How Reggie Brown invented Snapchat

How Reggie Brown invented Snapchat
From TechCrunch - February 10, 2018

Reggie Brown carefully ran his fingers over the blunt, admiring its tightly rolled perfection. It was almost a shame to smoke such a work of art.

He leaned back on the couch in his Kimball Hall dorm room at Stanford University as he discussed the weekends social events with two of his former fraternity brothers, David and Zach.

The subject of the conversation moved on to the girls. A dreamy expression appeared on Reggies face.

I wish I could send disappearing photos, he mused, almost absentmindedly.

David and Zach laughed and agreed that it would be useful if photos disappeared, then turned to who was coming to their party that weekend. Reggie withdrew. He was thinking.

Through the haze of smoke, David and Zachs chatter faded. Reggie focused on the usefulness of this new idea. A way to send disappearing pictures. He wouldnt have to worry about sending a hookup a picture of his junk! And girls would be way more likely to send him racy photos if they disappeared.

Suddenly, he jumped up, and rushed down the hall to see if Evan Spiegel was around. Having both recently returned from studying abroad, and with their Kappa Sig lives now over, Evan and Reggie had moved into Kimball Hall, a dorm not far from Donner, where they had lived freshman year. Mulling his disappearing photos ideahow would he best explain it to EvanReggies topsiders barely touched the worn dark blue carpet as he surged down the hall in a half run/half walk.

Bursting into Evans room, Reggie exclaimed, Dude, I have an awesome idea! Even before Reggie finished explaining his idea, Evan lit up. He was immediately energizedalmost intoxicated. It was just like all those nights of partying together, except they were drinking in Reggies idea.

Thats a million-dollar idea! Evan finally exclaimed.

Reggie felt relief and validation; more importantly, he felt hope. Even though Future Freshman had failed, Evan hadnt given up his dream of starting the next transcendent tech company. He was the best operator Reggie knew, capable of taking this stroke of inspiration and making it a reality. And now they had an idea that actually seemed fresh and new. Unique.

The two friends excitedly discussed all of the celebrities whose nude photos had been leaked to the press. Their app would solve this problem! Evan gesticulated quickly and animatedly as he explained to Reggie how he could see people sending disappearing pictures back and forth. Most of us had barely moved past flip phones and BlackBerrys to iPhones at this point. And just as we moved from talking to texting to apps for everything else, people were starting to make the app transition for sex. Tinder would come out a year later, followed by a whole host of copycats. With this early photo-sharing idea, Reggie and Evan imagined a walled garden for couples to share intimate photos.

They would split the company 50/50, vote on everything, and divide equally any losses or gains they might see. Since Evan had more experience from running Future Freshman and other projects, he would be the CEO. Reggie would be the chief marketing officer.

But neither knew how to code well enough to make the app. They would need to recruit one of their friends to join them. They started a list of their fraternity brothers who had taken computer science courses. Most of the seniors that year were still economics majors heading off to Wall Street and the major consulting shops after graduationit would be a few more years until most sought to make their fortunes in the Valley. But they came up with a couple names and headed off to the fraternity to recruit them.

Evan was a particularly persuasive salesman but he struggled to convince people with the initial pitches. The first two fraternity brothers he invited to join them said no.

Fortunately, Evan was not so easily deterred. And he had the perfect person in mindhis old Future Freshman cofounder, Bobby. Evan was sure he could convince Bobby to work on the app. He called Bobby and explained Reggies idea. But Bobby wasnt convinced. Would people really want to use this? Evan nervously urged him that this idea was different from anything other people were working on. It wasnt like Future Freshman where they would run into an army of competitors. They had learned a lot from their past two projects, and this was the most unique idea yet. Bobby, at last convinced, agreed to write the code, hoping the third time would be the charm for him and Evan.

Evan, Reggie, and Bobbys first crack at the idea was dreadful: they created a clunky website where users uploaded a photo then set a timer for when the picture would disappear. They quickly realized it would be much easier and more private for users, and thus more widely used, if they built a mobile app instead of a website; to this day, Snapchat still does not offer a web product.

They sat around in their dorm room, debating how users should interact with their friends and what features would make people tell their friends to download it. Evan ran the group, making sure things were coming together on time and keeping everyone focused, while boisterous Reggie offered up ideas on all the different ways people would use the app. Bobby, much quieter and more reserved than the other two, kept the group grounded and generally agreed with Evan on the apps direction.

Bobby put in eighteen-hour coding days for the next week to get them to a working prototype. Reggie came up with a name for the app: Picaboo, a riff on the childhood game Peek-a-boo. Evan designed the apps interface, digitally mocking up what it would look like and how users would interact with it, so that Bobby could turn his visions into reality.

Excerpted from HOW TO TURN DOWN A BILLION DOLLARS: The Snapchat Story by Billy Gallagher. Copyright2018 by William Gallagher and reprinted by permission of St. Martins Press, LLC.


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