Matt Williams: how Snapchat’s Evan Spiegel broke the rules but became a success

One thing everyone is excellent at here at Cannes is overanalysing things. Why did that award win over that one? Why did they pick that shot? Hell, we even spend a rather large quantity of time debating the reasons for being here, as opposed to actually getting on with embracing the festival.

Which is why it’s always funny when a fresh-faced tech entrepreneur from the likes of Twitter or Facebook is wheeled out on stage in front of the adoring crowd.

Obviously these guys have something special about them. And they’re surrounded by tech geniuses who have the know-how to turn ideas into life.

But when pressed on the thought-processes behind the products and services that have turned them into 20-something billionaires, the response is always, well, a little underwhelming for an audience slavishly looking for an insight into the big ideas.

Today’s example was Evan Spiegel (below), founder of Snapchat, and when asked by Cosmopolitan’s editor to explain how he turned such a simple idea into reality, his response was that his college fraternity had closed down, his girlfriend had broken up with him and he simply had a lot of time on his hands. So he just spent a lot of that time trying to make this idea work.

Not exactly the makings of a Hollywood blockbuster. Apologies to all the budding entrepreneurs in the audience for that one.

But what, then, about the branding of Snapchat? The room was full of designers and art directors, surely he could reveal some expert insight into what makes the Snapchat logo so iconic (indeed a giant iteration of the logo sits proudly atop the Palais, overlooking all of Cannes. It’s pretty impressive)?

Again, apologies to anyone hoping for a masterful breakthrough. “I designed the logo on my computer in my bedroom,” Spiegel said. “We decided on a ghost, then looked at the top 100 apps in the app store and realised that none of them were yellow, so we went with that.” No team of branding experts, no clever designers analysing the value of certain colours, just a college student looking for a point of differentiation.

So those insights may not be worth the Cannes Lions ticket, but they do hold a valuable lesson in the midst of all this. Over the course of the week delegates will hear from a lot of very smart and very inspiring individuals. Indeed, there were other quotes and insights in Spiegel’s talk that were hugely valuable – I’ll go in to them elsewhere. But along with tricks of the trade and discussions around the source and power of creativity, sometimes it helps to just ensure you get on with actually making stuff happen. Dedicate less time to procrastinating and more time to doing. If the original idea is good, then there’s a chance you can make a success out of it.

After all, when Spiegel was asked at the end of his talk what it is that keeps him awake at night, his answer was simple: “Execution. It takes a lot of work to make something happen.”

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