Snapchat will deliver its first progress report a public company on Wednesday, but it’s still a mystery whether the man investors want to hear from will show up.
Evan Spiegel, the reclusive 26-year-old Snap CEO, is considered the product visionary who turned the disappearing messages app into a global phenomenon. And with Snapchat facing intense competition from Facebook, and its stock trading below the opening price of its February IPO, Spiegel is the man Wall Street is betting on to lead the company to victory.
“People invested based on Evan’s product genius,” said Eric Kim, a partner at Goodwater Capital.
Investors want to get a sense of who Spiegel is, what his demeanor is like and what his vision for the product is.
Spiegel is still a relatively unfamiliar figure in the eyes of investors. When Snapchat was a privately held startup, Spiegel didn’t take the stage at flashy product launches, as many of his peers do, and he made relatively few public appearances. Compare that to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, who is currently on a tour of the US, with photos of his various stops regularly posted on his profile page.
Since Snap’s initial public offering, Spiegel appears to have done only one interview to the Los Angeles Times immediately following his IPO despite public backlash against remarks he supposedly made about India and Spain.
Wednesday’s earnings conference call will provide Spiegel with the first chance to lift a little bit of the veil on who he is and what he’s thinking about the future of Snapchat, especially in wake of Facebook coming at the company with guns blazing. The question is whether Spiegel sticks to his under-the-radar image or decides to address investors head-on.
Spiegel could skip out on the call altogether, leaving COO Imran Khan and CFO Drew Vollero who run the business side of things to handle the investor inquisition.
Snap Inc. declined to comment on whether Spiegel would be on the investor call.
While some high-profile CEOs like Amazon boss Jeff Bezos have eschewed investor calls, many tech CEOs today carry the mantle of explaining their business to the world, including Snap’s rival Mark Zuckerberg.
Yet nothing about Spiegel’s history suggests he’s willing to follow tradition for tradition’s sake.
The greatest example is how Snap conducted its IPO in February.
Instead of offering traditional voting shares, Snapchat’s parent company only offered non-voting shares to the public as part of its initial offering. The non-voting shares and Snap’s corporate structure set it up so that Spiegel and his cofounder Bobby Murphy retain control of the company despite its public status.
Now that Spiegel’s brainchild is about to issue its first earnings report on Wednesday, Spiegel has a chance to share his vision for the product with the world should he choose to and lay out how it will continue to fight back against Facebook’s attempts to thwart its user growth. Snap, however, has already said that it’s not issuing foreword looking guidance about its business.
A Spiegel no-show on Wednesday would be “disappointing,” said Eric Kim of Goodwater Capital, a firm that specializes in consumer company analysis. Kim believes that Spiegel has to be on the call because it’s the product under attack, not its business financials or ad business.
“I think there’s so many questions about product,” Kim said. “The financials are straight forward: It’s not a profitable company but it’s growing fast.”
Specifically, Kim wants to know how Snap plans to address the moves Facebook has made to claw away Snap’s userbase. In a recent survey by Kim’s firm, Facebook had increased its share of the “Stories” market when it cloned one of Snap’s most popular features. Meanwhile, Snap’s share had stayed flat.
RBC’s Mark Mahaney also found mixed results on Snapchat’s traffic trends. In Mahaney’s report, he noted that Comscore data showed that total time spent in the app had declined, although its average monthly unique visitors had increased in the first quarter.
Investors bought into Snapchat’s vision during the IPO roadshow and Spiegel was there to make the presentation and answer questions. But the competition from Facebook means Spiegel needs to make an appearance to explain what happens next with the product, Kim says.
“Maybe pre-Facebook Stories yes, but post Facebook Stories no,” Kim said about whether Spiegel could afford to not lead the call. “When he [Spiegel] went public, Facebook didn’t have this product feature that went after his core user base.”
While it remains to be seen how the stock will react to a potential Spiegel no-show, it shouldn’t surprise investors. After all, they’ve already invested in the young CEO’s vision for the product when they bought non-voting shares of a company he majority controls.