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Think Big. Move Fast.

When we invested in Snapchat a year ago it had a few hundred thousand installs, but incredible retention and frequency of usage. Evan and Bobby painted a compelling story of how ephemeral messaging created a more real and authentic mode of communication, one where you weren’t “performing” for the every present audience in most social media, from Facebook to Instagram to Twitter. We believed in their vision but the growth that Snapchat has seen has exceeded anyones wildest predictions. No wonder they won the Crunchie for Fastest Rising Startup of 2012.

A lot of people still don’t understand the core use case for Snapchat. Mostly people who don’t use the product much I suspect. I recently read a couple of blog posts that capture it pretty well. Leah Culver says:

“To write it off as just a sexting app is to underestimate the power of it’s simplicity. I’ve been sending snaps to friends for a couple weeks and there’s something very liberating about taking a quick photo. It can be a crappy photo. It can be silly. I don’t need to spend 15 minutes setting up the perfect shot or scrolling though filter options.

Snapchat is just a simple way to communicate with someone else. On the communication spectrum from lightest (texting?) to heaviest (email?) it’s probably even lighter than texting. Crazy.

I love that there’s no comments. As far as I can tell, the only way to reply is to send another snapchat. I usually just post whatever I happen to be doing at the moment. It’s like Twitter without having to bother to actually write anything. Here’s me! Eating a sandwich!”

She captures the advantage of the incredibly lightweight nature of the interaction, and the low “performance anxiety” pressure very well.

Snapchat first caught on among college students and highschool students, and here is some commentary from a Yale student that also helps illustrate the appeal of Snapchat who says that about two thirds of his friends are using Snapchat, up from zero six months ago:

“Snapchat’s time limits make snaps more engaging. Since snaps disappear seconds after they are opened, users feel comfortable sending spontaneous and personal messages that they would not want ingrained into digital histories. Sending a headshot to a friend via text feels forced, but sending a warm gaze or a silly face via Snapchat is natural. Snapchat pictures tend to be candid and unprepared, which makes the messages feel more personal, more real. Additionally, since every message has a time limit, users are present when opening snaps. Snapchat attracts its users’ full attention since they have only a few seconds to capture the details of each message. This engagement makes the experience more satisfying – it feels like a real conversation. Interestingly, Snapchat maintains the feeling of a one-on-one conversation even when messaging groups.

Here’s the secret sauce to Snapchat’s viral growth: its group messaging functionality. When a user sends a snap to multiple friends, the recipients receive a snap indistinguishable from an individualized message. In effect, mass snaps feel personalized. This is the holy grail of messaging platforms: evoking strong emotion with minimal friction. Consider this emotion/friction matrix:

High Emotion Low Emotion
High Friction Handwritten Letter Morse Code
Low Friction Mass SnapChat Mass Texting (MMS)

The virality of a messaging platform equals its emotion-friction ratio, and the Snapchat paradigm maximizes this virality coefficient. A Snapchat of a funny face will evoke a visceral reaction in the recipient before they have time to consider the meaning behind the message. Conversely, when someone receives an MMS, the first thing they see is the recipient list. Users immediately dissect mass text messages before experiencing them. To solve this problem, Snapchat is intentionally ambiguous. Since the meaning behind a snap is opaque, Snapchat alleviates senders’ social inhibitions. This is revolutionary: by altering the social dynamics of digital messaging, Snapchat created an atmosphere in which people share more openly.

Have you ever felt self-conscious about your “texting ratio” after you send three or four texts without a response? Snapchat has no messaging history; it relieves insecurities about message imbalances. Problem solved.

Have you ever sent someone a joke via text then feel insecure after not receiving an immediate response? You read and re-read your message, thinking “How did (s)he interpret my text? Was my joke funny?” In Snapchat, you can’t read your sent messages, so there’s no past correspondence to dwell upon. Problem solved.

Snapchat improves the messaging experience because it minimizes the inhibitions of texting.”

This idea of full attention plus intimacy is another big appeal. If you didn’t “get” Snapchat before, hopefully this helps you understand the appeal.

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