Welcome, Jacob Andreou!

We are thrilled to announce that Jacob Andreou is joining Greylock as a General Partner to focus on consumer investing. Jacob has rapidly emerged as one of the leading product executives and builders in consumer technology. He joins Greylock after an impressive run at Snap, where he helped scale the company from its early days to 360M+ DAUs and $4.5B in revenue. At Greylock, Jacob will partner with early-stage founders who are building the next generation of consumer platforms and social experiences.

Our mission at Greylock is to help realize rare potential. We get involved at the earliest stages, often at inception, when the future success of a business is still far from clear. We work closely with entrepreneurs to help them build important, lasting companies. Jacob’s track record doing this at Snap is why we are so excited to have him join our partnership.

Snap is one of the most defining consumer platforms in the last decade, leading the industry in creativity, innovation, and design. During his 8 years at Snap, Jacob played a key role in bringing their innovations to market, eventually leading hundreds of people on teams across all of Product, Design, Growth, Data Science, Analytics, and User Research.

Under his product leadership, Snap launched some of its biggest initiatives, including Spotlight and My AI, Snap’s own AI chatbot powered by ChatGPT. Earlier in his career at Snap, Jacob spent time creating and running the growth team. He established the Core-Product-Value growth framework and the international growth playbook which led to growth in daily active users from 80M to 363M.

Jacob deeply understands how to evolve consumer app experiences into profitable businesses. There was a period of time when the path to monetization at Snap was less clear. During that era, Jacob built App Install, Web View, and Video View Ad Units and led design for ads and content. Under his leadership, revenue growth went from $3.9M to >$1B per quarter.

Impressive tenure at Snap aside, Jacob embodies the values and philosophy that we hold dear at Greylock. As many venture platforms have scaled teams and products, we’ve remained a tightly-knit, highly focused team selectively backing exceptional entrepreneurs. Our partners recognize the responsibility we have to the entrepreneurs we back. Jacob’s intellect, analytical horsepower, expertise in consumer products, and proven success in partnering with founders at Snap make him an excellent fit for our mission and partnership.

Collaborating with visionary founders is what first drew Jacob to work at Snap. As Jacob describes it: “Evan is a talented and visionary founder who isn’t afraid to invent the future and make bold decisions. It’s been a formative experience to work with him in serving the Snap team and community over the past 8 years. It wasn’t always ‘up and to the right’, but through it all, Evan demonstrated focus and conviction. In fact, it’s because of these incredible experiences working alongside Evan that I am so excited to dig in and support early stage founders at Greylock.”

Greylock has partnered early with founders who have built massive consumer platforms, including Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Airbnb, Roblox, Coinbase, Discord, and Nextdoor on their journey to many millions – and even billions – of users. We are excited about new opportunities in consumer platforms and for Jacob to carry forward this track record. In particular, Jacob is excited about AI enabled consumer products and platforms built for communities & creators. We think he’s going to be an outstanding partner to entrepreneurs building in these areas.

If you are a founder who is interested in connecting with Jacob, please feel free to reach out at jacob@greylock.com.

Jacob spoke with Greylock’s head of editorial Heather Mack on Greymatter about the various roles he played at Snap, how it has shaped his approach to company-building, and his vision for the next wave of consumer products. You can listen to the conversation at the link below or wherever you get your podcasts.


Heather Mack:
Hi everyone. Welcome to Greymatter, the podcast from Greylock, where we share stories from company builders and business leaders. I’m Heather Mack, Head of Editorial at Greylock.

Today I’m excited to welcome Jacob Andreou, the newest member of Greylock’s investment team.

Jacob Andreou:
Hey, really excited to be here. Thank you for having me.

Thanks for joining. Let me start with a brief introduction. Jacob joins us after eight years at Snap, where he most recently served as SVP of Growth. Jacob, you were involved in so many core functions at Snap. You ran teams across product, design, growth, data science, analytics, and user research. And during your time, you help scale the company to more than 360 million daily active users and $4.5 billion in revenue.

I think most people would agree that Snap is one of the defining consumer companies of the last decade. And what’s really interesting is that you led the development and launch of some of the company’s most successful initiatives.This includes Spotlight, the apps entertainment platform, and most recently My AI, which is Snap’s AI chat bot, powered by ChatGPT – and, of course, we’re definitely going to talk about where you see the convergence of AI and consumer products in a little bit.

