spiegel: Everyone in tech 'is so serious all the time'

Snapchat co-founder and CEO Evan Spiegel says his company has a more playful approach to business, which may be one of the reasons its new products have proven so popular with users.

Interviewed on stage by Cosmopolitan editor in chief Joanna Coles at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity, Spiegel said the concept of “fun” and “being playful” is something that “takes the pressure off being creative.”

“In tech in particular, everyone is so serious all the time, and has these grand visions. But we really enjoy that people like having fun, and want to be happy, and enjoy being with one another: That’s just as important,” Spiegel said.

Spiegel is one of the main draws at this year’s Cannes — the annual advertising festival that draws in the top advertising, marketing and media executives, as well as celebrities. Pharrell, Marilyn Manson, and Kim Kardashian are among the a-listers in attendance this year.

Spiegel’s early morning session on Monday was his chance to sell the app to the advertisers. He gave examples of how the app differs from other social networks — vertical video instead of horizontal, and “Stories” being shared in the order photos are taken rather than reverse-chronological order like some other social networks, for example.

On the commercial side, Spiegel said Snapchat “really care[s] about not being creepy,” which is why the business chose to concentrate on the context of advertising and where it sits, rather than targeting. Spiegel mentioned P&G’s Fathers’ Day Snapchat ad this weekend: four video ad units that appeared within the global Snapchat Story around Fathers’ Day (which users contributed to,) that showed dads playing with their kids.

“[The ads] really fit into the context of the story, and it really also communicated why their products are great … we love when the advertising fits the context of the story we are telling, I thought that was terrific,” Spiegel said.

And he also gave an insight into what it’s like working at Snapchat, revealing that the company probably only releases “1-2%” of the products it works on. Like many other tech businesses, Snapchat encourages the idea of “failing fast,” but Spiegel said it’s better that those failures are happening in private before being released on users.

In terms of culture, Spiegel said “we do stuff that’s kind of hippy I guess.”

Spiegel explained that each week, groups of 10 people within the business “talk about how we feel about things,” adding that listening to how people feel is a core value of the company.

“The point is to emphasise the important of listening. I don’t think we pay attention enough to just listening to people and how they feel. I know sometimes I’m so focused on what I’m going to say next, that I’m not listening to what they’re saying … I’m trying to get better, ” Spiegel said.

It’s for that reason that Snapchat operates a “t-shaped” executive structure. To manage people, bosses need “operational depth” in order to do it effectively. In Spiegel’s case, his operational depth is monitoring and getting hands-on with the design team, which meets three times a week to talk about projects and draw ideas directly on a TV.

Spiegel didn’t have any announcements to make on Monday — he’s due for an early morning session on The Daily Mail’s yacht with the newspaper publisher’s US CEO Jon Steinberg, and WPP chief executive Sir Martin Sorrell, which is likely to involve partnership news — but he did give a clue as to the direction Snapchat will take next.

“This year I guess is about our content business. Next year, we’ll be more focused on the communications business and how it relates to our content business. That’s as much as I can say,” Spiegel concluded.

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