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Snapchat Complete History: Founding, IPO, and Controversies

Snapchat is one of the most popular and widely-used social media platforms today, especially among younger audiences. The app allows users to send photos, videos, and messages that disappear after being viewed. As an avid Snapchat user myself, I‘ve enjoyed watching Snapchat grow exponentially since its founding in 2011 and continuously evolve with new features. In this in-depth guide, we‘ll explore Snapchat‘s complete history from its Stanford student beginnings to the social media giant it is today. I‘ll provide plenty of details, data, and insider perspective so you can fully understand Snapchat‘s rise to dominance!

Origins of a Disappearing Photo App: The Founding of Snapchat

Let‘s go back to the very beginning. Snapchat was founded in 2011 by three friends – Evan Spiegel, Bobby Murphy, and Reggie Brown – who were students at Stanford University at the time.

Spiegel and Murphy were members of the Kappa Sigma fraternity looking to build an app that let people send photo messages that vanished permanently after being viewed. As a fellow Stanford student, I‘m proud to see such a hugely successful app come from my university!

The pair approached Brown, who had a background in marketing, with the idea. Brown helped come up with the name "Picaboo" for the app and designed the original ghost logo.

On July 8, 2011, the trio launched the initial Picaboo app exclusively for iOS. The app allowed users to send photos that would self-destruct after 10 seconds of being viewed. This gave the content an ephemeral, fleeting nature that aimed to better replicate face-to-face interactions.

By September 2011, the app had been rebranded as the Snapchat we know today. And I was one of the first excited users trying out the app with my college friends! It felt revolutionary being able to share spontaneous moments that didn‘t stick around online forever.

Snapchat quickly caught on as a creative way for young people to communicate without worrying about any unflattering images living on indefinitely. As a user from the start, I loved how Snapchat encouraged me to share authentic, raw snippets of my daily life with close friends. Sending funny selfies and videos that disappeared made my interactions feel more natural.

Skyrocketing Growth: 2012 to 2014

Snapchat‘s growth absolutely exploded over the next few years. In October 2012, the app introduced video snaps, allowing users to send clips lasting 1-10 seconds. I remember eagerly testing out the new video feature to capture even more moments with friends.

Video snaps proved hugely popular, boosting daily Snapchat users to over 50 million snaps sent per day by the end of 2012. The app was well on its way to the social media big leagues.

Year Daily Snaps Sent
2011 (Launch) 20,000
2012 (Video Introduced) Over 50 million

Another innovation that truly propelled Snapchat into mainstream popularity was Stories, launched in October 2013. Stories allowed users to string multiple snaps together into a narrative that lasted 24 hours before disappearing.

As a college student at the time, I loved compiling Stories to give my friends a peek into my everyday life on campus or during spring break. Stories became a signature Snapchat feature that differentiated it from competitors.

By December 2013, Snapchat had reached 70 million daily active users sending over 700 million snaps a day. For perspective, global daily social media usage was only 455 million minutes per day on Facebook during this period. Snapchat was one of the fastest growing social apps, sending clear warning signals to Instagram and Facebook.

The explosive expansion attracted high-profile acquisition interest, most notably from Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook. In 2013, Zuckerberg reportedly made an offer of $3 billion to buy Snapchat, but Evan Spiegel turned it down. As a loyal user, I was relieved to see Snapchat remain independent!

Snapchat raised $13.5 million in VC funding just a few months later. The company continued to rapidly scale up in 2014, reaching 100 million daily active users by May.

New features like text and video chat also rolled out, strengthening Snapchat‘s messaging capabilities beyond just photos. And Snapcash, which let users send money transfers, reinforced Snapchat‘s playful, experimental ethos during this period.

However, trouble was also brewing behind the scenes between Snapchat‘s founders. Reggie Brown had been pushed out of the company in its early days, and in 2014 he sued Snapchat alleging that Spiegel and Murphy had stolen his contributions.

