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Snapchat: another example of the hubris of privilege and systematic bias in tech (samiurr.com)
22 points by samiur1204 on Jan 3, 2014 | hide | past | favorite | 43 comments

The problem with posts like these is that you assume you know what's going on in the head of another person. That's a dangerous game to play.

Also, just because someone makes a decision that's different from the decision you would have made doesn't mean their decision was the "wrong" decision. You would have taken the money, I would have taken the money, and I'm sure a lot of others would have taken the money. However, choosing not to take the money isn't the "wrong" choice, it's just a different choice. And, given that he had all the information about the deal (or at the very least more information than the rest of us), I'd say calling his decision wrong when you hardly have any information on it at all is its own form hypocritical hubris.

Anyway, morals of the story are (1) different !== wrong and (2) it's best not to judge the actions of others, especially when you're lacking the details.

PS. I am so judging you.

PPS. I am also fine with being a hypocrite.

Except he was judging others based on a decision that they made, not on their thought process (which, as you pointed out, he doesn't know). You judged him based on his thought process that he himself laid out. I don't see your judgement as hypocritical (by your standards).

OP here. Completely agree that "wrong" is a subjective and relative measure. It depends on what one's priorities are: utility to the world or personal profit or whatever else. I did make an assumption about Evan's intentions and thought-process, but his action remains the same. He passed up taking cash for Snapchat, an app that has no real value in my personal opinion. He also passed up the opportunity, in my opinion, to take that cash and create something of real value. I may be wrong to come to those conclusions, but they are my opinions. I suppose you can call it hubris to post my opinion on the internet, as it is obviously comparable to turning down billions of dollars for a useless product.

I posted a reply here before HN crashed but it seems to not have been brought back when HN came back up.

Here's the gist: it's not that posting an opinion online is hubris, it's what your opinion entails and is based on. You have no facts about the deal, and no qualifications to speak on good business acquisitions. You call the product "worthless" while teams of people at Facebook and Google seem to value it very highly. I'm going to have to assume that the people FB and Google hire are all very intelligent and capable at their jobs, and they see value in purchasing the company (which is why they made the offer). You, however, with no information have decided they're all morons and you know better because SnapChat is "worthless". That, my friend, is indeed hubris. You assume that you know more than everyone else who has far more intimate knowledge of the company and product.

Here's the moral of the story: just because something seems "worthless" to you doesn't mean that it has no worth to anyone else. If other highly trained and educated people say it's worth quite a bit of money, then, perhaps, you should re-evaluate your viewpoint.

If SnapChat is out of business in two years was it still the right decision? Based on your interpretation there are never any wrong decisions, just different ones. I don't think this holds up in the real world.

And if they expand their business and go into more markets and become a technology company like Amazon (which started by only selling physical books online) or Google (who started with just a search engine), then how would the decision to not sell be viewed?

Or if he did sell and used the money to go on a cocaine bender and died in a hotel pool from an overdose - would selling have been the best thing for him?

Do you see how pointless "what if" scenarios actually are? There are too many variables to properly account for - you can't just change one variable (like a decision) and assume everything else turns out exactly as you would like.

Hmm, no. The problem with posts like these is that they're unashamedly racist and sexist. Apparently it's the cool thing now to bash young white men. All in the name of some mythical "privilege". This is the stuff of cults.

Haha, that's great. I'm sorry, of course you're right. There's no way someone who has never struggled for money has no advantage over the guy who graduated from school with $100k in debt. While we're at it, we can also declare that racism and sexism is over.

The Snapchat founder is incompetent because of his race, gender, and socio-economic status. Got it.

If that's the takeaway you got from my post, then I'm sorry: I was not able to articulate myself well.

There's no doubt that he's talented and gifted. And it's possible that I'm absolutely wrong and Evan and Snapchat are planning some amazing features. But I highly doubt that, and I would propose that it would be more pragmatic to take the cash offered and do something more meaningful.

That money isn't coming out of thin air. Why is the onus not on Facebook or Google to use the $3 billion and $4 billion they were going to use to buy Snapchat on something more meaningful? Why is it Spiegel's responsibility? Especially if he didn't ask for the offers in the first place?

Completely agree. Whenever I see articles about how "[founder] rejects offer from Google/FB/Apple for [$X]" and the resulting criticism that the founder must be shortsighted, I never see any discussion on the other side fo the fence. Why on earth does Google or Facebook think Snapchat is worth any money? Somebody over there does, do they have the same mentality as Spiegel?

Fine. You could have made that point without bringing his race, class or gender into your argument.

That's not what the article said. Are you hurt because you fit that stereotype and you're angry?

