Kara Swisher

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Instagram Business Lead Emily White to Be Named COO of Snapchat

Emily White, the Facebook executive in charge of bringing advertising to its Instagram photo-sharing unit, is leaving to become COO of Snapchat.

The move is a major talent grab by the ephemeral photo and video mobile service, which has recently been the subject of multi-billion-dollar acquisition and investment interest from several major Internet companies, including Facebook. While there has been a lot of hype and swirl surrounding it, the Los Angeles-area app company has also been searching for a top executive to help lead its business, as AllThingsD recently reported.

Perhaps more importantly, given all the interest in it, the hiring is a clear signal that Snapchat intends to remain independent and grow its business, which is likely to include another large investment round of several hundreds of millions of dollars. That race has attracted a lot of suitors too, including China’s Tencent and many others.

Snapchat’s last round — which it called a “scaling round” for infrastructure improvements — was announced in late June, led by Institutional Venture Partners, with participation from General Catalyst Partners and SV Angel. Previous investors Benchmark Capital and Lightspeed Venture Partners also participated. With that round, the company had raised around $75 million in total.

In an interview, White said that the opportunity to be a major leader at Snapchat, which came only in recent weeks, was one that she could not ignore. She has been a director at Facebook and the new job is quite a promotion as No. 2 to CEO and co-founder Evan Spiegel.

“It happened really quickly, but to have an actual COO role in one of many companies that is disrupting the communications arena is one I could not pass up,” she said. “I have always been captivated by the creativity that has gone into the product … and I think that Evan has been looking for someone who can help him grow and scale what is already something that has changed a lot of the way people think about the mobile experience.”

Said a Snapchat spokesperson in a very snappy and not very chatty quote: “We are thrilled to welcome Emily into the Snapchat family.” (In all seriousness, I love that a Southern California startup has pulled off such an impressive raid of the big geeks up north.)

White, in fact, will be moving to the Los Angeles area soon. And while she underscored that she had great regard for Instagram and its business prospects, the job switch puts White in direct competition with similar efforts by Facebook and many others to take advantage of the fast-moving trend of exploding videos and photos, especially among young people. The red-hot growth of Snapchat since its 2011 launch has made it the brightest and shiniest object of the moment in the digital sector, much the same as happened to both Facebook and Instagram in the past.

White, 35, officially became director of business operations at Instagram in April, where she has been working with its head and co-founder Kevin Systrom to scale initial efforts to expand partnerships, improve user operations and come up with ways to make some money. The fast-growing service, which the social networking site bought over a year ago in a billion-dollar mega-deal, has been popular with consumers, but it had not focused as much on its business operations until White’s arrival.

Said Systrom of her departure in a statement: “I cannot thank Emily enough for her contributions to Instagram. She was tasked with getting the first ads products out the door — and she did that beautifully. Instagram is in an even better place today because of her efforts and we thank her.”

Snapchat’s monetization efforts have been even more nascent, although Spiegel has talked a lot about the issue recently in a variety of public appearances.

In the summer, he said the service had 200 million pictures and video received by its users on a daily basis, up from 150 million just months before. Then, in September, the number had grown to 350 million self-destructing messages daily. At a recent investment conference, Spiegel said it was 400 million.

Such wildfire growth prompted Spiegel to talk about various ideas about monetization, including experimenting with bands, and listening to music inside the app, as well as offering in-app purchases of all kinds.

But, until now, Snapchat had not hired any top operating execs, although it added a head of business and monetization, Philippe Browning, a former VP of advertising and operations for CBS Mobile, this year.

While she will have a much broader charge at Snapchat, White has a lot of experience in the online ad space, first at Google. At Facebook, she started in the deal-making arena and later worked on mobile partnerships. She has been courted by several other Internet firms.

White will definitely be building from the ground up at Snapchat, which currently has only 30 employees, despite its surging popularity.

“Instagram has great leadership in place and this is not me walking away from anything but an A+ management team,” said White. “But I am about to learn a lot about the way communication is happening right now and am excited to help grow it into a big business.”

Obviously, one could compare the White hiring to when Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg left Google in 2008ATD actually broke that news way back when — to be the second in command to CEO and co-founder Mark Zuckerberg, but perhaps at a much earlier stage. In any case, it vaults White to one of the more high-profile roles in the Internet space.

(The selfie photo above was the one White took when she began her most recent job at Instagram.)

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