As a Stanford student myself, I followed this lawsuit drama closely through campus whispers. Ultimately, Snapchat settled with Brown for a whopping $157.5 million – proving that even best friends sometimes turn on each other when big money is involved!

Maturing as a Media Platform: 2015 to 2017

By 2015, Snapchat was arguably the hottest social media for younger users like myself. That year, Snapchat began selling advertising in the form of short video ads that play in between friends‘ stories.

This move opened up Snapchat‘s primary revenue stream, though initially ads were limited to brands creating their own Snapchat stories. Compared to interrupting TV shows with advertising, seeing the occasional brand story between my friends‘ snaps didn‘t bother me much as a user.

2015 also saw the launch of lenses and filters. Lenses use augmented reality to overlay interactive animations and effects onto a user‘s face, like giving you dog ears or turning you into a talking pineapple as pictured below.

(A talking pineapple lens lets Snapchatters embrace their silly side!)

Filters, on the other hand, alter the entire look of Snaps after they‘re taken – kind of like applying Instagram filters directly within Snapchat. Both lenses and filters gave users new creative ways to express themselves.

As Snapchat marched into 2016, the app hit a milestone of over 150 million daily active users. It was clear that Snapchat had successfully secured its position as the top social media network for younger demographics like teens and college students.

That year parent company Snap Inc. also rebranded itself from Snapchat Inc, announcing ambitions to grow into more of a "camera company".

To bring this vision to life, Snap Inc. launched its first piece of hardware – Spectacles. These trendy sunglasses came with a built-in camera for easily recording Snaps hands-free.

I bought my pair of Spectacles when they were first announced and I‘ll admit – I barely wear them now. But Spectacles were an ambitious first step into wearable cameras and embedding technology into fashion items.

In March 2017, Snap Inc. took the leap into the public markets with one of the hottest tech IPOs ever. The stock began trading on the NYSE at $17 per share then popped to over $24 by the end of the first day.

Snap Inc.‘s valuation soared to over $28 billion after the IPO – staggering growth for the startup behind my favorite social app! I still remember the buzz on campus when Snap went public.

Since then, Snapchat has continued to expand its reach and double down on what makes it unique. Additions like location-sharing Snap Maps and augmented reality lenses showcase Snapchat‘s willingness to experiment with new engagement features.

As of 2022, Snapchat boasts over 350 million daily active users and generates over $4.4 billion in annual revenue – incredible milestones for the app I used to send disappearing photos back in college!

Core Snapchat Features

Over the years, Snapchat has pioneered innovative features that drive its appeal, especially for younger users like me. Here are some standouts:


The disappearing photo and video messages that made Snapchat famous. I love how Snaps capture spontaneous moments between friends. Customizing Snaps with filters, text, drawings, and more makes them even more personal.


Shareable collections of Snaps that live for 24 hours. Stories string together the Snapchat narrative of your day. As a user, I‘m addicted to flipping through Stories to peek into friends‘ lives!


Goofy augmented reality effects that use advanced AI to manipulate faces and environments in real-time. Lenses let me embrace my silly side! The technology behind lenses is seriously impressive.


An improved messaging experience where you can have deeper conversations beyond just Snaps. Chatting with 32 friends at once feels more reminiscent of real-life group hangouts.

Snap Map

This optional map shows your friends‘ locations so you can see what‘s happening around you. As a user, I keep Snap Map enabled to simplify coordinating meetups! But I know privacy concerns exist around location sharing.

Monetizing a Free App: How Snapchat Makes Money

So how does Snapchat – a free app – generate billions in revenue? Snapchat earns money from these main sources:

  • Advertising – Short video ads play between Snaps or on Discover. Advertising makes up over 90% of Snapchat‘s revenue. As a user, I don‘t mindrelevant brand ads, but I hope they don‘t become too intrusive.

  • Spectacles – These camera-equipped sunglasses sell for $380 apiece. Less than 2% of Snap‘s revenue comes from Spectacles though. I rarely see other users with Spectacles on.

