It’s well known that Steve Jobs used himself as a focus group of one in developing some of Apple’s (AAPL) breakthrough products. Likewise, Grubhub came to be when its hungry founders realized there was no one-stop website for ordering takeout.
In the tech industry, necessity is commonly the mother of invention, or at least innovation. And now we know why Evan Spiegel created Snapchat. The guy had great reasons for wanting to develop an ephemeral message app.
Last week, a string of embarrassing emails from the 23-year old CEO’s frat days at Stanford surfaced on Gawker’s Valleywag (where else). Sex, drugs, underage drinking, vulgar language, teenage male hormones in full bloom – it’s all there, and then some.
Let me be the first to admit that the only apparent difference between Spiegel’s extracurricular collegiate activities and mine are that we didn’t have frats at my school and there was no email back in the dark ages. But I’m not the least bit surprised that Animal House is still alive and well on college campuses.
Spiegel says he’s “mortified and embarrassed” about the “idiotic emails,” adding, "I have no excuse. I'm sorry I wrote them at the time and I was a jerk to have written them. They in no way reflect who I am today or my views toward women."
That was, of course, the right thing to do. Get out ahead of this thing, admit to having once been young and dumb, apologize profusely, and pray folks have better things to do, another CEO does something even dumber, and the board doesn’t fire his dumb behind.
But it’s never that simple in our thin-skinned, thought policed, politically correct, media-centric world now, is it? Commentators and pundits are calling for his head (as in termination … not literally), calling for a serious conversation about misogyny, or calling it further evidence of Silicon Valley’s brogrammer culture.
Maybe the company’s board will oust him over this, but I seriously doubt it. And they shouldn’t, unless of course the VCs have been looking for a way to get rid of him, in which case they now have a pretty convenient excuse. But again, I don’t believe that’s the case. If Spiegel handles the crisis well and has no other serious skeletons in his closet, this should all blow over.
Remember, Spiegel’s startup turned down a $3 billion offer from Facebook last year. And some top-notch investors – notably Institutional Venture Partners, Benchmark Capital, and Lightspeed Ventures – have a lot riding on this guy. As long as this episode doesn’t tarnish the company’s brand or adversely affect its growth – which it shouldn’t – there’s really no reason for the board to act.
As for using this as a door opener for a heart-to-heart on misogyny, I have one word to say about that. Really? In case I wasn’t clear, let me say that again. Really? With our hyper-misogynistic hip-hop culture, idiotic female entertainment role models plastered all over the media, and the way we bend over backwards for barbaric Muslim cultures that torture and murder innocent women, it’s not as if we needed a conversation starter on misogyny.
To even consider this in the same breath as our real issues with how we treat women on this planet is absolutely ludicrous. It’s just politically correct and socially acceptable to condemn rich white guys as opposed to perceived minorities with loud lobbyists and bullying activist groups.
As for this being an example of Silicon Valley’s male-dominated culture, three things. First, tech companies will hire more women when more women enter technology fields. Second, this happened at a University, not in the high-tech industry. Third, Snapchat is based in L.A., not in Silicon Valley.
One more thing. How I behaved in college had absolutely no affect on my professional career or how I treated women or anyone else. I may never have been a founding CEO of a company worth billions, but I was an executive officer of a number of public and private companies, both big and small, for many years.
Everyone has the right to have been young and dumb. Even rich white guys like Evan Spiegel.
Steve Tobak is a management consultant, columnist, former senior executive and author of the upcoming book, "Real Leaders Don't Follow: Being Extraordinary in the Age of the Entrepreneur." Learn more, contact Tobak or follow his new blog at stevetobak.com. Any opinions expressed are those of the columnist.