So with that, Jacob, welcome to Greylock and thanks for joining me on Greymatter.

Yeah, thank you Heather. I’m really excited to be here. I couldn’t be more excited to be joining the team at Greylock. I think a firm that is so storied has been around for [over 50] years and is an incredible combination of really senior partners that have been doing this for over a couple of decades and with a really exciting up-and-coming team, I just couldn’t think of a better fit for me to start my investing career. So I’m very excited to be joining Greylock.

It’s very kind of you to say.

Now, I’m eager to hear how you’re going to apply your background in product development into working with founders as they build the next wave of consumer products. And I’ve just given the high-level description, so can you share the more nuanced details about what you’ve been doing the past decade or so?

Yeah, of course. So as you said, I’ve been at Snap for over eight years now and I’ve spent most of that time leading product kind of overall at the company. This includes everything from product management to the design team – which is kind of a unique part of Snap specifically – user research, but also some other teams like the growth team focused on growing users and also our data science analytics teams.

Snap was a very functionally structured company for a very long time. These teams really covered everything from the app itself, our work in hardware like Spectacles and Pixie, all the stuff we did to monetization as well as augmented reality.

And so what’s been most fun for me as a leader has been just getting to see this business and this team grow, getting to partner so closely with an incredible founder in Evan Spiegel – who’s an absolute product visionary – and getting to work with him and building this product, but also building the business and not just my partnership with him, but also the fact that at every turn, every single year, I’ve always was able to work on what I really viewed as the hardest, most important problems.

Those kinds of problems are the ones that are most exciting to me. That’s when I’m having the Those kinds of problems are the ones that are most exciting to me. That’s when I’m having the most fun. That’s when I’m able to really push myself and try to immerse myself in a problem that I’ve never seen before and really figure things out and reason from first principles, and those are some of the things that were kind of the most rewarding in my time at Snap.

The three things that I’m probably most proud of: The first probably takes me back all the way to near the beginning of the eight years when I established and created the growth team. That was a lot of fun. That team still runs today and is the one that is in charge of not just making sure that topline DAU is growing every single quarter that we have to report publicly, but is also the team charged with all the inputs to growth – unpacking user experience, friending, onboarding, the key engagement metrics and indicators that we use when someone is inside of the service to deepen their engagement and the value that we’re delivering to them.

And so building and creating that team was an amazing first chapter in my career and my time at Snap. The second thing was definitely building what I would call the modern product organization at Snap. This is everything from defining the approach of bringing together the art and science of product development (and finding ways to balance these things and keep them intention to allow us to stay really, really innovative), but at the same time innovating really responsibly. Responsibly to our users and to people that use the service every single day, but also responsibly to our employees and to our investors as a public traded company. So again, bridging this gap from product to business.

And then the third thing (and the most recent chapter) was really a big kind of overhaul of monetization at Snap and this included everything from the platform itself, which you’ve heard us talk a bunch about publicly, but it also includes the team and leadership and kind of rebuilding a lot of that.

I couldn’t be more excited for the leaders that have joined Snap for the monetization space over the last six months. We’ve had a suite of probably four or five really incredible senior folks from some of the biggest companies in the world, and getting to work with them on this next chapter of monetization at Snap has been really exciting and really interesting.

So at a super high level, I think the three things that I really learned in my time at Snap was first from Evan, how to build amazing products. Second was from a lot of my leaders, but from many parts of the organization and learning how to make amazing products grow really, really fast.

And then third, turning all this into a really amazing durable business that is able to deliver value to its community but is also able to deliver revenue, to drive earnings, and to become something that’s really investible not just for public investors, but also for the employees that decide to come to a place like Snap and to invest their time every single day in helping us build a really amazing business.

Great. Well, none of that sounds easy. It all sounds really interesting and fun though. Pulling back a little bit now into what kind of environment you’re getting into as an investor, it’s an interesting time for consumer-facing companies. Many of the products people are using every day are still largely made by companies that have been dominating for quite a while now. At Greylock, we’ve had a front row view to this as we’ve been partners with many of these heavy hitters like Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Airbnb, Discord, Roblox, etcetera.

