Entrepreneur

The case for firing Snapchat’s CEO, & why the Silicon Valley frat will never let that happen

Image Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/jdlasica/9730643918/

Another week, another embarrassing tech CEO gaffe. This time, it was beloved sexting app Snapchat’s leader who found himself “mortified” when the immature and misogynistic emails his college-self sent were leaked to the press.

In case you need to catch up on those, they were pretty standard frat bro emails sent to the house email listserve — degrading sorority girls, talking up the house’s brothers, and graphically describing a lot of acts that were likely inspired by ego and porn. But you can take a look at the writing itself over at guilty-pleasure tech gossip blog Valleywag. (Bonus: Take a look at the Stanford administration’s reaction.)

Naturally, given Evan Spiegel’s age, personal background, and the fact that he more or less created an app for sexting (though it turned out it’s not as ephemeral as we thought), the Internet said a collective “duh” to the news, despite giving it ample news coverage, as well.

But one thing that is making this an interesting situation is its timing.

This is at least the third case of a male chief executive of a tech company in the past month or so to make headlines for blatantly misogynistic behavior — the others are RadiumOne’s Gurbaksh Chahal and Rap Genius’s Mahbod Moghadam. (GitHub’s Tom Preston-Werner comes in at a distant runner-up for aggressive, plausibly non-sexist behavior in the office.)

Furthermore, both execs were asked to resign or fired as a result of their actions, so the current question is how Spiegel’s case will play out.

A tale of three misogynistic cases

While these other cases don’t necessarily mean they will predict what happens with Spiegel, it’s important to take a quick look at their respective circumstances and outcomes.

In Chahal’s case, he was charged with beating his girlfriend last summer, and though security footage of him hitting her 117 times surfaced, the courts did not admit it as evidence (it was seized without warrant). Ultimately, Chahal accepted a plea bargain to misdemeanor charges and a $500 fine. However, RadiumOne’s board, which he claims urged him to take the deal, subsequently fired him.

Rap Genius cofounder and then-chief executive Mahbod Moghadam unfortunately decided to post online some incredibly controversial and insensitive comments about the disturbing manifesto written by Elliot Rodgers, the 23 year-old man who killed six and wounded 13 this past weekend. He was allegedly fired the next day by his cofounders, though the company claims he resigned.

And here, we have a 23 year-old who is haunted by emails he wrote in college, two years before Snapchat’s official founding date, and confirming his character as we already knew it. My guess is that nothing will happen to him.

“I mean, there is the investor hat and there is the ‘I was once a young dumb college student’ hat,” said one investor to us, who wishes to remain anonymous.

“The guy clearly had a complete misjudgment. But we’ve all done stupid shit. Maturity comes with age,” North Bridge Venture Partners partner Paul Santinelli said to VentureBeat.

That’s their point: These emails show Spiegel acting like a particularly horrible 19-year-old when he was 19 years old. Our male-dominated investor club here in tech may be all grown up now, but they quietly remember their own days of bro idiocy — or when their own friends, at the very least, behaved that way. It would really be hypocritical for them to burn him at the stake.

We spoke with Antone Johnson, former MySpace and eHarmony attorney who also works with many Bay Area and Los Angeles-based startups about whether Spiegel could get forced out. Johnson said it seems unlikely from a legal point of view.

“How much do people really care about that stuff when they enjoy the product?” said Johnson.

“VCs almost never, at least in my experience, invest in the adult entertainment industry. ‘We can’t be seen to be in this sleazy business, we need to have this defensible investment approach,’” is the general attitude of investors, Johnson said.

Johnson also said that in larger corporations and even larger startups, the boards will often sign contracts with the executive team with very carefully worded language about causes for firing such — we’re talking felony convictions or directly harming the business’s finances. See case of Chahal, most likely.

What now?

Some of the questions now are what will current and potential investors be concerned with –and what about Snapchat’s current and potential female employees?

“My number one question is what else is out there? When you know the extent of what’s embarrassing and damaging, the best idea is to get it out and take responsibility. … You don’t wanna get hit again and again,” said Johnson.

This is especially true if the company is looking to go public soon or another event that could be derailed by more dirt coming out.

“What would it take, potentially, if more came out … to have [Spiegel] step aside? Or is it even a possibility?” said Johnson.

Johnson added that if he were an investor considering an investment in Snapchat during its next round, he’d probably want some legal provisions to keep Spiegel from sinking the company with some new embarrassing behavior.

“This is a great opportunity where an investor would sit down with the guy and say, ‘You’ve got to think about this, and make sure this doesn’t happen again. You ate crow — and you move on.,'” said Santinelli.

We can all recall when Clinkle, also run by a young Stanford graduate, brought in some “grownups” to the executive team to help the young CEO stay away from embarrassing photos, among other things.

But can that really work? Is 23-year-old Spiegel that much different from 19-year-old Spiegel?

As a 23 year-old, myself, I’m skeptical. I know plenty of men my age who still make such comments, and I know 30 year-olds that still behave like this.

