Evan Spiegel, Snapchat’s 24-year-old CEO, spoke at the University of Southern California’s Marshall School of Business commencement on Friday.
Spiegel came up with the idea for Snapchat while working on a class project as a student at Stanford in 2010. He initially called it Picaboo.
With two of his fraternity brothers, Spiegel left Stanford in 2012 to develop Snapchat before he completed his degree.
During his very short speech at Friday’s commencement — he only spoke for ten minutes — Spiegel talked about his own graduation ceremony three years ago, in which he listened to Cory Booker speak “for what felt like a really long time.” Then he walked across the stage to receive an empty diploma case. Spiegel left Stanford just a few credits shy during his senior year after he raised a seed round of financing.
“It only recently occurred to me how totally absurd this whole [graduation] charade was,” Spiegel said. “We do all sorts of silly things to avoid appearing different.”
For Spiegel, being different meant starting a company and not completing his college education.
“Conformity is so fascinating and so pervasive that it has been studied for a very long time,” he continued. “It turns out there are two things that can dramatically reduce conformity in a group setting. The first is a single dissenting voice. The second is the ability to communicate privately with other members of the group.”
Another time Spiegel didn’t conform was when he decided not to sell Snapchat to Facebook for billions of dollars. Facebook made him an offer at least twice, and Spiegel reportedly walked away both times. Spiegel says the question he receives most often now is, “Why didn’t you sell your business?”
“It doesn’t even make money. It’s a fad. You could be on a boat right now. Everyone loves boats. What’s wrong with you?’” Spiegel recalled. “I am now convinced that the fastest way to figure out if you are doing something truly important to you is to have someone offer you a bunch of money to part with it,” Spiegel said, referencing Facebook’s offer to buy Snapchat for $3 billion.
“The best thing is that, no matter whether or not you sell, you will learn something very valuable about yourself. If you sell, you will know immediately that it wasn’t the right dream anyways. And if you don’t sell you’re probably onto something. Maybe you have the beginning of something meaningful,” he added.
“When we decided not to sell our business people called us a lot of things besides crazy — things like arrogant and entitled. The same words that I’ve heard used to describe our generation time and time again. The Millennial Generation. The ‘Me’ Generation. Well, it’s true,” Spiegel said. “We do have a sense of entitlement, a sense of ownership, because, after all, this is the world we were born into, and we are responsible for it.”
Before leaving the stage, Spiegel imparted several other pieces of advice to the young audience:
“The greatest thing we can do is provide the best possible foundation for those who come after us.”
“Have faith in yourself. Know that you will be capable of all the growth expected of you, and that you expect of yourself.”
“Someone will always have an opinion of you. Whatever you do will never be enough. So find something important to you, something you love.”
“You’re going to make a lot of mistakes. Just apologize as quickly as you can and pray for forgiveness.”
“You’re going to face a challenge, a full time job. The hardest part is going to be getting used to solving problems that don’t have answers.”
“I beg you to remember that it is not possible to know the end results of our efforts.”
“Please voice your dissent. Anticipate your erasure. And find something you aren’t willing to sell.”