Leaked Sony Emails Reveal What Happened When Snapchat Turned Down Billions Of Dollars From Facebook


evan spiegel houseLucas Jackson / Reuters, Facebook / David Offers Fine Homes

Last year, Facebook famously offered to buy Snapchat for a few billion dollars. Snapchat declined.


Some people thought Snapchat and its CEO Evan Spiegel, now 24, were insane. Others thought it was a brilliantly gutsy move to build a great company alone.

So why did Spiegel and Snapchat really turn down Facebook? And who leaked the deal to the press? And what was the offer amount really?

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A bunch of those questions are discussed in dozens of emails sent between Sony, Snapchat board members, and Snapchat's CEO. The emails were leaked as part of a massive attack on Sony's email systems, which has unearthed unflattering emails about actresses and executives already.

The price Facebook offered: More than $3 billion

It sounds like it was more than $3 billion. Malcolm Gladwell sent an email to Snapchat board member (and Sony Entertainment CEO) Michael Lynton asking if the company was crazy to turn down $3 billion.  Lynton replied:


if you knew the real number you would book us all a suite at Bellvue [all sic].

How much Spiegel would have gotten if he had sold: ~ $1 billion

It sounds like $1 billion. One email written by Benchmark's Mitch Lasky, who sits on Snapchat's board, wrote about it in a ticked-off email about a botched deal with Tencent:

Evan proposed a new deal today to Tencent and DST that includes $40MM in secondary for him and Bobby. Never told me ... in fact told me the exact opposite. When I confronted him about it, he said, "well I just turned down a billion from Zuck." [all sic] 

Who leaked the deal to the press? Zuckerberg blames Snapchat

Understandably, Zuckerberg wasn't thrilled when news of Snapchat's refusal hit the press. According to an email written by Lasky, Zuckerberg pulled Snapchat investor and early Facebook employee Matt Cohler aside and accused Snapchat of leaking it to boost fundraising efforts. From Lasky's email:

Confidentially, Zuck pinged Cohler during the peak of the news cycle on the acquisition leak. He was disappointed that the deal didn't get done, but also believes that you leaked this to the press in order to bolster your fundraising efforts. Cohler told him that he could easily make the argument that FB leaked it to put pressure on Snapchat, or that it was leaked by a third party. Regardless, my advice is to be the bigger person and call Zuck and apologize for the leak (even though it wasn't your fault) and deny any culpability. I know you have no interest in selling to him, but you want to keep on good terms with the enemy. :)

Spiegel said he had already been texting with Zuckerberg and agreed to apologize.

So, just how difficult was it for Snapchat to turn down Facebook's multi-billion-dollar offer? Very.

As you can imagine, it's not easy to turn down $1 billion+. There's no email from Spiegel explaining his thought process, but Mitch Lasky explains what he observed from the young founder in one leaked document. He also says Spiegel wasn't thrilled with the offer. According to Lasky:

I've talked to him a couple of times each day since late last week and he's been oscillating back and forth between appearing to want to sell the business and wanting to go long twice a day. It's difficult to know how to help him as I don't know what he wants to do.

I think while he liked the team and idea of Facebook, he's been disappointed with the number he's getting from Zuck, so he's now characterizing his conversations with Facebook as a gambit to scare a higher number out of the Series C investors.  But at the same time he's had [Frank] Quattrone and the Qatalyst guys in building models, which again he is characterizing now as "free work" and that he had no intention of actually retaining them. Again, hard to believe he needed Quattrone to make Tencent invest at a higher number.