Evan Spiegel is just another talented but arrogant, unaware-of-his-own-privilege guy.

To his credit, he's aware of it:

I bring this up because I want to acknowledge inequality. At Stanford, and in Silicon Valley, we perpetuate the myth of meritocracy. We believe that the harder we work, the more we will achieve. The more effort that we take to craft ourselves, and our brands, the more opportunities we will create for ourselves.

But in Cape Town, and in America, and across the world - This is not true. I am a young, white, educated male. I got really, really lucky. And life isn’t fair. So if life isn’t fair - It’s not about working harder; it’s about working the system.


I assume that Snapchat has had more offers to buy it than just Facebook and Google. Probably many hundreds offers starting at a few thousand, to a few hundred thousand, to a million. When do you stop and sell out? Is there a right time? I might have considered it at a billion but apparently that would have been a mere 25% of what I could get for it.

The rest of the article is idiotic: "Evan is only 23 years old, a straight white male, and chances are, has never been denied anything in his life." Chances are I can make up anything I want about someone's life to fit whatever narrative I'm trying to express.

I dislike this article because it uses the auspices of privilege and bias to talk about one guy being essentially a fool in the writer's eyes. Privilege and bias are not the reasons I point to for anyone refusing a seemingly good offer. Evan might know things we as outsiders do not, he might be selfish, he might foolish but that seems to me to have little to do with his race, his sex or his socioeconomic background.

Guess Google was incompetent for not selling to Yahoo and aiming big. Glad we got this cleared up.

Surely you must admit that there is a massive difference between the potential of Google and Snapchat.

At the time Google turned this down it was still completely unclear how they would make any money at all. The thinking at the time was that search was a more or less solved problem that had zero profitable potential (hence Yahoo becoming a "media" company). Only now, years later, does a company that sells ads on search results and makes cars that drive themselves on the side seem like a "logical" outcome.

This is the problem with trying to focus on working on the "important" things instead of the things that interest you: its incredibly difficult to know what will be important ahead of time. Who would have guessed that a strange abstract math that only dealt in 1's and 0's, originally invented in the 1800's would later be essential to powering every machine in the 2000s? At the time you could have rightly criticized Boole for having the luxury and privilege to focus on something so useless instead of using his time in medicine for example. Someone arguing that Boolean algebra would actually be instrumental 100 years later in machines that can cure diseases would have seemed like an absurd counter-argument.

When Apple was started the big computer companies laughed at the notion of a personal computer in every home. Steve Jobs' dream of everyone owning a personal computer is arguably one of arrogance and privilege: why focus on that in the 80s when there were so many "real" problems to work on?

Twitter is the epitome of silly privilege ideas: a company based around people yelling short sentences into the ether. Who would have guessed that would empower real time delivery of current events like a hurricane or a tidal wave?

No one knows what will be the idea that revolutionizes the future, but a lot of people do know what they're passionate about. If you focus on something you think is important but you're not passionate about, the result probably won't be great. If instead everyone focuses on what they're passionate about, we'll have a lot of top notch incarnations of an incredibly diverse set of ideas. Tons will be duds, but a few will change things, and they probably won't be the ones you predicted.

So why not accept that some people are interested in different things than you instead of trying to determine whether the owner of Snapchat is focusing on the right thing or not. You don't think its a great idea? Then go work on something else. The proof is in the pudding.

Hindsight is 20/20. What was Google when Yahoo turned them over?

At the time, I was still aware that it was a much better search engine than anything Yahoo had.

What was the perceived worth of search engines as a general concept back then though? That's the relevant question, not which search was best.

It was immediately obvious that search engines were worthwhile - that's actually the origin of Yahoo's name - "Yahoo, I can finally find stuff on the www!" Before search engines started getting really good, we relied on stuff like web rings and other indexes of sites.

Were they making money though, just from the search side of things? Yahoo expanded into being a "media company" and portal as a way to generate revenue - search was just one way to get people in the door. Sorry, that's what I meant by worth (financial worth).

No one knew Google's potential when they were starting, I would argue the same is true for snapchat. Maybe they are nearing their full potential or maybe they're just getting started. Either way, that is big assumption you are making

I think not selling for a clearly outrageous valuation tells us something else is at play here. I suspect, this is this mans life's work and he doesn't wish to sell it.

When you find your life's work (as I have), you will understand.

Until then, your assumptions that your priorities are more important or valid than his shows your own ignorance, not his.

I think the author is missing one important bit - most of modern world (or at least the people who built modern technology companies) is created by people like that - middle/upper class white males who know they could take risks because if things don't work out, they still are ok.

