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Investors be Warned: Snapchat's IPO and Future

Snap Inc is preparing for its IPO this week. Technical shortcomings, poor monetization, and the looming giant Facebook will create problems for Snapchat if it doesn’t evolve quickly.

By

Rob Moore

February 28, 2017

Snapchat’s parent company, Snap Inc, is preparing for its initial public offering (IPO) this week. This will be the largest IPO since Alibaba went public in 2014. Speaking of which, Alibaba, the Chinese tech giant, saw a 10% drop in stock prices after its IPO. Twitter and Facebook, Snapchat’s closest related IPO predecessors, both suffered even steeper declines in stock prices in their early months after going public. Twitter prices sunk 25% in the first 6 months after IPO. Facebook prices dropped 50% in their first 5 months.

In comparison to Facebook and Twitter, Snap Inc is limping to the starting line. Snapchat is witnessing seriously concerning drops in user acquisitions, and their price-to-sales ratio will far exceed historical marks when the stock opens at $14–$16. Putting all that aside, Snapchat has much more deep-seated troubles. The nature of their platform itself puts them in serious risk to follow the paths of Vine and Yik Yak on a much larger and more devastating scale.

Snapchat has no user history.

Instagram has your photos. Twitter has your tweets. Facebook has your…everything. But Snapchat? Snapchat was built on the idea of temporary content. There are no Snapchat profiles. There are no Snapchat timelines.

Snapchat has badges. Snapchat has points. Snapchat users…do

This is all to say — if someone rolled out a better platform tomorrow, there would be very little holding you to Snapchat. If that “someone” was the multi-billion dollar giant Facebook with infrastructure and tech chops which dwarf Snapchat, well then I think it’s safe to assume our ghostly friend has some serious concerns in front of them.

Snapchat has depleted its users’ goodwill.

Technical shortcomings

Snapchat started as a really fun app. People forgave its technical shortcomings because it was new and it was different. But after 5 years, people have run out of good faith handouts for Snapchat.

Snapchat is a true battery slayer. Its camera has always been laggy. Messages disappear when they shouldn’t and stick around when you don’t want them to. On the Apple Store, the Snapchat app has slumped its way down to a 2.5 star rating. For Android users, things are even worse, with Snapchat publicly admitting to prioritizing Apple development over Android development.

Snapchat continues to release new versions with bugs that should have been fixed long ago — bugs that Facebook would never tolerate in their products.

Thoughtless monetization before adding relevant user features

Simply put, Snapchat has always put the 💰 in front of the 🙋.

The latest of Snapchat’s profit schemes is filled with untamed droves of clickbait of the lowest form. Hand to my heart, I opened Snapchat and these are the first 5 ads I saw:

  1. "We Can Guess What Number You're Thinking Of"
  2. "These Fifty Shades' Memes Will Make You Say WTF"
  3. "Taking Glitter to the Next Level"
  4. "What Romance Prison Actually Looks Like"
  5. "Corset Must be Kylie!"

Need I say more? In a world of targeted ads and content-driven marketing, Snapchat is a decade behind.

Sadly, this is actually Snapchat’s most successful first monetization effort to date. Remember when Snapchat tried to sell their filters? Remember Snapcash? Jokes.

Meanwhile, while Snapchat spends their time and money on troublesome profit schemes, the grocery list of user features that should have been implemented long ago continues to grow. Features that were asked for and ignored. Features that will be implemented seamlessly within the Facebook and Instagram ecosystems:

Option for auto-save. Snapchat started off as a disappearing photo app, but its purpose has shifted into the go-to app for mass picture sending. People use Snapchat for some of their most memorable moments and users should not have to remember to “save to camera roll” before sending. At the very least, there should at least be the option to enable auto-save or the temporary ability to save after sending. Something.

Groups. For the last 4 years, you’ve had to scroll through your entire contacts list to find your 3 roommates whom you send 80% of your

Record indefinitely but only send the last 10 seconds. I was at a college basketball game this past year. The game was coming down the wire and I wanted to catch the last moments on Snapchat. Long story short, my 10 seconds of video ran out about 0.5 seconds too soon. While this may not be a priority feature, it’s something that would show that Snapchat is creating for their users, not for their users’ dollars.

Facebook is out for blood.

In August 2016 Instagram launched its version of Snapchat stories. In the first 6 months, it has seen the masses switching over from Snapchat. In January 2017 a Snapchat-like feature was added to Facebook Messenger. And just last week, Facebook-owned Whatsapp released its own version of Snapchat stories, where users can share images with their contacts for 24 hours.

Look at the impact Instagram Stories alone has had on Snapchat. In Q2 2016, Snapchat saw the largest growth of active users in 2 years — a strong indication that they still have plenty of room to expand before reaching market saturation. But this explosive growth has been followed by two very slow quarters for Snapchat following the release of Instagram Stories in August 2016.

In 2013, Facebook offered $3 billion to buy Snapchat. In 2017, Facebook’s takeover of Snapchat won’t be so cordial.

The reason Snapchat may stick around.

Life’s more fun when you live in the moment.

This is Snapchat’s slogan. It alludes to their original purpose as an ephemeral messaging and photo sharing app. Fast-forward 4 years: people don’t use Snapchat because they want their photos to disappear. People use Snapchat because it has created a channel for low-obligation communication.

A photo sent on Facebook carries a social burden. It’s personal and typically demands a response or at least acknowledgment. Snaps, on the other hand, are designed to be sent to the masses. This places

Snapchat is not all bad. In fact, it’s mostly good. Snapchat has brought a ton of value in the past 5 years, but it must now evolve in order to survive.

Check out my work on Instagram or follow me on Medium for more writing on photography, startups, and data visualization. 

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