INTERNATIONAL - Snapchat as an app, at least, it’s a compelling idea. Snapchat’s disappearing posts, Stories, as they’re known, are wildly popular with teenagers, especially in the US.
This should be Spiegel’s moment. Facebook is in the middle of a series of privacy-related scandals. Twitter and YouTube have seemed overrun by some combination of Russian bots, ISIS recruiters, and/or conspiracy theorists. In this context, Snapchat would appear to be well-positioned as an alternative.
Late last year, Spiegel redesigned Snapchat to get people to spend more time on it. Users hated it. In early August, Snap reported that its audience had fallen from 191 million daily users in the first quarter to 188 million in the second.
Investors have come to see Snap as a smaller, unprofitable Facebook rather than a new idea that should be judged on its own merits. Spiegel says these problems have been caused in part by lack of communication.
That’s why Spiegel, 28, agreed for the first time to let an outsider into Council. Today, Snap has six full-time and eight part-time Council facilitators among its 3,000 employees. They presided over 785 sessions during the first half of 2018. All employees do Council on their first day of work; Snap’s directors do it before quarterly board meetings.
Council itself is a bit like Snapchat in that it’s all about sharing personal thoughts privately. But a compelling concept is not the same as a successful business.
Much of the blame for Snapchat’s troubles has fallen on Spiegel. For four of the six quarters since its March 2017 initial public offering, Snap has posted revenue numbers that missed estimates. In that time, Spiegel has also lost or replaced his heads of engineering, finance, hardware, legal, product, and sales.
Snap employees complain about his dictatorial management style and penchant for secrecy. In January the company’s chief counsel sent around a memo threatening jail time for employees who leaked proprietary information to the press. According to several Snap employees, the bigger problem was that they didn’t have much information in the first place. That same month, workers were told they wouldn’t be receiving cash bonuses because the company didn’t meet its goals. They hadn’t been told what the goals were.
To turn all this around, Spiegel has embarked on a self-improvement project. He hired a well-known management coach, Stephen Miles. Spiegel also conducted an anonymous survey of employees, overwhelmingly, they asked for one thing: to know what was going on.
“Each team had their own verticalized set of goals,” Spiegel says. In other words, members of different teams rarely talked to one another, a reality that had been built into Snap’s anti-corporate culture.
Last December, for the first time, Spiegel gathered his senior managers to discuss priorities. The company also started a channel on Snapchat for employees to update them about changes. In March it began hosting monthly all-staff meetings.
During a meeting in July, employees asked what Snap would do to retain people after recent cuts of hundreds of jobs. Jason Halbert, Snap’s head of human resources, said the company was getting better at measuring and rewarding the best employees. Tim Stone, the new chief financial officer, reiterated the need to motivate staff to “bleed Snapchat yellow.” Improving employee performance is the top priority for 2018 and Priority No. 5 is building a sustainable business.