Changing in a Snap

Posted: November 20th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Investing, snapchat | No Comments »

snap evolution

After two defiant quarterly result calls, sticking to the plan, Q3’s call was different. Evan, for the first time since Snap went public, acknowledged it was time for drastic changes. Achieving user growth by a UI Redesign, a new Android app and modifying the feed are all in the works.

Some want to take the course change as a sign that Evan doesn’t know what he’s doing. That Snap has grown beyond Evan’s abilities. I’m taking the other take. This shows Evan isn’t stubborn and changes when the time calls for it.

I have concerns that Evan is buckling to pressure. Is Evan worried about appeasing Wall Street in the short term? Has he seen enough data to come to his own conclusion about Snap’s growth potential? That’s the question.

Data Crunching

At 178mm users using Snapchat over 30 minutes a day, Snap is a wildly popular product. But with a $15b market cap, Snap needs more than 178mm users to eventually hit a reasonable P/E.

Snap Modeling

Snap Modeling

Snap’s main financial levers are DAUs, ARPU, Cost of Revenue and Operating Expenses. DAU x ARPU gives us total revenue. Snap must increase DAU and ARPU at a rate higher than Cost of Revenue and Operating Expenses to become profitable. In the model above I’ve assumed a DAU q/q growth at 3%, ARPU growth at 15% while maintaining a 3% growth on Cost of Revenue and a 2% growth on Operating Expenses. That gives Snap healthy cash flow by the end of 2019 but its path to get there is uncertain and is not quick enough for Wall Street to tolerate.

There are chances Snap can hit profitability with modest user growth if Snap is able to greatly increase ARPU. With another large investment from Tencent, parent company of WeChat, Snap has access to a wealth of Tencent experience to help further monetize their base.

The Changes

Evan has stated Snap’s priorities in 2017 have been performance, quality, and automation. Android performance has improved but not as much as Snap was hoping for. On the quality front, Snap has invested in a device testing lab that should bear fruit in the future. On an Automation front, Snap has made huge strides moving its ad business to self-serve. For a company going public with the need to automate, these three priorities made sense for 2017.

The three new priorities for 2018 are user growth, content, and augmented reality. As seen above, unless there is out sized ARPU growth, more user growth is necessary to hit profitability.

User Growth

Redesigning the UI

Last month I defended Snapchat’s UX, pointing out that an intuitive UI is not the be all end all. I stand by the post but understand why Evan and Snap may have to migrate to a more intuitive UI. Snap continues to kill it in the 18-34 age group but has room to grow with other demographics. Evan seemed to wanted to stick with what got Snap this far and not dumb down the UI but the user growth stagnation seems to have changed his mind. This move is risky, how many current users will be alienated and defect?

Facebook and the algorithmic newsfeed, Twitter with an algorithmic newsfeed (and 280 characters). Keep in mind many before Snap have made drastic changes to the core UX and continued to grow.

Android app

The Android fragmentation is giving a company like Snap a run for their money. Snap likes to push the envelope with what a mobile device can do with Snapchat and this strategy has many risks. A rewrite is a costly, risky but with global domination in mind, having a rock solid android app is Snap’s only hope. This bet reminds me of Facebook’s first mobile stumble when they bet too much on HTML5 and had to rewrite their app with more native components. Although risky, this move at this stage appears to be the only hope.

The Feed

Evan wasn’t specific about the changes to come but what he did say showed an astute understanding of Snap’s users.

I think there’s a really exciting opportunity here for another evolution of that content feed that addresses some of the shortcomings of the friend-based content feed model.

So, for example, in a friend-based content feed, in order to get more content in that feed, you need more friends. When people start adding more friends, they then feel less comfortable posting content and so they start posting less. That means that you need even more friends to get more content. So you end up in this kind of precarious situation where because you base the content feed on what friends are posting, you sort of are inherently limited in how you grow that selection of content. Ultimately, what we found is that the best predictor of what people are interested in and want to watch is actually what they’re watching. I think there’s an opportunity here for us to create a really great personalized content service that doesn’t at all diminish the great and, I think, very differentiated communications business that we’ve established.

