'Now photographs are used for talking' - Watch Snapchat's CEO explain what makes the app special


Evan Spiegel Snapchat logo


Snap CEO Evan Spiegel.

What exactly is Snapchat, and why is it potentially worth $25 billion?

You may have never used the app that's barreling towards a blockbuster IPO, but you've probably heard of it.

Even if you are one of Snapchat's 158 million daily users, you'll be interested in how its CEO Evan Spiegel explains the app.

Spiegel rarely does media interviews, but he laid out why he invented Snapchat and what makes it popular in a four-minute video posted on Snapchat's official YouTube channel in 2015.


The blurry video of Spiegel in his classic white v-neck is still the best concise explanation of how Snapchat works to date. Spiegel begins by giving a brief overview of how smartphones have changed the way we share photos, and how Snapchat fits into that trend. He also breaks down the app's somewhat confusing layout.

Here are the key takeaways:

  • Photos have always been used to save important memories and life moments, but thanks to the advent of smartphone cameras, now they are used for talking. "Snapchat really has to do with the way photographs have changed," according to Spiegel.
  • Photos used to be based on how we used desktop computers, so it was about "accumulation." You'd take a bunch of photos on a camera, plug the camera into the computer, and upload them somewhere into an album. Mobile phones enable us to have "instant expression," says Spiegel. "This is important as it relates to identity... Instant expression says my identity is who I am right now. It says I'm the result of everything I've ever done, but I'm not really the accumulation of all that stuff."
  • Snapchat is divided into three main screens. The app starts with the camera, because to begin a conversation you have to share a snap. It's a call to action in the same way a word processor starts with a flashing cursor. When you swipe left from the camera, you see a list of all your conversations, and when you swipe to the right, you see "stories," or "basically a collection of snaps."
  • The fact that snaps are organized into chronological order is what makes Snapchat different from other social networks, says Spiegel. Your Facebook, for example, has your most recent activity first and you have to scroll back to see the beginning. Since Snapchat always starts at the beginning of a moment, it gives stories a familiar feeling.
  • What's Snapchat about in one sentence? In the words of Spiegel, "It's all about talking with pictures and expressing yourself in the moment."

Spiegel is a billionaire on paper, and his company is aiming for a $25 billion valuation when it goes public, according to people familiar with the matter.

There's obviously a lot more to Snapchat than what Spiegel addresses in the video, like how it lets brands advertise through sponsored filters and video 'snap' ads. Snapchat is also a player in the media content business with Discover, a way for publications like the Daily Mail and National Geographic to share text and video stories.

Snapchat has also rebranded into Snap Inc. and renamed itself as a "camera company" in the last year. It's started selling camera-equipped glasses called Spectacles, and says it has more camera-related products on the way.


If you're interested in watching the full video of Spiegel talking to the camera about why his app is so special, you can see it below: