Exactly one year ago, on March 2, 2017, Snapchat maker Snap Inc. debuted on the stock market as a public company. The IPO itself was a mixed bag, but Snap's first quarter results were a disaster. As a newly public enterprise, Snap needed to establish credibility with Wall Street; it needed to convince investors that its growth story was only just beginning. That didn't quite work.
To make things worse, throughout the year CEO Evan Spiegel came across as an arrogant but naive kid challenging a merciless, seasoned opponent: Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg.
Although Snap redeemed itself somewhat by demonstrating tangible growth in its 2017 fourth-quarter results, the company had a harrowing year overall. The stock is down almost 30 percent from its first-day price around $24, currently hovering in the high teens. Spiegel's very real product genius didn't provide much of a competitive advantage, since Facebook and Instagram shamelessly copied Snapchat's most innovative features, one after another. Snap's much-hyped foray into hardware, Spectacles, flopped, calling into question Spiegel's pronouncements that Snap was "a camera company" rather than a social or messaging company.
Most recently, the redesign of Snapchat was panned by everyone. Power users such as Kylie Jenner and Maybelline, among many others, aired their doubts on Twitter. Investors expressed their own concerns by selling stock, causing shares to plunge 7 percent (albeit only for a day). Meanwhile, Spiegel will soon be enjoying "the third-highest annual payout ever received by a company's CEO," per Reuters.
Facebook users may be wondering about the social network's effect on society, but Snapchat users are wondering whether it's worth continuing to open the app.
I think im going to start posting more on my IG stories because Snapchat is pretty much cancelled.-- Jaclyn Hill (@Jaclynhill) February 28, 2018
Granted, Facebook's first year on the stock market was also terrible -- arguably even more terrible than Snap's. Zuckerberg turned the company around by nailing mobile growth and monetization; the stock has been on a steady upward trajectory ever since autumn 2013. To extend the comparison, people were annoyed when Facebook introduced its algorithmic timeline, but that turned out to be a masterful way to increase engagement and advertising load, helping the company ramp up its revenue.
Snap is certainly not identical to a young Facebook, and it's unclear whether there's an Instagram out there to be strategically subsumed, but the upstart's fate is still far from sealed. Spiegel could figure out his own version of Facebook's mobile turnaround.
Here's what he needs to do: come up with a product innovation that users find incredibly compelling. As compelling as using Facebook and Instagram was in late 2013 and early 2014. (Or, as compelling as Snapchat was to its first users in its first iteration.)
But Spiegel's challenge is not just to be innovative. He also has to come up with something impossible to copy. It's a tall order, but at a time when social media users are clearly feeling the desire for an alternative to Facebook, it shouldn't be impossible.
Correction: This article originally stated that Snap's IPO price was $24.48, which is not correct. The IPO price was $17, and $SNAP shares hit $24.48 within the stock's first day of trading.