I’m a big fan of companies having a unique identity and Evan highlights a unique position Snap has with its users. Snap continues to be a place where friends share themselves more authentically with others than on Instagram or Facebook. This is why some will gravitate to Snap even if Instagram had the some features. How can Snapchat grow its user base and engagement while avoiding the “posting less” phenomena? I can’t wait to see what Evan has up his sleeve.

The Bottom line

Snap has not concentrated on “User Growth” as a priority in 2017. Snap is no longer growing the user base at a rapid pace organically and its long-term business prospects do not look as high as they once did. Does this mean Snap is done for? No, not in the slightest. Snap has made user growth a priority, identified areas which has impeded user growth and is actively working to improve these areas. Evan has evolved Snap before and will do it again.


Snapchat UX

Posted: October 20th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Design, Product, snapchat | No Comments »

I attended a Product School talk this week where Snapchat’s UX was hot topic of discussion. The consensus in the room was that Snapchat’s UX is abysmal. Snapchat is succeeding despite its UX. I couldn’t disagree more!

The Criticism

There’s a bunch of hate on the Snapchat UX. First, when you sign up, the app opens to the camera with no tutorial. Unlike Facebook or Twitter, who will onboard users by adding their friends and showing them content, Snap says “make something!”. As with everything, there is a trade off. Snapchat may be harder to figure out but it sets the tone with that first experience. Snapchat isn’t for the lurkers, it’s for the creators.

The biggest criticism is that Snapchat is confusing. Snap Map is hidden behind a not-so-obvious two finger swipe on the camera. Activating lenses requires a user to press and hold on a face. You can swipe in any direction, pinch on any screen and other “violations” of UX Best Practices.

Something as mundane as having chat on the same side has irritated UX purists.

VS


The Coolness

I remember the moment Snapchat’s je ne sais quoi clicked for me. I was at a work Happy Hour and taking a Snap when a co-worker asked to add me. As I told her my snapchat name she looked at me like I had two heads. Instead she took my phone, went to my profile and took a picture of my Snapcode. Like magic it knew who I was and added me as her friend. All I could say was “whoa”.

 

That was the first but not the last time I was wowed by a friend showing me a feature on Snapchat. Adding “Friends Near by”, accessing filters and accessing Snap Map were all in-person wow moments. Not only that, but I was able to wow friends by sharing the same UI tricks I learned. It’s fun when you learn it and fun when you teach it.

Josh from Greylock coined the term “Shareable UI”

Shareable design understands this deeply social nature of how humans learn, and capitalizes on people’s desires to learn and to teach.
Snapchat does this brilliantly, because each of those seemingly obscure features is an opportunity for its users to show their friends how to do something cool. Showing your friends something cool can increase your social standing, or maybe it just gives you a good feeling. Either way it’s something you want to do! And for Snapchat, that’s great, because it’s converting you into an evangelist for its product, and you don’t even feel like you’re evangelizing: You’re just showing your friends how to do something neat.

Fun over Function

A Usability Study at UserTesting.com concluded –

Of the users who did enjoy Snapchat and wanted to keep using it, the primary reason was because they found it fun. Users who said they would keep using the app were more likely to describe it as “popular,” “fun,” and “cool.” None of the users described the app using words like “useful” or “helpful.” They simply didn’t see the app as a solution for a need.

    Conventional wisdom says Interfaces “have” to be intuitive. Apps/products “have” to be a solution for a need. Snapchat shows this isn’t always the case. Perhaps like Seinfeld, Snapchat is an app about “nothing”.

    Bottom Line

    Snapchat’s interface is not conventional. The UX is not intuitive. These alone don’t make a UX good or bad. Although not intuitive, the Snapchat UX is highly shareable. It’s fun to teach others the secrets you know. The UI may not be conventional but it makes up for it with surprising delight.