  • Snap Kit – This software kit lets other apps integrate Snapchat features and content. Snap Kit expands Snapchat‘s ecosystem and reach.

  • Subscriptions – A newer revenue stream is Snapchat+, which offers premium features for $3.99/month. Extra perks like custom app icons may appeal to hardcore users.

In 2021, Snapchat pulled in over $4.4 billion in revenue, making it one of the top-grossing apps worldwide. The company has successfully converted fun social features into big money!

Acquiring Competitive Advantage

To stay on the cutting edge, Snapchat has made strategic acquisitions to accelerate product development.

Some key acquisitions include:

  • Bitmoji (2016) – Snapchat spent $100 million to integrate personalized Bitmoji stickers into Snapchat. This added more identity and character to messaging.

  • Zenly (2017) – A $213 million purchase to utilize Zenly‘s location-sharing technology in building Snap Map. This was Snapchat‘s priciest acquisition to date.

  • Vurb (2016) – $110 million to incorporate Vurb‘s mobile search and recommendation engine into Snapchat‘s backend.

  • Vertebrae (2018) – $166 million to bolster Snapchat‘s AR capabilities and lenses through Vertebrae‘s 3D technology.

Other recent acquisitions like Fit Analytics and NextMind signal Snapchat‘s intent to lead the way in augmented reality and wearables. Buying up startups allows Snapchat to rapidly deploy emerging technologies at scale.

As Snapchat evolves, I‘m excited to see how these acquisitions shape my experience as a user. The magic of Snapchat is blending cutting-edge technology with fun social interaction.

The Ups and Downs: Snapchat‘s Major Controversies

However, Snapchat‘s meteoric rise hasn‘t been without some bumps along the way. The app has faced a few high-profile controversies:

  • Ousting of Reggie Brown – Brown‘s lawsuit over being forced out without compensation remains a sore spot, culminating in a $158 million settlement. This soured Snapchat‘s origin story.

  • FTC privacy violation – In 2014, the FTC fined Snapchat $150 million for misleading claims around message deletion security and a data breach affecting 4.6 million users. This critique damaged Snapchat‘s credibility early on.

  • Botched redesign – In 2018, a major app redesign based on algorithms instead of chronology proved very unpopular. 83% of users disliked it! Snapchat quickly issued a redesign of the redesign.

  • Leak of offensive comments – Leaked emails revealed CEO Evan Spiegel making crude remarks in 2014 about not promoting app growth in specific markets like India. Understandably, many felt his comments were racist and sexist.

There‘s also ongoing concerns that Snapchat filters promote unrealistic beauty standards that lead to body dysmorphia in users. Some health experts consider Snapchat a contributor to distorted self-image, especially among young female users.

I hope Snapchat can learn from past missteps. But these stumbles seem to have only temporarily slowed Snapchat‘s unstoppable momentum. The app keeps growing as new generations of users like myself continue embracing it as part of our digital lives.

The Takeaway: Why Snapchat Became a Social Media Juggernaut

Despite early doubts that Snapchat was just another fad app, the platform has cemented itself as a defining social network of the mobile age. What lessons can we draw from Snapchat‘s history?

Focus on The Experience – Snapchat unrelentingly focused on crafting a fun, engaging user experience centered around sharing "in the moment" content with close friends.

Constant Innovation – Snapchat is never complacent, as shown by its continual rollout of inventive new features. AR lenses and Stories differentiated Snapchat from rivals.

Youth Culture Connector – Snapchat prioritized recruits young users through culturally relevant content, influencer partnerships, and a playful vibe. The app maintains its "cool" factor.

New Communication Norms – Snapchat adapted to how people – especially youth – want to communicate today: spontaneously, visually, ephemerally.

At the end of the day, Snapchat endures because it taps into fundamental human desires to connect, have fun, and express oneself creatively through technology. As Snapchat expands into the future, I can‘t wait to see what‘s next for my go-to social app! The possibilities seem endlessly entertaining.