Would Gates or Zuckerberg drop out of Harvard if they were the first in their family to attend college with immigrant parents demanding to know why they're not a doctor/lawyer - probably not.

PS I'd also like people to stop using the formulaic 'straight white male' as if one's sexual proclivities make any difference here. Ie someone writing about a field where this matters (say pro sports or fashion industry to pick opposite examples) - fine, talk about it. Otherwise please stop regurgitating same PC keyword over and over.

I really don't think his background/race/gender is much to blame. I think it's more of him being overly idealistic and letting all of his success go to his head. It's great that he thinks that Snapchat has the potential to go onto be something worth more than 4 billion, but he needs to be realistic. Snapchat is just a social utility app. I don't see an obvious path for revenue generation and growth without some sort of acquisitions/merger deal. Hopefully he has some good plans for Snapchat's future.

"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 "

This statement is inaccurate at best, more than 1/2 of start-ups in the valley and 25% nationwide are by immigrants (overwhelmingly Asian). So to say it is "filled by white men" is to ignore that a growing bulk of founders are foreign-born and non-white.

Good thing you responded to a statement that admittedly lacked data with a statement that also lacked any real data except some statistics pulled out of the derriere. Here's a real study done that found that 87% of VC-backed startup founders are white, and 89% of VC-backed startup founders are male: http://www.cbinsights.com/blog/venture-capital/data-race-gen...

Actually, before attacking someone you need to do bit more research: http://www.forbes.com/sites/singularity/2012/10/15/how-india...

Also look up Anna Lee Saxenian's work. http://people.ischool.berkeley.edu/~anno/Papers/Americas_new...

"Evan Spiegel showed his arrogance to the world by turning down the offers..." So because someone will not sell his/her company, that means the person is arrogant. Wow. Speaking of arrogance...

Why would you sell your company for $4B, when you're growing by 15% a month or whatever and are very likely to be worth >$10B by the end of the year and quite likely to be worth $20B the year after??

That $4B is about potential, not scale. Growing by 15% does not increase the value by 15%!

Correct, that's why I wrote $10B and not $4B * 1.15^12 = $21B.

"Renaissance Engineer" <- samiur is another arrogant asshat, upset that his pet project (and I'm only guessing samiur is a guy) isn't worth $4B to Google.

I am really confused. I thought snapchap "turned down" the money because they wanted to see next quarter's numbers before opening a conversation about an acquisition. They didn't say "no we're not selling", they said something along the lines of "talk to us in 6 months". I can't find the source but that was my initial impression when I read the first article on this topic.

To me the take away is that he doesn't care that his company exposed the private information of the company's users.

So if Evan Speigels had been female, black and poor (i.e. not privileged) he would have taken the money and that would have been the right thing to do? Why because people without privilege are incapable of being stupid or greedy?

I think you're expecting a lot out of someone who is 23.

That maybe so, but so are the people who invested in Snapchat. By the way, I am 23 myself. I'm not saying that everyone at 23 needs to be mature with their thinking of the world, but we should at least promote the ones that are.

>Evan Spiegel is just another talented but arrogant, unaware-of-his-own-privilege guy.

From a profile on Spiegel in LA Weekly:

"John Spiegel strove to make sure his children understood that their life was privileged. Every Christmas, he would take them to hand out food at Head Start centers. Through their church, All Saints Episcopal in Beverly Hills, they traveled to Mexico to build houses for the poor"

"He laid out his case in a letter to his father on Feb. 12, 2008. He began by thanking his father for working so hard to afford "such an amazing lifestyle," assuring him that he understood how privileged they were. "We live in a bubble," Evan wrote."

"But where he is a real outlier is in his attitude toward his own success. One of the cherished ideas of the tech world is that success is based on talent and hard work, and that everyone has an equal chance. But Spiegel, who grew up in a wealthy family, has little use for what he calls "the myth of meritocracy." Where others see success as a function of effort, he sees it as luck."


I would say these statements fly directly into the face of your characterization of Spiegel.

>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!).

Couldn't you dismiss Facebook and Twitter with the same criticism? Who determines what is useful to the world? Enhancing communication isn't the same as curing cancer, but I think you could argue there is some benefit from connecting people?

I'm not sure where you get that his refusal to accept a buyout makes him more out of touch. Do you think Zuck should have sold out at 1 billion to Yahoo so he could go build and invest in other companies? Isn't there a Zuckerburg quote where he said if he sold Facebook, he would go out and build the same company again? Also isn't it plausible to believe that Instagram sold out too early?

So why are you faulting a guy for thinking that his billion dollar company (which comes around very rarely) is his main goal right now? He probably recognizes that this is his one shot at becoming a tech icon, is it absurd to swing for the fences?

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