    Critics are pressed for Snap to follow an established playbook. Follow standard UX guidelines, modify the product to appeal to everyone, do more growth hacking, make the stories feed algorithmic, etc. Snap’s ability to break convention and blaze their own path is what I love about em.

     


    Keep Calm and Snap On

    Posted: August 18th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: facebook, Investing, snapchat | No Comments »
    Keep Calm and Snap On

    Keep Calm and Snap On

     

    Snap has released their Q2 results. If you trust the pundits, it was “another failure on a long, downward path for the social media company.” Impatient journalists and those on Wall Street seeking the quick buck aren’t happy. The buy-and-hold types have a lot to be happy about.

    The Good News

    • Daily Active Users grew 21% year-over-year from 143 million in Q2 2016 to 173 million in Q2 2017. An increase of 30.5 million users. For the quarter, DAUs was up 4.2%, adding 7.3 million users.
    • Average Revenue Per User grew 109% year-over year from $0.50 to $1.05. ARPU increased 16% over Q1 2017 when ARPU was $0.90.
    • Total revenue grew 153% year-over-year and up 21% from $149.6 million in Q1 revenue to $181.6 million.

    Snap is growing in every way an investor would like (although not at the pace the greedy would like to see). The real story is the product evolution. Snap released 16 versions of Snapchat in Q2 compared to Facebook’s 6 releases. Not only is Snap moving fast with quick releases but some of the releases had massive features. Snap Map, a way to see where your friends are and what is going on at specific locations, was released in Q2 and well received. There has been much written about Snap being copied but Snap moves too fast. You can’t copy their soul.

    Misunderstood – $FB vs $SNAP 166 Days Post-IPO

    Snap isn’t the only tech company that was underwater 166 days after their IPO (the day of this writing). $FB IPO’d at $38 and closed down 42% from the IPO price at $22. $SNAP IPO’d at $17 and closed down 23% from the IPO price at $13. The $SNAP doomsayers emphasize the risk of losing top talent when the stock temporarily underperforms. $FB was able to weather a tougher storm than $SNAP is going through. If an employee is swayed to leave by short-term stock swings they are not buying into Snap’s potential like they should. They don’t get it, just like a lot of those on the Street.

    After Facebook’s first two earnings reports the Street continued to be concerned about mobile monetization. Facebook had just started their mobile monetization efforts and the rewards were inevitable. This is similar with Snap. Some want revenue to grow quicker than it is but Snap just started to monetize. This will take time.

    Analysts continue to speculate on User Growth, Revenue and Profit/Loss despite lack of guidance from Snap. Snap will “miss” these numbers and the market will respond (in the short-term). This is because Wall Street doesn’t understand Snap’s User Growth will not be like Facebook’s. Snap is for the savvy, smartphone owning, high speed bandwidth users. Facebook, with web apps, mobile apps on every platform, “Facebook Lite” etc, is for everyone. Snap is unlikely to have the 1.35 billion DAUS that FB has anytime in the next decade. Snap won’t dominate the masses but it will dominate the critical 18-35 demographic for sometime.

    Bottom Line

    Facebook is where the puck is. Snap is where the puck is going. User Growth for Snap will continue to feel the headwinds until the rest of the world catches up with high speed bandwidth. Snap would have to compromise the product too much to appeal to the emerging markets and it’s not worth their time in the long-run. Snap’s play is to continue to evolve the most modern social media app for the young and savvy. Continue to take advantage of the latest and greatest in tech and monetize those savvy users with deep pockets.

    Snap’s market cap is currently ~$16 billion. Napkin math says Snap would need to get to 200mm DAUs at $20 annual ARPU for yearly revenue of $4billion and profit margin of 25% to justify that valuation (that would be a PE of 16). Despite being 5X away from that ARPU number, those seem like a layup for Snap. Someday we’ll look back at the market’s response to these early earnings reports and laugh, just like we do with Facebook now.


    Oh Snap!