And in case you were wondering, Snapchat does have several female employees, and they’re likely feeling a combination of disgust and lack of surprise. We’ll have to see what sort of hiring magic the company will whip out when a female job candidate brings up her discomfort with a CEO who may potentially view her as an object.

More information:

Snapchat is a photo messaging application developed by four Stanford students. Using the app, users can take photos, record videos, add text and drawings, and send them to a controlled list of recipients. Users set a time limit for how... read more »

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98 comments
Joaquin Nexus
Joaquin Nexus

We get it, everyone does stupid stuff in college. As the writer said, this is about if there was more to it. If you read the e-mails, they are pretty extreme in their contempt and prejudice and general lack of humanity. How has the guy changed exactly? What makes everyone think he is somehow totally different at 24 than 19? Yes, 5 years older. That doesn't automatically mean 5 years wiser. Donald Sterling was saying and doing ridiculously racist stuff for decades, but he was a great contributor to the NAACP and even won their award? Had he changed. Of course not. Unless there is evidence of change, Spiegel is the same guy he was then. And it does matter in the context that it makes everyone in tech look bad. This guy's a douche! Don't fire him, just stop lionizing him!  

Meredith Obendorfer
Meredith Obendorfer

Why hasn't anyone compared the actions of Snapchat's CEO to the Clipper's Donald Sterling? They're exactly the same. One's about race, the other gender. But, same same.  


So if you cheered for Commissioner Adam Silver as he banned Sterling for life after his racist comments to his girlfriend, but then don't see any problem with Snapchat CEO's emails to his frat buddies, I suggest you check your logic and your perspective as privileged.

Mike Cantelon
Mike Cantelon

This article is vile, comparing a guy who said politically incorrect shit to a guy that beat a woman on camera.

Merredith Branscombe
Merredith Branscombe

Did you all even read the article? The writer says all college people do stupid sh*t. The question is whether there is more.

Josh Rutter
Josh Rutter

I don't think anyone would have a job if everything we ever said in college was posted at your office.

Tim Dick
Tim Dick

We should ignore that, yep. Like we should ignore the fact that Snapchat actually doesn't erase posts, it keeps them. Whoops, sorry we lied about that, but it's so damn funny!

Joel Reyna
Joel Reyna

I didn't know Snapchat was still in business. Who is he again?

Sidney Davis
Sidney Davis

Ken cheap millionaires destroying the labor force? Oh and the tax havens are because the politicians set it up that way. 'WE' voted for the politicians so in effect we did it. These millionaires are only doing what is allowed within the law.

Ann Greenberg
Ann Greenberg

When one of the big music distribution companies made a multimillion dollar investment in my startup, my co-founders and I all had to sign employment agreements that included morality clauses that ensured we wouldn't do crazy-stupid stuff to embarrassed the company and put our partner's investment at risk.   If we wanted the investment and employment contracts, we had to sign the agreements.  We all signed, and frankly we were all grateful for the opportunity.  We'd worked hard and we had no problem making that basic assurances to our funders within our contracts.


I cannot understand why Silicon Valley investors wouldn't have the exact same language in their investment terms when they put millions into a startup.  If co-founders can't create a level playing field for their co-workers - including complying with anti-discrimination regulations, than investors should not give them any money. Period! 


I do not believe that the investor should be able to fire that founder for things the founder said, did or believed in the past unless it was something that defrauded the investor and should have been disclosed prior to entering into the agreement - or - if the past action somehow impacts the ability of that founder to perform or live up to their current duties.


Hiding behind mythic double-standards like, "boys will be boys" re-enforces illegal misogynistic and/or racist behavior (let alone outright malfeasance.)  It's simply mismanagement when it happens!  Sadly, this kind of institutional look-the-other-way ensures the abysmal lack of women and minorities in technology.  Recent articles document the repeated stonewalling of SV companies in turning over hiring statistics as company after company fought freedom of information requests, rather than turn over the hard facts which we all know too well: the Silicon Valley white boys club invests in more white boys who hire their bros.  


Who cares if the investors "remember" being idiots too.  If misogynistic or racist or ageist behavior happens during the course of employment it needs to have tangible consequences - including that founder losing their employment AND their stock.   Venture Capital firms are not above the law either.  And until there are real consequences there Silicon Valley will never be a meritocracy.

Matthew Davidchuk
Matthew Davidchuk

If he had made racist remarks instead of misogynistic fb remarks would the tone of these comments be different?

Celina Barahona
Celina Barahona

Many many MEN to find this ridiculous... So not original.

Kay Mode
Kay Mode

Shut up already with this article. What trash.

Danger Nixon
Danger Nixon

Maybe we should fire people based on an inability to do their job correctly, rather than personal comments. I was hoping the Eich scandal wouldn't set up a precedent, but...

Nabib El-Rahman
Nabib El-Rahman

Firing him is almost as bad as firing the mozilla CEO. Privacy ppl

Ken Leamen
Ken Leamen

So buddy lived it up like every college kid turned adult. You start off as a dumb kid and grow into a man. I'm more worried about sleazy cheap millionaires destroying today's labor force and hiding billions of dollars in tax free havens through loop holes.

