With New COO Hire, Snapchat Means (Non-Ephemeral) Business

Published on December 5, 2013
by Mike Isaac


Snapchat wants to be much more than the coolest new app on the block. It now appears to want to become a business.

It is a big step for the two-and-a-half-year-old ephemeral photo messaging startup, which has had no revenue to speak of, has only recently made its first inroads to monetization, and, for a time, looked to be a prime acquisition target for huge Internet companies such as Facebook, Google or Chinese Internet giant Tencent.

Snapchat made its intentions clear on Tuesday afternoon when it named Emily White as its new chief operating officer, simultaneously snagging away the business lead from one of Snapchat’s biggest competitors — Facebook photo-sharing unit Instagram.

It is perhaps as much of a shot across the bow of Facebook as it is reminiscent of the social giant’s own history. White’s appointment echoes Sheryl Sandberg’s 2008 move from her global online sales position at Google to the Facebook COO seat, tapped by CEO Mark Zuckerberg when he needed help in scaling Facebook’s operations both domestically and internationally.

Which, despite the recent swirling acquisition rumors, seems to be exactly what’s next on Snapchat’s agenda. The company closed a $60 million Series B round of financing in June, described then as “all about scaling” and “for server builds and hiring purposes” by Snapchat CEO and co-founder Evan Spiegel. And, according to sources, Snapchat is mulling raising yet another large round of funding, which could add hundreds of millions more dollars to the company’s coffers.

To be sure, building Snapchat into a lasting, viable business will be no easy task for White and Spiegel.

While Spiegel has said publicly that Snapchat’s service is growing strongly in terms of usage and growth — something that is not verified, since the startup has offered no hard user numbers — Snapchat’s current user interface and unique messaging medium make it difficult to simply shoehorn traditional forms of monetization into the service. In fact, it is hard to imagine what a paid Snapchat advertisement would even look like.

Still, Spiegel has long been open to experimenting with monetization in different forms, referencing established players like Tencent and its WeChat app. He said at a recent conference that he’s considering introducing a number of “value-added services,” perhaps subscription-based, available for purchase inside the app.

Spiegel’s new COO hire may help assuage some monetization concerns, as well. White was responsible for bringing the first ads to Instagram just a few short weeks ago, in a high-profile job that was supposed to last for years, according to sources. Her departure to take on the massive challenge at Snapchat was unexpected, but also not a surprise to anyone who knows the hard-charging exec well — her desire to become a COO was well known at Facebook.

White also worked on mobile partnerships at Facebook, and focused on online ads at Google, where she worked for Sandberg, who has been a major mentor to her.

Now she is the one in charge, although she also has the help of Snapchat business and monetization head Philippe Browning, a former VP of advertising and operations for CBS Mobile. More to come, presumably. In fact, definitely.

Big talent and deep pockets, of course, do not a successful business make. But, for now, at least, it looks like Snapchat is willing to try.

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