But even though everyone’s using these products every day, it’s definitely not business as usual. For example, Apple’s App Tracking Transparency updates last summer made a big impact on marketing for both small and large companies. There’s a growing preference for privacy and personalization and companies across sectors are experimenting with business models way beyond ad supported revenue – you were just talking about monetization, we’ve seen an uptick in freemium and subscription models for goods and services, and of course, everyone is trying to integrate AI into their product in some form.

So again, some big picture themes here, but with that as the backdrop, how would you characterize the environment right now?

Yeah, I mean it’s certainly true that things like Apple Tracking Transparency have changed what it means to build a really amazing ad supported business, but even more so maybe what it means to try to advertise as a business, just trying to run their ads elsewhere. It’s also definitely true that AI is changing a lot, probably faster than anyone’s expected. But at the same time, when it comes to consumer products, you’re right. So many of the consumer products that we use every single day are products that were founded in the early 2010s.

There’s no question that when you look at mobile as a platform, that we’re super late in this distribution curve. When mobile was first a thing and Snapchat in 2012 started to become the platform people were adopting, people were installing sometimes between eight and 14 apps per month. And so the ability to get distribution as someone who was building an app for the app store or trying to distribute on mobile was actually really amazing at that point in time.

And you kind of fast-forward to today, now people are installing like half an app per month, and so the ability for a new app to break out and to become something that is used by everyone to grow really, really quickly, it’s never been harder than it is today. And I think that is one of the forces that we see kind of putting downward pressure on the fact that so many of these platforms we still use today were built in the early 2010s.

But I do think there are ways to overcome this and I do actually think that the setup right now is maybe the most interesting that it’s been for probably the last decade. I think first and foremost, big companies are trying to focus more than ever. You’ve heard Facebook talk about the year of efficiency. You’ve heard Sundar talk about how Google’s going to get way more efficient, way more focused. This is going to be amazing for startups and for founders because these big companies, as they pull in and focus on specifically their core competencies, on the things that they need to be the world-class at and most efficient at, it’s going to pull them out of so much white space where founders and amazing startups are going to be able to take that place and fill those gaps.

And so as these big companies focus, we’re going to see more room than ever before for breakout products to really shine through and to find ways to hook users and bring in their community and start to build their product and their business.

Second, talent is probably more loose in the saddle right now, specifically from these big companies than has ever been the case in the last decade. You have to remember a lot of compensation in these big companies is stock-based compensation. This compensation has ostensibly been monotonically increasing over the course of the last decade as growth stocks and tech and everything else has performed so successfully in the public markets.

Now, you look at the last two years, this obviously has not been the case recently. Suddenly, valuations have come way, way down in the public markets and you have really senior or really
talented folks that are world-class that are used to just getting this implicit raise every year as the stock price increases.

Suddenly, they see their compensation flatten out, and I have never seen more people than I’ve seen in the last year look around and think, “If this is going to be my new compensation, is this really the problem that I want to be focused on? Is this really the company I want to come to work every day and work for?” And this has created unbelievable opportunities for founders building amazing companies to attract some of the best talent in the world, and I’m super excited for that.

"We're going to see more room than ever before for breakout products to really shine through and to find ways to hook users and bring in their community and start to build their product and their business."

I think the last piece is these constraints breed both innovation and also rigor for new companies that are starting out. I think that when we look at how the environment was in the last 10 years, whether it was zero interest rates or any other kind of factors at play, there was not quite as much pressure on companies and founders to solve problems in really unique ways that are useful and valuable regardless of interest rates or kind of the cost of a dollar.

Some of the biggest businesses, if you zoom all the way out and look at the last three decades, actually were built in these periods of really high rigor where there was more pressure from the economy where there was more kind of systemic pressure in the system broadly. And that led to companies and founders solving problems in really innovative ways and building business models that were really durable in times of economic pressure that then prospered even more as things got better and improved.

So even though the setup is a little tough right now, I know the economic environment doesn’t feel great to a lot of folks. I think there’s a lot of reasons to be really excited and for me personally, I think this next decade of consumer is going to look completely different than the last decade and that makes me really excited to step into investing.

Very cool. And now, talking about the types of companies that you’re interested in, consumer platforms and products can mean a lot of things from AI enabled products to community and creator platforms and marketplaces, gaming, e-commerce, FinTech, where are you planning to spend most of your time?

