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Evan Spiegel’s Hatred of Growth Hacking Is Good

Photo: Jed Egan

A lengthy report from the Information this morning sheds light on how Snapchat CEO and mastermind Evan Spiegel is dealing with the app’s slowing growth. While the app continues to add new users, the rate at which it is doing so has slowed, mostly thanks to an all-out siege from Facebook, which has cloned the Stories product into all four of its mobile apps.

In its SEC filing prior to its IPO, Spiegel blamed much of the slowed growth on a glitchy Android app, reasoning that some speculated was just a handy excuse to avoid mentioning Instagram, which received a glancing mention. According to the Information’s report, Spiegel did really believe that the Android glitches were to blame.

The report goes on to illustrate how wary Spiegel is of relying primarily on data to grow the app’s user base, as opposed to gut instinct. He is particularly reluctant to increase the number of push notifications that users receive, despite their usefulness in growth terms. In some sense, working on a growth team is a matter of figuring out how to frame the stats precisely as you want it — online metrics as a whole are carefully constructed b.s. For instance, if a user opens an app just once a month and immediately closes it, does that count as a monthly user? If the answer is yes, then there is an obvious upside to spamming users with tireless push notifications.

But such tactics can go wrong. Consider Facebook’s video product, which counts a view as “three seconds of viewership, even with the sound off.” That’s the artificially inflated metric that many companies selling advertising have to work with. Last year, the company announced it had been miscalculating another video metric for months. Unreliable metrics that don’t translate to results can backfire drastically.

Spiegel’s reluctance to embrace these sorts of growth tactics — which promise short-term gains but mean little in the long run — can seem foolish. And that is partially to blame for Snapchat’s slowed growth. But it also hints at a CEO who is cautious about inflating stats superficially.

Also, completely unrelated to everything above, Gwyneth Paltrow couldn’t sign up for Snapchat because she’s too popular. From the Information:

Last year, for instance, [Spiegel] complained to engineers that the app was taking too long to import people’s address books. It’s a critical part of how users find friends on the app. His critique was spurred by a dinner he’d had with his fiancee Miranda Kerr and the actress Gwyneth Paltrow, when he had tried to get Ms. Paltrow to download Snapchat. It took a long time to sync her address book, according to a person briefed on Mr. Spiegel’s complaints.
Evan Spiegel’s Hatred of Growth Hacking Is Good