It wasn’t even two years ago that, according to his lawsuit, the idea for Snapchat came to Reggie Brown. Brown was a junior at Stanford, an English major (a “fuzzy,” in campus parlance, as contrasted against the “techies,” who are Stanford’s superstars)—and Kappa Sigma brother. One night, according to one account, he and a friend were joking about sexting, and he came up with the idea for an app that could send dirty pictures from mobile devices and then—the part that puts the killer in killer app—make them disappear from a recipient’s in-box a few seconds after they were viewed. For one thing, it was a game changer for hookups, an admirable accomplishment for a member in good standing of “a house that’s sort of known for having a lot of wild guys who wear Brooks Brothers,” according to Miles Bennett-Smith, the editor-in-chief of the Stanford Daily. And it was worth money.
The complaint states that he took the idea to Evan Spiegel, a fellow Kappa Sig majoring in product design and known for his ambition. “He’s a really, really driven guy,” said Bill Burnett, an engineering professor who was Spiegel’s adviser, admiringly. Like many of his Stanford classmates, Spiegel was, for all intents and purposes, a professional, very much the norm at Stanford nowadays. Spiegel had already absorbed a thorough preprofessional curriculum and even attempted a start-up called Future Freshman. He knew anything that enabled the social lives of young adults, as played out on a mobile device, meant money. According to Brown’s lawsuit, Spiegel called it a “million-dollar idea.” Soon, they enlisted a third brother, Bobby Murphy, as a partner because he was a computer-science jock who could write code. The app was launched in July 2011, found a foothold among teenagers in Southern California that summer, and as of last month was being used to send 60 million messages a day. Though it hasn’t generated any revenue yet, Snapchat recently raised $13.5 million in venture capital and boasts a valuation of $60 million to $70 million.