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Q&A: Snapchat CEO Evan Spiegel talks sexts and growth

By Barbara Ortutay

Associated Press

Published: Friday, Nov. 1 2013 12:27 p.m. MDT

In this Thursday, Oct. 24, 2013, Snapchat CEO Evan Spiegel poses for photos, in Los Angeles. Spiegel dropped out of Stanford University in 2012, three classes shy of graduation, to move back to his father's house and work on Snapchat. Spiegel’s fast-growing mobile app lets users send photos, videos and messages that disappear a few seconds after they are received

Jae C. Hong, Associated Press

Evan Spiegel dropped out of Stanford University in 2012, three classes shy of graduation, to move back to his father's house and work on Snapchat. Spiegel's fast-growing mobile app lets users send photos, videos and messages that disappear a few seconds after they are received. Founded in 2011, Snapchat is especially popular with teenagers and young adults, but many parents fear the app is the ideal tool for sharing lewd photos, or "sexting."

In spite of the unfavorable baggage and no revenue, Snapchat is growing. The company has raised about $70 million in venture funding from investors such as Institutional Venture Partners and Benchmark Capital. The Pew Research Center found in a recent poll that 9 percent of American cell phone owners use Snapchat.

Spiegel's ideas about the permanence of digital data run counter to those of just about everyone else in the industry. "It would be better for everyone if we deleted everything by default and saved the things that are important to us," he says. "Right now most businesses are built on saving everything and then writing a ton of software to organize it and hopefully find the things that are important later."

The company recently added a feature called "Stories," which lets snaps live for 24 hours.

Speigel, 23, talked with The Associated Press about his app, and his plans for the company's future. The interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.

Q: The first thing many people think about Snapchat is its use for sexting. How do you address that?

A: The fun thing about Snapchat is really the surprise and the joy that comes from learning how to use it. But it was tough in the beginning. I can even remember when we were first trying to get people to get on the service, I stood on the (Santa Monica) promenade and I would go up to people and be like: "Hey, you should try this application. You can send disappearing photos." And they would say: "Oh for sexting," which kind of meant that we had to do a better job teaching people. And we're fine in how we described the service over time. Now, the growth of the service shows that it's about a lot more.

Q: What's the point of Snapchat?

A: It's fun. Period. And that's the most important part. Somewhere along the way when we were building social media products we forgot the reason we like to communicate with our friends is because it's fun. People started conceiving of their friends as networking tools, like 'friend me so you can be friends with someone else' or 'the more people you know, the more networked you are.' But we see real value in having a fun conversation with your friends.

Q: How did you come up with the idea?

A: A buddy of mine was bummed about a photo he (regretted sending). And so we started looking at some of the other applications in the space that were doing disappearing texts, photo, video. And they really had a hard time because there was a lot of stigma around deleting things. But when Bobby and I built the prototype and started using it, we realized how much fun we were having sending the photos back and forth. And based on our experience with the application we were able to do a good job describing how ephemeral content can make an experience that is really fun, exciting and way more engaging.

Q: Would the service be as popular without the disappearing aspect?

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