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6 November 2018 | By Pip Brooking Interview

Claire Valoti, Snap

We talked to the Vice President International of instant photo messaging app Snapchat on challenging assumptions, keeping up with tech and creating a culture that retains talent

Q. Snap positions itself as a camera company, not a social media platform. Why?
A. We talk about Snapchat being the fastest way to communicate with your friends and family. Our audience is communicating in pictures and videos. The camera enables that.

When you open the Snapchat app, it launches the camera. Meaning 60 percent of our 186 million daily active users are creating content. It enhances the experience you’re in at that moment – unlike traditional social media platforms where you almost zone out.

Our founder Evan Spiegel talks about a world where computing is increasingly layered over the real world, and we’ve done a lot around augmented reality, where the camera enhances a picture.

But there’s a gap between perception and reality and I don’t think people understand what this all means. When they do, they’re excited by it. We’ve always focused on innovating, and now we’re at a point where you’re going to hear a lot more from us.

Q. People also make assumptions that Snapchat is for a younger audience – but you have a high proportion of parents using the platform…
A. I don’t think age matters: every group wants to communicate with the people that matter to them.

For people who grew up with smartphones, it’s natural for them to use pictures to tell stories. As we mature, the business is ageing-up because the older audience is getting more used to using pictures and video to communicate. Parents are becoming heavy Snapchat users because they’re talking with their kids on it.

Q. You’re transitioning from start-up to sustainable business. What do you see as the main challenges of that?
A. I’m proud that after seven years we’re still entrepreneurial. When you lose that spirit is when you become slow. But, at the same time, we’ve matured, we’ve scaled and have clear ways of working.

That balance is important, particularly in a world when people ask, “who’s your competition?” and the truth is they probably don’t exist today.

We recently announced our Q3 numbers, and the international business that I look after grew revenue 2.5 times year on year. We now equate to 32 percent of our global revenue. We’re definitely on the right trajectory.

Q. Advertising is your biggest source of revenue and it’s such a fast-pace industry – with media and technology changing all the time, how do you stay ahead?
A. We always try to understand our users, and what they want – particularly through the content they create. We listen to our clients and partners and understand what value looks like to them. Then it’s about ensuring that you’ve got the right kind of mechanics for success. We’ve spent recent years working hard on developing ad formats to allow advertisers to talk to users effectively.

Q. Trust and privacy are big issues affecting every business. How are you dealing with them?
A. Privacy by design is part of our DNA. It’s a platform where we delete read messages by default.

There are three core pillars at the heart of our platform: data privacy, quality journalism and allowing people to express themselves. All our products, all the formats we produce go through a privacy counsel, including lawyers and engineers.

Again, we need to do a better job of explaining that to people.

We also believe the most popular content shouldn’t win out. It’s important to have credible content. Our strategy – even before the era of fake news – was to partner with well-known publishers, where experienced people, who are used to editing and creating, decide what content is most relevant. We don’t create pressure. We don’t have vanity metrics – there’s no likes, shares, followers. People can be more comfortable in themselves.

Q. You opened the London offices last year to lead Snap’s international business, so how have you recruited the right talent, and created the right culture?
A. We scaled the London team very quickly, getting just over 140 people across sales, engineering, partnership, creative strategy. And one of the big reasons I was so excited about this role was getting to shape a culture. And I was adamant that all the different disciplines collaborated and didn’t sit in silos.

When you aren’t sitting in the headquarters in the US, the more connected you are locally, the more you share between teams – that’s when you create something special.

We have a Monday morning meeting that I’ve led from day one, where everyone comes together. And people get really motivated because they get to influence outside of their core area and learn and develop as individuals.

Globally, Snap has a programme called Council, whereby people of different levels and disciplines come together roughly once a month. We talk about topics that aren’t related to work as a way of connecting on a human level. That’s important, particularly in today’s world. When you think about retention of talent and creating cultures, people want to work for someone they believe in as a human being and has good values.

Q. From a more personal point of view, how would you describe how you’ve got to where you are at Snap?
A. I often get asked about what motivates me and I always take it back to my values. My parents were big influences on the way I operate. They’ve got a bed and breakfast in Kings Cross, I grew up there until I was 11, and I’ve been raised in an entrepreneurial family that worked seven days a week. That’s given me values that have stayed true throughout my career.

I’ve always believed that, whether I worked for a company or I owned one, it’s crucial that I treat it as mine. I care about my clients’ business as much as I care about Snap. And every time I made a tough decision, I ask myself can I go to sleep and be okay with it?

I’ve spoken at a few schools recently, and I’ll say that it’s not just exam results that matter. Ultimately, it’s how much you care, how hard you work, how you treat people that are key to success. Sometimes that gets lost along the way, and we need to celebrate those values more.

Claire Valoti is speaking at this year’s CBI Annual Conference, on 19 November

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