The Secret of Burning Celluloid and Getting Rich

Screenshot 2019-07-09 at 22.57.11In the 1970s I had an idea, or an insight as marketeers like to say, that would later become Snapchat.
Life was analogue then and I was nine years old so I didn’t execute the plan. Nor write one. What I realised, however, was that watching my dad’s 8mm cine films of Summer holidays and birthday parties was nowhere near as fun as the slapstick wailing and panic caused when the film got jammed in the red hot projection unit and you could gaze in wonderment at the frames melting on the projection screen.
To my father’s chagrin I considered that the erasure of the film was more entertaining than the film itself; Such was the insight that a few decades later could have made me rich. Instead it was a bunch of kids from Stanford University (where else?) which had the idea. And let’s face it, their idea was inferior to mine. For while I recognised that it was the burning of the film that was great fun, they only conceived that it was the disappearance of the image that was novel. Nevertheless, the implications of this were profound for a generation raised on selfies.
And now that I finally know what it does and why on the first day of trading on the NYSE it closed at a valuation of $34 billion I’m kicking myself for letting a really big one wriggle off the hook.
Until 255 paperback pages ago this was all I knew about Snapchat:
* It was a social network for teens
* Pictures that were sent to you by friends disappeared shortly after you’d received them.
* Something like five minutes after Snapchat was set up Facebook tried to buy the business for $3bn (which meant the guy who made a dating app was trying to buy a sexting app. (Boom boom. And yet true.))
Now I know better. I’m going to work on the basis that you are nearly as ill-informed as me and will therefore enjoy gasping at the truth of this social media behemoth.
A couple of things mark Snapchat as very different to other social networks. First; the primary medium is the camera. You communicate with photos and videos frequently and these artifacts generally vanish within 24 hours or less. Secondly, your communications are usually one-to-one or within very small groups (like Whats App chat groups). Consequently,  you don’t leave much of a trace. In contrast to the carefully curated profiles on other social networks (constructed from photos, videos, check-ins, like, follows and comments) Snapchat is not a proxy for you. It is rather a means of  communication which isomer instant, less polished and less constrained because it is shared with small groups of friends and then expires. It is then about conversation.
Here’s what I know now:
* Snapchat reaches 41% of all 18-34 year olds in the USA.
* Snapchat is used not only for photo-driven conversations between friends but also for consumption of entertainment. Over 40 million people watched Snapchat’s Live story from the Coachella music festival in 2015. In comparison the finale of the box-set thriller Breaking Bad scored 10.3 million views.
* Through the use of “lenses” Snapchat is a pioneer in the mass use of Augmented Reality. A lens puts a filter on top of a selfie.  For example to promote a film 20thCentury Fox enabled users to put a lens on their selifes which made themselves look like an X-Men character. Is this big business, you ask? Sit down to reveive the news that Taco Bell created a lens which turned users’ heads into a giant taco shell and the lens was viewed 224 million times in a single day.  Similarly a Gatorade campaign allowed users to pour a Virtual reality barrel of Gatorade over their heads. This was done 160 million times.
* Snapchat has made countless people into stars . Apparently there’s DJ Khaled (who he?). There’s Kylie Jenner (who she?). And let’s get even more obscure: In 2016 a certain Dr Miami was receiving over one million views per day of the explanatory videos he made about plastic surgery operations. This added up to $8m to his income.
Turning something into nothing, like my Dad’s projector did, is clearly big business. It’s also a cracking read. “How to turn down a billion dollars” is written by a fellow Stanford student of CEO Evan Spiegel who is superbly connected and meticulously thorough and has written is one of the best narratives of Internet startuppery I have read.
I read: How to Turn Down A Billion Dollars
By: Billy Gallagher
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