Snapchat, another example of the hubris of privilege
A lot has been written about Snapchat’s CEO Evan Spiegel’s decision to turn down a $3 billion offer from Facebook and then a $4 billion offer from Google to acquire their smartphone app. A lot has been said about the lack of business acumen on both sides. But, after Snapchat was recently hacked, it was Evan Spiegel’s interview on NBC Today that sealed it for me: Evan Spiegel is just another talented but arrogant, unaware-of-his-own-privilege guy.
Let’s briefly discuss the turning down of the $4 billion. The only reasonable business explanation of this action is that Evan Spiegel thinks that Snapchat will be bigger than that, perhaps even bigger than Facebook and Google. While this might seem to most as just stupid but harmless, I see it as a problem with Evan’s priorities. I would be hard-pressed to find someone who thought Snapchat was actually useful to the world. Popular, yes, and fun too, but not particularly useful. Certainly not $4 billion useful. To turn down that amount of money means that Evan sees Snapchat as his primary priority. With $4 billion, Evan could easily fund multiple new startups that are doing meaningful work to change the world (or at least make money!). Instead, Evan Spiegel showed his arrogance to the world by turning down the offers, basically making the statement that he believes that his work with Snapchat is paramount and cannot be given up.
This apparent lack of regard for the genuine value of his own work is not surprising. Evan is only 23 years old, a straight white male, and chances are, has never been denied anything in his life. He grew up in the ritzy Palisades of West LA, and had a thirst for material possessions. As a teenager, he reportedly had issues curbing his spending, including having a falling out with his father because he denied Evan the BMW 535i that he desperately “needed”. And then, he got into Stanford, a dream school that many can’t afford even if they do get in. Kind of sounds like one of those spoiled kids from Veronica Mars, doesn’t it?
Now, after Snapchat has been hacked and should by all means be apologizing to its users, Evan refuses to acknowledge this as an error. Even though the hack was brought to Snapchat’s attention months ago by a white hat Computer Security group called GibSec, they ignored the risk to their users and did not patch the app. This is a huge PR problem (and possibly technical problem) for a company that markets an app whose sole responsibility is to protect the security of it’s users’ communications. If it can’t even protect its users’ identities, how can it be trusted to protect their content?
This all points to a major problem with the current state of affairs in Silicon Valley and Tech entrepreneurship in general. It is filled with Evan Spiegels, brash young white men who have the world at their feet and have never known the problems of others. This is partly because young entrepreneurs with wealthy parents have a safety net in case they fail, and can therefore be more adventurous instead of working a full-time job and staying up late nights working on their startup. It’s partly because they are born into the world with the perfect network of investors through their parents. But a very important reason why they prosper is because in the startup world, we value confidence and utter self-belief. Hubris and an I-always-get-what-I-want attitude can sometimes be mistaken for desirable qualities. These attitudes don’t necessarily come naturally to those that have struggled for money, to minorities and to women. Yet, even though their quiet confidence and passion to solve real problems may not be immediately apparent, these people would perhaps be far more valuable leaders.
We don’t need more leaders who come from privilege and lack the humility to admit errors. We need leaders whose vision go beyond grandiose profit or prestige and actually pushes technology – and the world – just a bit closer toward solving actual problems. Let’s stop sending the poor, black woman with a brilliant idea to the back of the bus.
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