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snap: Exclusive: Android push powers Snapchat’s India drive


Mumbai: Snap Inc., parent of ephemeral messaging app Snapchat, sees India as a priority market, having just breached the
100 million monthly user base in the country, cofounder and CEO
Evan Spiegel told ET in an interview.

While India has been an important geography for other social media giants such as Facebook —it’s home to the platform’s largest user base–Snap had kept itself largely confined to the US, a predominantly iPhone market. Spiegel, who turned down Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg’s overtures to acquire Snap in 2013, told ET that rebuilding the Android version of the app for India made a big difference in scaling its presence, along with localising the product and putting together a team on the ground. India is now Snap’s second-largest market, in terms of user base, after the US.

The last two-three years for the company in India have been “exciting,” he said.

“We had to rebuild our Android application, which was a huge project for the business,” said Spiegel, 31. “After we did that, we started to see a lot more traction in India because so many folks use Android smartphones.”

Striking Partnerships in India

“Now we’ve been able to build on that momentum with more locally relevant experiences and our team on the ground,” he said.

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The slow adoption of the Android operating system, dominant in the India mobile market, was one of the reasons Snap struggled against Facebook-owned Instagram.

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It’s still early days for Snap in terms of revenue generation in India. While the company clocked an increase of net new advertisers by 70% last year it’s now striking partnerships such as the ones it announced Wednesday with ecommerce firm Flipkart and food-delivery platform Zomato, among others.

“We’ve been far more focused on making sure that the app experience is relevant and fun for our community, and on the growth of our community overall,” he said. “So, I think we’ll continue to prioritise that and slowly learn more about how we can best serve advertisers in India.”

After going public in 2017, Snap faced intense competition from Facebook’s photo sharing app Instagram, which launched the ‘Story’ feature, similar to what the Los Angeles-based company was famous for.

Having struggled in its home market for user growth, ad revenue and retention amid aggressive moves by Facebook, Snap started making a turnaround over the past year and has since continued on the same path.

SnapchatETtech

“I think if we go back to the same 2017-2018 timeframe, we made a couple of really big, long-term bets at the time that put a lot of short-term negative pressure on the company,” Spiegel said.

The company moved to a programmatic advertising platform, which adversely affected ad revenue, and it didn’t push Android.

“It was a perfect storm at the time–revenue headwinds, user growth had challenges, there was the Android platform, and a lot of changes to our leadership team,” he said. “Even though all of those decisions were right for Snap in the long term, there was short-term pressure, which obviously concerned people, investors… But I think now several years later, those decisions have proven to be, you know, the right long-term decisions.”

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Snap earnings snapshotETtech

Facebook, Big Tech

Asked about the
heavy criticism directed against Facebook and other Big Tech companies, Spiegel said the challenges were not necessarily faced by all of them but were focused on “one large platform,” without naming it.

“That business has a really large influence and operates multiple very large platforms that reach billions of people,” said Spiegel. “And when people inside that company find a problem, they’re not being allowed to fix it, and I think that’s really concerning.”

Facebook and Zuckerberg have been under fire for prioritising profit over the wellbeing of users amid accusations by former
Facebook employee turned whistleblower Frances Haugen, who has testified before the US Congress. The concurrent leak of internal documents has bolstered the narrative.

And, has Snap gained from this backlash?

“I don’t think it’s the anti-Big Tech sentiment that’s benefiting Snap. Bobby (Murphy, cofounder of Snap) and I were the first generation actually to grow up with social media and understand its impact,” he said. “Our first blog post talked about this specific problem. And so I think the reason why Snapchat has been really successful in this environment is because it offers something different. We offered that long before there was any sentiment about privacy, about Big Tech, any of these big societal issues that we have today.”

The most “difficult and frustrating” aspect of fast-moving technologies is that founders have to take moral responsibility from the start; regulation is usually “far too late,” Spiegel said.

“I think what will be vitally important, going forward, is that all technology companies, anyone working on new technology products, is thinking from the beginning about the impact on society and making sure they’re doing the right thing to serve, not only their the community of people using their products, but the broader world,” Spiegel said.

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Privacy and safety

Spiegel, who spoke to ET on a video call from Los Angeles, said Snap was primarily a platform offering private conversations between friends and family through the visual medium. That was a core differentiator, making it distinct from social networking apps high on “social comparison.” While reiterating the private nature of conversations taking place on the platform, Snap was always trying to find the right balance between safety and privacy, just like democracies, he said.

“I think our general framework at Snapchat is that if you’re having a private conversation with friends, you have the right to privacy. If the government wants to access that conversation, they need to do so through legal due process,” he said. “The way we are designed is really to protect private conversations between individuals. And I think that is a core foundational element of democracy. So I think democracies have always tried to balance privacy and safety. And we do that as well.”



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