Published May 21, 2015
The 24-year-old founder of Snapchat Evan Spiegel has not always been a sophisticated gentleman.
Emails that Spiegel sent when he was in the Kappa Sigma fraternity house at Stanford were leaked last year and they are awful, offensive and disgusting. A greeting, if you can call it that, in an email within the frat house after a party reads, "Hope at least six girls sucked your d***s last night." Not classy stuff.
That makes it a bit of a surprising about face that the same person, now a few years older and wiser, would be invited to deliver a college commencement speech. Especially given that Spiegel, by his own admission, didn’t actually graduate from college -- he was a few credits short.
Instead of hitting the books, Spiegel was more focused on building Snapchat, a mobile messaging service where users can send texts, pictures and videos from one user to another with the option of having it disappear after 10 seconds.
In the company’s short rise to startup stardom, it has experienced some bumps in the road -- leaked emails, allegations of stolen ideas and users’ account hacked -- but the CEO and co-founder has also made some smart moves.
About a year and a half ago, Spiegel turned down Facebook’s $3 billion buyout offer, a move that at the time was largely seen as naively arrogant. That said, earlier this year it was reported that the company raised $200 million in a round led by Alibaba, that valued the company at $15 billion. And Spiegel is now considered the youngest billionaire in the world. Turns out, the obnoxious college dropout was onto something.
And judging from the commencement speech that he delivered at the University of Southern California Marshall undergraduate ceremony last week, maybe he’s grown up a bit, too..
Spiegel made three points in his speech that are worth considering whether you are 24-year-old, billionaire executive or a middle-aged corporate soldier who daydreams about becoming an entrepreneur. Well, for at least 10 seconds.
1. Embrace what makes you different.
Spiegel recounted his faux graduation day at Stanford University, where he sat in cap and gown despite being a few credits shy of finishing his undergraduate degree. He went through all the whole graduation production as he was embarrassed, didn’t want to be left out of the festivities or appear different from his fellow classmates.
“Conforming happens so naturally that we can forget how powerful it is – we want to be accepted by our peers – we want to be a part of the group. It’s in our biology. But the things that make us human are those times we listen to the whispers of our soul and allow ourselves to be pulled in another direction,” Spiegel said in his speech.
Dissenting voices in a democracy are key to promoting individual thoughts, he says. And we ought to pay attention, tap into and celebrate our difference.
2. Honor those who will come after you.
Spiegel used the story of artist Bob Rauschenberg approaching his professional idol, painter Bill de Kooning, for one of his works so that he could, as was Rauschenberg’s current process, erase it.
“I love this story because Bill de Kooning had the humility to recognize that the greatest thing we can do is provide the best possible foundation for those who come after us,” said Spiegel. “We must welcome our own erasure.”
The notion that we are always building a foundation for those who come after us is universally applicable. But the idea that what we are doing will inevitably be erased by those who come after us seems a bit self-serving for the CEO of Snapchat -- the messaging service that sends messages that automatically disappear -- to be peddling.
3. Create something that you don’t want to sell.
Or, says Spiegel, if you do sell what you create, then don’t let that be the finish line of your creativity.
“I’m asked one question most often: ‘Why didn’t you sell your business? It doesn’t even make money. It’s a fad. You could be on a boat right now. Everyone loves boats. What’s wrong with you?’” said Spiegel.
The Snapchat CEO endured a lot of criticism for his decision to turn down Mark Zuckerberg. But when you are working on a project that you feel passionate about, you can’t let other people’s doubts slow you down, he said. “Someone will always have an opinion about you. Whatever you do won’t ever be enough. So find something important to you. Find something that you love.”
Watch the entire speech below.
Related: Ads on Snapchat Are Coming