Jacob Catalano first fell in love with Snapchat soon after it launched in late 2011. Like a lot of teens, he became hooked, using it every day to swap photos with his friends.
But as the app evolved, so did the way that he wanted to use it. He started getting bored of seeing the same kinds of snaps from the same friends over and over.
Then Snapchat launched Stories in 2013, which lets users stitch together a bunch of snaps in a row to create a narrative that would disappear in 24 hours. That spiced things up and because users could make their stories public, especially funny or artistic people started to accrue massive followings.
As more and more “Snapchat stars” surfaced, Catalano, now 21, wanted to start following their accounts too. That’s when he discovered some annoying problems with the app.
First, he didn’t have a way to easily find all the people that he might want to add, so he relied on recommendations from friends or lists he’d seen online. And then, once he had an account he thought might be interested in, he had no way to check out whether he thought their stuff was good or not before officially following them.
“I thought, ‘This is dumb,'” Catalano told Business Insider. “‘There’s literally nothing out there. I should fix this.'”
Catalano hunted around for the best people on Snapchat and started the “painful and tedious” process of screen-recording some of their best Stories. Eventually, he had pulled together and uploaded enough Stories that in April, Snap Stars was born.
The site highlights dozens of top Snapchat users with a description of their work and a few sample Stories each. It’s still small; Catalano says his site has had just over 7,000 visitors in the past two months.
Here’s an example of one of Snap Stars’ user descriptions:
Catalano says that he’s contacted almost all of the creators he’s featuring on the site to let them know what he’s up to. He’s also reached out to a bunch of people at Snapchat, including CEO Evan Spiegel.
He wrote Spiegel an email before the site launched, explaining how he thought Snapchat should improve discovery itself. He says he never heard back, so he published his note on Medium (though he notes that some of his ideas have changed since first writing the letter).
Part of the reason Snapchat never responded may be because Snapchat doesn’t actually want you to find strangers easily on its app. If you want to amass lots of followers, there’s Twitter and Instagram. If you want to share intimate experiences with people who are your true friends, there’s Snapchat.
Regardless, Catalano thinks his next step is to launch an app. He pulled in his friend Matt Saunders, 27, to be the company’s CTO. They’re hoping to launch the Story Star app in the next few weeks.
The app will go even farther than the site, Catalano says. Instead of just having a few Stories by each creator, Catalano envisions people uploading all of their stories to the app. That would solve another big problem he sees with Snapchat: Stories feed gets too crowded too fast.
“If you really do like a person, you should follow them on Snapchat, but the issue is that when you start following too many people, your feed breaks down and it becomes kind of useless,” he says. “Follow a lot of strangers, and you won’t be able to find your friends’ stuff. Plus the Stories list takes a really long time to load. It’s just not ideal.”
Why would people who are big on Snapchat want to upload their stuff to a different app?
Because on Story Stars, their work wouldn’t disappear. Catalano thinks the ephemerality that made Snapchat famous doesn’t really apply much to Stories. Snapchat creators, some of whom are already making money through the app thanks to partnerships with brands, will want an easy place to let people reference their past work.
And as more people realise how messy it gets following a lot of strangers on Snapchat, they will want to use something like Story Stars to view all that content.
Although that’s a big leap, Catalano has faith. He wants Story Stars to eventually be a go-to place for all kinds of short, mobile-first video content.
“I think this can be a big business,” he says. “I fully intend for it to become a venture-backed company.”
Even though he never officially talked to anyone from Snapchat, he’s not afraid of getting shut down. The way he sees it, he’s really just providing a service to users who want to make or see more stories.
“That’s not a fight that I’d want to get into, but so far they haven’t said anything,” he said. “So we’ll see.”