    Posted: May 18th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Investing, Product, snapchat | No Comments »
    Snap’s first earnings as a public company are in and there is a consensus! Snap’s first earnings are terrible and the company is a disaster. Or is it? Do we care about the opinions on Wall Street trying to earn a quick buck? Or click-bait journalists looking for impressions? Those investing in $SNAP must have patience, and if you do, there is a lot to be happy about in this earnings report.

    Snap missed DAU and Growth Numbers!

    What did Snap miss? Expectations set by bozos on Wall Street? Evan and the leadership team didn’t set guidance on revenue or DAU growth. Analysts on Wall Street made numbers up based on little precedent. Snap didn’t miss a thing.
     
    Snap’s user base grew 36% yoy to 166 million. Quarter over quarter, Snap grew 5%. This is consistent with quarter-over-quarter growth from Q3 to Q4. Instagram Stories may have slowed down growth but Snap is growing at a healthy pace.

    Snap missed Earnings with a whopping $2.2 billion loss!

    Again, this is Wall Street expectations. $2 billion of the $2.2 billion loss was due to a one-time impact of stock compensation. I’m much more concerned with ongoing costs.
     
    The flip side is Snap grew revenue yoy 286%. ARPU tripled yoy to 90 cents per user globally. North America monetization is at $1.81 a user and they’ve only scratched the surface. For comparison, Facebook is approaching $20 in ARPU. It’s encouraging to know there may be a long ways to go before we see a slowdown in ARPU growth with Snap.

    Evan is selfish!

    Another common theme is Evan is selfish. The $750mm bonus is evidence A. It’s quite the opposite in my book. Evan has turned down offers to sell Snap and could have been a billionaire years ago. Instead, Evan has shown an ability to delay gratification and plan for the long-term. This is why investors of Snap should be patient. Others in Evan’s shoes may resort to growth hacks to appease Wall Street. Evan keeps the big picture in mind. Evan dismisses short term thinking that doom companies in the long run.

    Bottom Line

    Expecting ~10% DAU growth and profitability from Snap this quarter was unreasonable. Evan is playing the long game with Snap and part of that approach is not optimizing for the short term. Snap is a product company investing money into R&D to grow and monetize. Instagram may have copied the story format but Snap is more than that. Snap is a different context to its users. Snap will morph in ways we can’t imagine. You’ll need patience if you want to buy and hold $SNAP but with that patience will come great reward.

    The Simplicity of Spectacles and AirPods

    Posted: March 29th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: apple, Design, snapchat | Tags: , , | No Comments »

    This isn’t 2007 or 2010 when the iPhone and iPad debuted but the Spectacles and AirPods have had a lot of hype. I had my doubts. I never liked Earpods, they’re uncomfortable and fall out of my ear. I didn’t immediately dig the style of the Spectacles. Despite those concerns, I had to buy both and try them for myself.

    What Spectacles Do

    Spectacles take up to 3 consecutive 10 second 720p videos. Click the button once to take a 10 second clip. Click again when the video is about to end to extend it twice, up to 30 seconds. Pairing Spectacles are a breeze – use the Spectacles to take a video of your Snapcode to pair. When not paired, Spectacles take snaps and sync later once paired.
     
    Spectacles excel with physical activities. Riding a bike and beach volleyball are great examples. Times where a first-person point of view is compelling. Any two handed activity, like pouring a beer or driving a car, make great Spectacle snaps.

    What AirPods Do

    Like the Spectacles, pairing with AirPods is amazing. Take them out of the case near your phone and they immediately detect and pair. Going from phone to computer is seamless. The sound, microphone and fit are outstanding. I forget they are in my ear. They’ve lived up to the hype.

    Cases

    Both Spectacles and AirPods come with high quality cases that charge the devices. The Spectacles case is bulky and I find charging without easier. The AirPods case is excellent. Bye bye Wires! Carrying a small case is a subtle improvement that affects me every day.

