Snap Talent: The Messaging App's Appropriately “Disruptive” Approach To People

11 March 2017 By Alastair Cleland

1550 Original

​What’s it like to work for tech’s hottest of the hot? Snap Inc. (formerly Snapchat), perhaps unsurprisingly, breaks the mould when it comes to people management. We take a look at the company’s unusual hiring, management and leadership quirks.  

For a communications company, Snap Inc is surprisingly uncommunicative. As the creators of a “red hot social network” with 100’s of millions of users globally (and counting... fast!) you’d expect their headquarters to be a buzz of ideas and interaction.

That’s certainly how tech titans like Facebook, Google and Twitter like to portray themselves - as organizations that are a hotbed of shared creativity, incubating new products and encouraging teamwork. Lively and collaborative.

But Snapchat isn’t Facebook, Google or Twitter. This newest kid on the multi-billion IPO block is doing ‘people’ in its own way. For one thing, Snap Inc. has no mega-campus. Instead, its physical base sprawls over a number of completely separate, smaller offices. Then there’s the heavily top-down management style, a speed-driven approach to hiring and internal secrecy - lots and lots of secrecy. In fact, according to many reports - from an internal perspective, the whole operation’s a touch chaotic.

Snap Inc.’s all-powerful CEO Evan Spiegel is actively pursuing a wholly different HR and management philosophy to those who came before, aiming to emulate predecessors’ success whilst sidestepping their mistakes. What’s characterising this new approach? And could ‘people’ management be the making - or breaking - of Snap Inc.?

How Snap Inc Hires, Manages and Fires People...

1 ...By Demanding Intimate Product Knowledge From Day Zero

Those seeking work at Snap’s Venice Beach offices, or any of its other offices worldwide, better know the product inside and out. Night-before swotting up is unlikely to cut the mustard - interviewers demand deep product knowledge to prove genuine understanding of its features and audiences. Cited questions - perhaps deceptively simple - include:

  • “Which brand is using Snapchat well?”

  • “How would you solve bullying on Snapchat?”

  • “What is something you noticed in the consistency of Our Stories?”

  • “If you could rename Snapchat without using the words snap or chat what would you name it?"

Oh - and if that’s not enough, you’d better have entrepreneurial tendencies running through your veins because (as specified in one job advert):

“We are looking for candidates with the highest performance standards, who are proactive, and driven by results. We are looking for leaders who have built a consistent career of excellence and achievement in both the workplace and academic environment, can execute well and flourish in an entrepreneurial environment, and can work across and up and down a dynamic organization.”

Phew. Get through all of that and you’ll be entitled to join the ranks of their self-proclaimed friendly, creative, people-centred vibe:

2 ...By Shamelessly Poaching From Top 10 Tech Titans

​Alright - so poaching isn’t exactly a phenomenon unique to Snap Inc. But the messaging app has certainly made a bit of a habit of extremely high-profile acquisitions from rival firms in Silicon Valley and beyond.

In London, Snap reportedly brought on an entire team of developers direct from Amazon. The poach, reported in January by Business Insider, was apparently instigated by development manager Ricky Leatham who brought around 8 former reports to the new company.

Obama’s former White House Strategic Communications Adviser, Rachel Racusen, was recently tempted into the company to work on ‘global content and crisis communication’. Clearly, highly targeted behind-the-scenes operation is hard at work, tasked with bringing Snap Inc the very best talent the market has to offer.

There are rumblings of ulterior motives for these hires. In January this year, a former employee who moved from Facebook filed against the company: "The real reason Snapchat hired Mr. Pompliano away from Facebook was not to build a growth team, but for the nefarious purpose of obtaining Facebook's confidential and proprietary information." Again, nothing hugely unusual for rapid-growth tech companies - but with investors watching Snap Inc. so closely, every move matters.

3 ...By Operating An “Anti-Transparent” Internal Communications Policy

​Incredibly few people at Snap Inc. hold a complete picture of company plans or product roadmaps. Even now, having listed publicly on the stock exchange, the inner workings of Snapchat HQ remain a mystery, not only to onlookers but even to employees themselves. “Information is very anti-transparent… everyone has different information” explained one employee. Staff regularly find out about new product launches and changes in direction from the press, along with everyone else.

Unlike at Google, Twitter and Facebook, all-hands meetings are few and far between, and light on detail if held at all. In fact, the company’s entire setup is intentionally orchestrated to silo knowledge. Headquarters is actually a string of independent offices along Venue Beach boardwalk, California. CEO Evan Spiegel drops in as required, escorted in tinted-glass vehicles.

As an architecture of control - it’s inspired. The payoff? A culture that’s vastly less susceptible to leaks and ‘groupthink’, allowing teams freer creative reign. (At least - that’s the idea.)

4 ...By Having No Qualms About Showing Employees The Door

Unless you’ve got really close to the boss, Snap Inc. may not lose too much sleep if you decide to move on. In fact - even those who’ve made it to the top ranks seem unusually at risk of departure. Key figures have quit or been pushed out in recent years. It seems life at Snap isn’t for everyone.

Waves were made when ex-Instagram COO Emily White left the company after just over a year, along with head of sales Mike Randall, who left after even less. Snap Inc reportedly “hit the reset” button on its ads programme after that, with CEO Evan Spiegel taking back greater control. Success or failure - both seem to offer paths to the door at Snap Inc.

An even earlier exit was made by ousted employee Reggie Brown who claims co-ownership of the product’s core IP. Brown contends that is was he who original proposed the ‘ephemeral photo’ concept, but was unceremoniously dropped from the company without compensation. Following a 2013 lawsuit, the company paid Brown a $157.5 million settlement in 2014.

5 ...By Utilising Highly Autocratic, Creatively-Driven Leadership

​Snapchat’s co-creator, CEO and leader is 26-year old Stanford almost-graduate Evan Spiegel. Now worth an eye-watering $5 billion, Spiegel is a licensed helicopter pilot, drives a Ferrari and is engaged to former-Victoria’s Secret model Miranda Kerr. (Quick reminder: all this from a ‘messaging app, where the messages disappear after a while’!)

Former employees describe how you don’t work with Evan. You definitely don’t take the lead or ‘manage up’. No, when you work at Snap Inc. you very much work for the boss. The company’s secrecy and autocratic approach clearly emanates from Evan himself, who likes to conduct walking meetings along the boardwalk - where conversations are hard to eavesdrop - and rarely speaks publicly.

Yet there’s no denying Snapchat’s success, and undoubtedly much of that can be directly attributed to the man in charge. Creatively, Spiegel is said to be comparable with Zuckerberg and the late Steve Jobs - whose picture hangs on his office wall. So great are Spiegel’s product design talents, in fact, that one journalist who profiled him encountered “several” sources who “casually likened him to Picasso.”

Perhaps that’s just the way leadership has to be in this next generation of tech enterprise?