How to Turn Down a Billion Dollars

A talk and summary on my favorite book

Hello Readers !

Last week (at Nov 1 of 2020) I had the opportunity of talking of talking at the 10th meetup of Techshek, which was on the topic "My Favorite Book".

I talked about the book "How to Turn Down a Billion Dollars - The Snapchat Story" which is a really fun read, and would resonate with a tech audience. Have a look at the talk, where I explain the main points of the story, and also give a summary of what happens.

My talking points and original slides are also available below, in case you would prefer to read a summary before diving in. The video is timestamped for the major points.

Link to Video

Link to Presentation

——————————————Talking points from here —————————————

Introduction

Thanks Qasim and thanks Stephen for a wonderful talk on Calm.

So hello everyone, I’m Akash Joshi and today I’m talking about my favorite book, which is a book that I have read recently and a book that has influenced a lot of what I think about tech and has influenced my life decisions, “How to Turn Down a Billion Dollars”. This book was written by the author and journalist Billy Gallagher. This book describes the story of Snapchat. How it started as a small company and grew into a company which is now worth over 17 Billion Dollars

About Myself

Let me tell you a bit about myself. I am currently working as a Founding Engineer at a startup. This decision was influenced by the media that I consume and of course this book also. I enjoy giving talks and writing, mostly about tech. And I also like making my stuff open-source.

My thoughts on Books

Books are better than articles or any other forms of media. They are complete, in that the authors aren't trying to guide us into something else like a different article or trying to sell a course. Authors also have a chance to be honest about their thoughts because not everyone reads the book, only the intended audience.

Books, because of their length and reduced limitations, also give a more detailed view into a topic, so I feel we get a lot more to learn from them.

Because of this, books have more of a chance than other media to change your opinions about certain topics.

My Favorite Book

My favorite book, the book is a book I read most recently. "How to Turn Down a Billion Dollars", is on the story of Snapchat, and more specifically on Evan Spiegel, and his struggles in growing the company and eventually reach its IPO.

For the next part I'm going to talk about the first act of the book, which is about how the founders meet and ideate and build the company.

All of the founders were from the prestigious institution of Stanford. Because of the variety of people mixing in a place like Stanford, our founders from wildly different backgrounds could come together and form a company.

The Contestants

Now, before we begin, let's discuss the contestants shall we ? Our story starts at Stanford, where 3 like-minded individuals who are just acquaintances or barely know each other.

Reggie Brown, a party goer who meets our next contestant at a party and discusses the original idea for snapchat.

Evan Spiegel, a party-goer with a pre-existing entrepreneurial spirit, who used to work with brands like Redbull since his teens.

Bobby Murphy, the gamer turned coder who wanted to do something with his life and trusted Evan's instincts.

His friend, Reggie Brown, thought of an idea to send disappearing photos to people, and the both of them saw potential in the idea. So, he and 2 of his friends, Evan and Bobby, set out to work on this idea. However, Reggie was too much of a drunk to do anything about it, so Evan and Bobby had to take the hard decision of letting him go early on.

So this is where our first act ends where the founders meet, discuss the product, and one of them has to be let go

We learn a hard lesson of letting bad people go early to not define the company culture.

Growing the App

In Act 2. This is the main part of the book and the snapchat story where they grow the app from 0 to 250 M active users. This also teaches us how to grow a product. This is how they grew the product.

Rest of the story

Evan Spiegel, a man born with a silver spoon in his mouth and being in a prestigious institution like Stanford, still had to struggle to make an impact and convince people that his idea had value.

After building the product, it took another 2 years of convincing investors that it wasn't a sexting app (since that's what people think of). And that they were serious people bringing a serious potential investment.

This took constant iterations on the product and idea by testing the app with live users. In fact, Evan and Bobby used to go in malls, installing Snapchat in people's phones and making them test the app in front of them.

This gave them the experience of real users to base decisions and changes on.

The Other Startup

At the same time, the book also shares the story of another Stanford startup "Clinkle" which tried to disrupt the payments market. They raised 25M with just an idea and 0 product or employees. However, they failed pretty horribly because they burned through it in 2 years without any output.

Quote

You need to be careful because once you're famous and even while you're on the growth ladder, you'll have many people posing as friends who're just vultures or hyenas wanting to profit from your growth. This does not mean keep no friends, but means keep really trustworthy friends who will support you throughout your journey.

I also take it to mean that if things are looking bad, you're going in the right direction.

The key lessons I took away from this book were that “Entrepreneurship is Hard”, "Discipline is Key", and “Ideas are priceless, but the correct execution is worth a billion dollars”.