Despite a lot of backlash over a big redesign for the Snapchat app — which to be sure is a very big deal for a product-centric company like Snap — Snap CEO Evan Spiegel vigorously defended the redesign and basically said people need to get used to it.
Spiegel said at the Goldman Sachs Internet & Technology Conference that even people complaining about the app was a sort of validation that the changes the company wants to happen are, indeed, happening. Snap aimed to try to separate the idea of communication and broadcasting with Snap into similar buckets, rather than the features being kind of mixed up (like Stories being on a right swipe).
“The tech is an important piece but I think the harder part you can’t get around is the time it takes to learn,” Spiegel said. “You do need folks to use the product, to communicate with their friends to learn how to better provide that feed. The tech to some degree is a solved problem, the time to… to learn is a hard problem to solve. Even the complaints we’re seeing reinforce the philosophy. Even the frustrations we’re seeing really validate those changes. It’ll take time for people to adjust, but for me using it for a couple months I feel way more attached to the service.”
Of course, Spiegel can say these things on stage and then end up changing his mind. But as Snap faces increasing competition from companies looking to clone some of its products — Instagram stories, basically — Snap has had to look at some pretty significant changes to see if it can keep its users engaged and continue to grow. That being said, the Snapchat app could continue to go through tweaks and shifts, so it’s hard to tell where things will end up over the course of the next few months.
As with any significant changes, Snap faced a ton of backlash, but maybe found it had to stay the course. Of course, Spiegel said on stage that it’s basically flattering that people want to copy the app. (Founders often call this “validation of the business,” because why not.)
Snap reported its fourth-quarter earnings earlier this month, which beat some expectations and sent the shares soaring at essentially rocket ship status. Snap has come quite close to recovering from the significant crash it had through its first year as a public company, something Spiegel said — like many fresh CEOs often say — has made them a better company. As a public company, Snap is much more beholden to public investors and has a newfound fiduciary duty to get its business in order.
Spiegel also said the company is less focused on specific geographies as it looks to continue to grow, and more focused on making sure its users actually understand the app when the join and are able to start communicating with your friends. “We’re really focused on, how when you come into our service, do you understand stories, do you understand maps,” Spiegel said.
Spiegel has repeated the refrain that Snap is going to be a camera company, emphasizing that the idea of what a camera is used for has changed over time. But Snap has also created a kind of portfolio of products around Snapchat like content and the Snap Maps feature. Spiegel also said, for example, that 30 million people have watched content related to the Olympics at the conference. All this is geared toward getting people to find a bunch of different use cases for the app, which can get them to come back over and over and keep more engaged.
“The thing that drives the business is fundamentally the engagement around the products,” Spiegel said. “That needs to be there first. Even at the time full-screen vertical video ads, no one will make those, what we’ve seen is the value delivered by getting the fundamentals right will drive the business… There’s creation, people making snaps, there’s communication which drives the frequency of use — sometimes people don’t realize, we monetize across all three behaviors.”