Brandon Jepson
Brandon Jepson

I think it's stupid that the thing now is if you find out anything bad about someone about something they did in the past then they have to resign. Doesn't everybody have skeletons in their closet? He who is without sin, let him cast the first stone.

Brandon Jepson
Brandon Jepson

Yeah totally man. It's almost like ex post facto.

Tanmoy Roy
Tanmoy Roy

BS - fire him for something almost everybody does at 18 in private (or public) ? Leave him alone losers!

Hyun Bass
Hyun Bass

Yet another dumb article by a frat boy wiriter who's probably just jealous of Gaffe

Paul Vance
Paul Vance

...Ok this is fucking ridiculous, you've forced me to unfollow VentureBeat

Josh Poulain
Josh Poulain

Except this is the same "CEO Gaffe" from last week... and the "Silicon Valley frat" won't let it happen because they realize how absurd it is to fire someone from a company for remarks made before that company even existed. PS - comparing this to the other two recently ousted CEOs on your list is equally absurd. He did not physically harm his wife/girlfriend/anyone, let alone hundreds of times, and he did not make a joke out of the tragedy that cost 6 people their lives - let alone while he was the CEO of this company. You're comparing apples to oranges

Darcy Wood
Darcy Wood

yep...not news...move on, I have heard a lot worse from most 18 year old college kids in private

Justin Hall
Justin Hall

Can this stop being news already? Holy shit. The fact that people are even calling for his resignation for a private email correspondence he wrote as an eighteen year old freshman is absurd, patently unfair, and a gross abuse of his privacy.

Kevin Packard
Kevin Packard

I know he was in college, but I hardly new anyone who acted like that even at that age.  I think this is really indicative of the type of culture that surrounds the tech world and is the major reason why the presence of women has waned in those fields instead of grown.

Meredith Obendorfer
Meredith Obendorfer

The comments to this article are just as revealing about the environment in Silicon Valley as the situation itself.

Alia Marie Lysiuk
Alia Marie Lysiuk

No one joins a sorority (or fraternity for that matter) because they're classy and respectful. These types are all one in the same. Remember that leaked letter the head of a sorority wrote to her "sisters"? This is really no different. Sororities and fraternities aren't something to be proud of being a part of like the old days. They're basically a 2-way members only whorehouse and nothing more. As long as he's matured past those stupid views then move along.

Alexander Muse
Alexander Muse

At the end of the day the 'new' world we are living in requires that Evan be fired. I'm not a big fan of our new world, by the way...

Devan Koshal
Devan Koshal

Why should he be judged for shit he said in college?

Dallas Literal Johnston
Dallas Literal Johnston

The problem is that even the third wave reflects reality in many parts of the world. :^(

Dallas Literal Johnston
Dallas Literal Johnston

Surely, you are free to say anything you wish. You are also free to deal with the consequences and backlash when you say something that is offensive to more than half the world's population. Personally, I think this douche is a perfect representative for SnapChat, considering its target demo...

Ivan Elias
Ivan Elias

Ri excellent point! Anne, you actually are no different than Spiegel and Sterling! All three of you seem like nut jobs!

Tom Spencer
Tom Spencer

You aren't a class of people no matter how much u try the victim card, you are 50%, if u are so morally appalled just boycott

Tom Spencer
Tom Spencer

50% of the population isn't a group, this need to try and marginalise oneself by being in a 'group' is ridiculous #wearethe99%

Cristina Key
Cristina Key

How can it be a double standard? Starting with the difference that none of these women have the power to hire and fire like a billionaire CEO...

Jason Nunnelley
Jason Nunnelley

The email are disgusting. But, are we really going to permanently deny people opportunity to work, support themselves, or run businesses because they once said or did something disgusting. Anyone who ever went to a strip bar has done something disgusting. How many executives are we going to can? For that matter how many people get to keep their jobs?

Jay Kim
Jay Kim

I'm sorry, but this writer 'was' a columnist for the Daily Cal as a Sex Columnist, promoting drunk sex. It's hard to take her seriously. 

Aaron Christopher Cohen
Aaron Christopher Cohen

Are you seriously comparing the video tapped physical assault of a woman to a 22 year old writing emails about oral sex?

Lafayette Howell
Lafayette Howell

This period in history should be called the Great American Tech Hustle. High valuations that are much ado about nothing. Can you even find a trace of much of the money spent over last 10 years?

T M
T M

Keep on witch hunting. I would love to see more women fired for making sexist remarks against men. We are all about equality after all.

Let's start with the #killallmen participants. I find that meme very offensive.

Manisha Verma
Manisha Verma

100 other wrongs do not make this right! And obviously his product reflects what his current values are (not just from his freshman year) - make pictures disappear which you will be ashamed of the next morning, while making sure you showed it off to your frat...

Dae Bogan
Dae Bogan

I read the article you posted from feministing.com. Right on point!

Paul Mohme
Paul Mohme

Issue is timing: can a company fire an employee, or founder, for statements made before said company existed?