    Simplicity

    Spectacles and AirPods are simple and limited. Unlike Google Glass before it, Spectacles do one thing and only one thing. Spectacles can not take photos. At first, this seems odd but Snap has learned from Google’s missteps. Snap may be limiting the ability to take photos to thwart the privacy concerns. The light allows someone to know when someone is recording but a photo would be harder to convey to others.
     
    AirPods have only one gesture, a double tap, which you may set to contact Siri or play/pause. I miss not being able to adjust the volume with my headphones. This constraint has affected my behavior. After years of slow adoption, AirPods has increased my Siri usage.

    Coolness

    Both products have that X factor of coolness. Not very scientific but the products look and feel cool. People are curious about both and strangers will stop you to ask questions. In Venice the stops are more of an attack of how could I support Snap, who is “ruining” Venice. Spectacles, being smack dab on your face, get more questions than the AirPods. People express concern but are less freaked out about being recorded than I expected.
     
    The Spectacles’ storefront on Venice is the epitome of cool. Facebook or Twitter isn’t pulling something off like this and wouldn’t think it’s worth it. Facebook once caught criticism for no longer being cool, as if that signaled doom. Companies don’t have to be cool to be successful but coolness can be a differentiator. Right now, Snap owns cool in the Mobile Entertainment space.

    Bottom Line

    Spectacles and AirPods are simple, cool and useful. I will use AirPods nearly every day making their $159 price tag cheap considering the value. Spectacles won’t get that amount of use, I prefer the aesthetics and feel of my New Wayfarer Ray Bans. Now that I live in Sunny LA, I’m sure I’ll wear them over 100 times this year. At $129, they’re worth it….as long as you don’t lose em!

    Young Users

    Posted: March 31st, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: facebook, Product, snapchat, Uncategorized | Tags: , , | No Comments »

    giphy (2)

    Old habits die hard. As you get older your mental models of the world become more rigid. You know what you know but ya start becoming closed off to trying new things.

    People making products, especially products with a shitload of users, run into this all the time. As processors and cellular networks improve, new features are possible but people are stubborn, they like the way they do X and they’re not trying to change it.

    Facebook, with over a billion users, has a tough task on hand. They don’t cater to the lowest common denominator but they don’t cater to their advanced, or power users either. This means Facebook doesn’t release the most advanced product they can, Facebook makes concessions so they can release a product that will be widely used.

    Snapchat, on the other hand, is doing an excellent job of capitalizing on bandwidth and smartphone improvements. “Stories” – a mixture of photos and videos that users create using the editing tools Snapchat provide are a perfect example of this. When Facebook came out, sharing videos was a pain in the ass, it was slow and cameras weren’t readily available. People form a mental model around what Facebook is as they use it and when things change it becomes difficult for companies to break out of the box their user base sees them in.

    Facebook has done a great job pushing against that tide and have made huge inroads with videos, some say they’re even surpassing youtube, but taking a video of yourself and uploading it to Facebook is not the ubiquitous behavior you see in Snapchat.

    Snapchat has a much younger and more open minded user base and this allows them to be more aggressive with their product. When Snapchat Chat 2.0 was released on 3/29 I was curious if they were going to push the envelope in the chat game. Sure enough, they delivered.

    The chat game is crowded, as I pontified on before. It’s hard to make inroads but one of the ways to get started is to piggyback on your social network’s user base. Unlike Facebook and Instagram that have public ways of giving props, Snapchat lacks this which encourages users to send a chat if they like a Story or have something to say. It’s funny because, like the name implies, Snapchat started off as an ephemeral chatting app, evolved into a Social Network and is now getting back to its roots and beefing up its chatting abilities.

    It’s one thing to release cool features it’s another to have them be used. At 33, most of my friends will be reluctant to embracing the new features. The majority in my age group insist on using feature-poor iMessage or SMS. Luckily I’m on the older side of Snapchat’s user base. Snapchat Chat 2.0 will be immediately embraced by their users. For whatever reason I find the stickers lame (too old?) but I look forward to seeing my (younger) friends live stream, create small gif-like videos, annotate em with Snapchat’s editing tools, audio notes and more.