Yeah, it’s a really great question and I’ve been thinking and reflecting on this a lot.
So my approach to building products has been one kind of forever that has been really deeply rooted in psychology and sociology and really kind of trying to intimately understand how people interact with the product and how they interact with each other using digital products. These are kind of my favorite things to nerd out on. My mom has a doctorate of psychology, so I’m sure it rubbed off on me maybe when I was growing up at home.

And when it comes to building businesses, it then becomes for me about this balance in the art and science of building an amazing business that is built around a great product, making it grow really, really fast and finding a way to have that form a really strong long standing business.

In the last few years, I had this incredible opportunity to partner so deeply with Evan and when I play that out into the future, I’m really excited to partner with entrepreneurs that are really obsessed with solving really hard problems in amazing ways, but then turning that and coupling it with a really amazing business long term and helping them find ways to bridge that gap and to build something really amazing.

I mentioned a bit about how we’re late in the distribution curve on mobile, and I think that’s specifically relevant when you start to talk about, well, what kinds of products and companies and ideas are interesting right now. I think that being cognizant of this fact as opposed to ignoring it is probably important.

I think they’re kind of two ways to solve the challenge of being really late in the distribution curve. I think the first is, you can find ways to hack distribution, specifically. The fact that only half an app is installed a month, if you can find a wedge where suddenly I’m able to change that fact leveraging some other factor, I think that stuff is super interesting.

The second thing you can do is you can just deliver so much value that you can overcome almost any distribution barrier. And so I think broadly those are kind of the two ways that I think, especially in the next few years, we’re going to see consumer companies start to really compete and be effective.

When it comes to hacking distribution and finding better ways to go-to-market, I think some of the most interesting things we’re seeing right now is built around creators and the para social communities that they’re creating and them finding ways to leverage the communities that they’ve built as a source of distribution for products and for services.

Now this doesn’t mean the product doesn’t have to be amazing. The product certainly has to be amazing, but when you couple it with an implicit distribution advantage as formed through para social relationships and through a community that’s been built, I think there’s incredible opportunity to build really amazing products and services that are actually then able to see the light of day and scale really effectively on the backs of these communities and these creators that have already established that distribution.

I think we’ve seen some of these kind of early signals that this could potentially work and this could be validated. I think you’ve seen this even as early as someone like Kylie Jenner creating her Lip kit products.You’ve seen this more recently with Mr. Beast doing his burgers and chocolate bars. I think over time, this is going to become even more interesting for folks that are actually a little bit smaller, where being technology-enabled or having a founder building an amazing business or platform is going to be the way that they’re going to be able to activate their audience where –maybe they’re not necessarily at the scale of Logan Paul, where they can hire the guy that did Gatorade to come and do their energy drink, but instead, they’re going to be relying on technology enabled platforms to leverage their distribution, marry that up with amazing products and then really build amazing businesses.

And so that’s just a quick example of people hacking the distribution and go-to-market side of things. I think in terms of delivering so much value that the distribution challenge doesn’t matter, I genuinely believe that AI is one of the best chances that we have ever had for products to deliver so much value, they can overcome a distribution challenge. I think we’re super, super early in seeing the ways in which AI is going to transform specifically consumer products. I think on the B2B side, we’re seeing some things take shape you’re seeing people try to replace large customer service operations with AI supported tools. You’re seeing people start to replace content creation pipelines with AI supported tools.

I think these things are interesting and I think the B2B applications are going to be the ones that we see first because they’re a little bit more straight line and maybe a little bit less non-obvious. But I’m personally most excited in what I think will be the consumer-enabled step forward with AI. And I think that this is most interesting to me because the first step for consumers, being probably ChatGPT. For a lot of people, this was their “zero to one” moment. This was the moment where suddenly they had this magical experience with AI for the very first time and their eyes were opened into what was possible. ChatGPT, with the numbers they’ve reported publicly, has been one of the fastest-growing consumer products that we’ve seen in the last few years.

But what’s most interesting is with the most recent release of GPT-4, I think we actually saw a pretty muted reaction from the general public. I think technologists got super excited, I think AI practitioners got super excited, but the general public who was just using ChatGPT as a consumer product, this improvement was kind of not obvious to them.

I heard people say, “Oh, so the replies are better and then this is some huge step forward?” And what’s most exciting about that disparity between the super technical folks that are really in the weeds and a typical consumer is it illustrated to me that the premium is shifting.

