Snapchat founder and CEO Evan Spiegel was asked by the Financial Times about “the wealth he has accumulated” since his disappearing photo messages app turned into a huge hit. He gave an interesting reply:
“It’s all fake money still. We generally have the feeling there is a lot more work to do.”
It’s not clear what, exactly, Spiegel was referring to as “fake money.” The FT’s question implies he was asked about his personal wealth. In that context, Spiegel’s answer sounds rather glib. He paid himself $US10 million last year after taking in a $US60 million investment, even though his company has earned negligible revenues so far. His cofounder, Bobby Murphy, took another $US10 million. To state the obvious, there is nothing “fake” about $US10 million (even if it’s “only” about $US6 million-plus after tax).
But Spiegel was living at his dad’s house when he formed the company, and the experience of being catapulted from basically being a child to being the CEO of one of the most important tech startups in California has probably felt rather surreal, or fake.
So maybe that is what he was talking about.
Spiegel’s answer also referenced the work “we” have to do, so perhaps he was referring to his company and not his personal paycheck. In that case, Snapchat has received $US163 million in funding (including some from Yahoo) and is currently valued at $US10 billion.
In that context, the $US10 billion figure is indeed “fake.” Snapchat has only piloted a few ad experiments that generate revenue so far; the company does not yet have a solid model to generate anything like the revenues needed to justify a $US10 billion sale price.
Indeed, tech startup valuations generally are “fake.” They only exist as a theoretical framework based on the structure and amount of outstanding equity in the company, and how that equity is spread between the company’s owners and the investors who, in the case of Snapchat, stumped up the $US163 million.
Let’s give Spiegel the benefit of the doubt and assume it’s the latter explanation.