Chat, Don’t Snap

Reactions to Evan Spiegel’s alleged comment are a reflection on him — and us

Written by Utkarsh Amitabh | Updated: April 18, 2017 6:01 am
Snapchat, Snapchat CEO Evan Spiegel, Evan Spiegel, Snapchat CEO, Evan Spiegel Poor India comment, Evan Spiegel anti-India comment, Evan Spiegel vs Anthony Pompliano lawsuit, Snapchat Lawsuit, Snapchat Anthony Pompliano, Snapchat India rankings, Snapchat Users India Evan Spiegel allegedly said that Snapchat was only for rich people, not for poor countries like India and Spain. (Source: Reuters)

Snapchat is a popular image messaging and multimedia mobile application where messages are fleeting, just like several relationships are today. Young couples and potential partners share digital intimacy on it through charming photo filters, decorated messages and hilarious cat videos. In 2015, Snapchat CEO Evan Spiegel allegedly said that Snapchat was only for rich people, not for poor countries like India and Spain.

This came under public scrutiny — generating a storm of opinion — when Snap Inc., the parent company, dropped its efforts to keep the complaints of an ex-employee, Anthony Pompliano, under seal. Within a day of this alleged statement becoming public in India, the app rating dropped from “five star” to a “single star” on the App Store. Things intensified further: Some users even confused Snapchat for Snapdeal and deleted or downgraded the app used by the e-commerce platform.

Responding to criticisms of digital racism and of having wounded the national pride of India and Spain, a Snapchat spokesperson said that the app was meant for “everyone”. The words used in a media response reportedly were: “This is ridiculous… It’s available worldwide to download for free.”

There are three quick realisations to note here — public opinion now travels at the speed of light; technology moves faster than public opinion; taking offence seems to be emerging as a fundamental right.

Personally speaking, I take great pride in India’s national heritage, our rich history, our pluralism, our democratic values, our remarkable economic growth in the past few years and our impressive achievements in science, literature and technology. I do not need validation by the CEO of any multinational to bolster my belief. She or he can have a personal opinion which might contradict mine. I will respect her or his right to have their view — as well as my own right to agree to disagree. National pride is not made of glass: Provocations should strengthen, not shatter it.

Let us explore what technologists and marketers call “product-market fit”. This means being in a good market with a product that can satisfy that particular market. India has one of the largest mobile penetrations in the world and most of its users are under 35 years as well as aspirational beings. To date, there are approximately four million Snapchat users in India. Several businesses are also starting to use apps like Snapchat and Instagram. Recent growth figures suggest that the product-market fit has been more than established.

With this in mind, let us address the thorny question of Evan Spiegel reportedly calling India and Spain too poor for consideration. If Mr Spiegel actually did utter those words, it speaks volumes about him as a CEO and a human being. First, he apparently grossly underestimated the digital revolution and the market potential of India. This would not speak highly of his managerial and executive acumen.

Second, he seemingly put India and Spain in the same category based on income levels. This again would seriously question his grasp of economics. Third, his core motivation apparently was to cater to “rich people.” While that does sound crass, he is not the only CEO who might hold this opinion. Many luxury products are designed, manufactured and marketed only for “rich people”. Without taking a moral stand here, it is clear that these decisions are often dictated by economic factors, market analyses and the free will of the entrepreneur.

Further, Evan Spiegel is the CEO of a freely available digital application. A basic online search of the revenue potential of digital products and applications in different economic segments in the coming decade will resoundingly invalidate his alleged hypothesis; again, not exactly brownie points for smart decision-making. Now, let us consider the possible scenario of Spiegel not actually having said any of this.

What if all this was just a disgruntled employee trying to settle a score? Based on the information available, can we say beyond reasonable doubt that Evan Spiegel is a digital racist? We can’t. But perhaps, we can testify to our own selves being somewhat thin-skinned. How about tempering our certitude and letting the facts speak for themselves?

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  1. S
    Seema
    Apr 20, 2017 at 2:56 pm
    Different Perspective !! Here's what I think - If its a personal opinion, it should be kept personal.You are way more responsible for what you speak when you are in the public domain or your product is - more so - not only it reflects on you as a human but also how much business sense it makes to speak all that you did.Even if your product IS targeted at the niche crowd, you will alienate a big section of the society who meet have a potential to use your product.....just by saying such irresponsible stuff. Yes, Its a national insult - to call a progressive country like ours as "poor".He didn't do his homework for sure.It shows how immatured you are and age matters!
    Reply
    1. S
      Seshubabu Kilambi
      Apr 18, 2017 at 7:52 pm
      The statement may be out and out racist but it demonstrates the high- handed character of a rich person
      Reply
      1. N
        nagarajabillur
        Apr 18, 2017 at 4:55 pm
        Get kicked. Say I am thick skinned. Blow does not hurt and hurt does not damage.
        Reply
        1. S
          sahil
          Apr 18, 2017 at 12:46 pm
          it hurts the bharatiya pride because it was said by a white man. fuhrer has sold them the dummy that they are superpower now & the white world loves them, now they get to hear the truth & wake up. Meanwhile those who are hurt are a minuscule percentage of the po tion i.e. the arm chair army, majority are still fighting for roti kapda makan dukan etc.
          Reply
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            Tushar
            Apr 18, 2017 at 10:45 am
            Strategical promotion..that's it.With such a statement they have managed to bring the snap chat in many people s notice ...and half of them.will download it and install it .. That's it. Lol
            Reply
            1. M
              Menco
              Apr 18, 2017 at 1:55 am
              Of course India is a poor country. True we should all be proud of the accomplishments in the last 20 years. The urban centers are booming and entrepreneurship is driving growth. But let's not fool ourselves. There is a stark economic inequity amongst the 1.2 billion people. Perhaps the top 10 percent have the means to afford the fruits of the progress thus far. At least half a billion people want for the basic necessities of life. The poor beggar child on the street and the struggling farmer trying to feed his family are also Indian, not just just the urban yuppy taking exception to Speogel's alleged comment. So while upward mobility etc is great let's not forget the fact that there are hundreds of millions of Indians who don't have the basic needs to live with dignity. They are Indians too, the poor Indians that we like to hide from sight or our consciousness.
              Reply
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