Initially, the premium was in technological advancement. It was in literally being able to do something brand new and amazing in AI. But with these next steps forward – and I believe that this will only continue with GPT 5 and so on – the premium is going to be in the way that people productize it. The technology is going to be the technology and it’s going to continue to get better, it’s going to continue to improve. But the way that founders and teams and startups are able to take this technology, find the differences version over version, and then find the amazing ways they can make value super accessible to a consumer, so that it actually adds meaningful value to their lives, this is where the value is going to be built inside of the stack in my opinion.

And so as we continue to see these improvements with generative AI and with things like GPT, I do think there’s going to just continue to be amazing technical advancements. I do think that those advancements are going to continue to be non-obvious for the everyday consumer. And I do think the only way that we’re going to allow consumers to realize the true value of AI as it continues to evolve, is with amazing founders building great companies that take what is now possible and make that really fun, easy, and valuable to everyday consumers. And so that version of consumer AI is definitely the one that I’m most excited for.

"I genuinely believe that AI is one of the best chances that we have ever had for products to deliver so much value, they can overcome a distribution challenge."

Very cool.

Importantly, to the founders you’ll be partnered with in the future, you’ve also been on the founder journey yourself before joining Snap, you co-founded and led product at an online retail analytics platform.

Yeah, we built a platform that did basically analytics for physical retail in the same way that you’d have Google Analytics running on a website to see the visitors and the dwell time and things like this. We built a very similar thing for physical retail stores. So, basically, you could have a lot of the very similar metrics we’re used to having, but for a physical space. And this was actually connected to, or was built as a result of the project that we won Facebook’s global finals.

The initial position was something that not just allowed consumers to experience kind of a minority report style store of the future, but on the back end was really fantastic for personalized advertising and retargeting and a lot of the data side of things that physical retail has kind of always been at a disadvantage for. And so it was really kind of built to bridge this gap in a way that delivered really obvious and clear value to consumers while delivering really concrete data and targeting value to businesses and to platforms and trying to marry these two things under this very mutually beneficial platform that we built.

The context is, in school and afterward, I was a hackathon kid. Me and a kid I grew up with, in over the span of two to three years, we went to probably seven or eight different hackathons, managed to make it out of there undefeated, and as a result, built a bunch of amazing products and I guess demos. But one of them led to a business that we then went out and started.

Now, it’s not some shining success story, but I certainly learned a lot about what it means to be a founder and just how difficult it is. And so it gave me, I think, a tremendous degree of empathy for the folks that dedicate their lives to solving one of these problems or building one of these services. And I think that that’s definitely colored a lot of the way that I approach this now.

Now, digging a little bit more into all these different paths to monetization you were just touching on, how do you assess what’s going to be a good business model when you’re actively in a very confusing moment in time? And it’d be great to hear how you figured this out at Snap.

Yeah, I think that this moment in time certainly has pros and cons with respect to the economic pressure in the broader system. I think that one of the benefits of it all is that there’s certainly been an increased focus on defining a really amazing business model and kind of business sustainability and kind of how durable a business is. And I think that these are actually probably very positive things despite generally maybe be not feeling great all the time.

As you mentioned earlier, Apple released their tracking and transparency update. This really dramatically changed the advertising landscape. An easy way to think about it is that advertising basically went from being super deterministic to being extremely non-deterministic. In the old world, you used to understand who saw the ad, who clicked on the ad, and who bought the shoe. And now each of those steps there’s obfuscation and the data’s a little bit unclear, and that makes it a lot harder for platforms to deliver value, but it also makes a lot harder, specifically for advertisers who are just trying to spend efficiently to drive outcomes for their business.

Now, I think broadly when you zoom out, you’ve used two kind of high level approaches. Building a business that is ad-supported or building a business that is direct monetized. And also we’re seeing some businesses trying to kind of balance these two things simultaneously.

But just a couple quick notes on picking one versus the other – because this is certainly a debate that we talked a lot about at Snap. On the ad-supported side of the house, building a platform that is ad-supported is certainly better at scale. Building a massive ads platform that has a ton of underlying engagement, a lot of users, it actually creates pretty counterintuitive outcomes.
A lot of people don’t realize, but Facebook’s average revenue per user in the US is nearly $240 a year. That’s average. And if you told everyone tomorrow that they had to pay $20 a month for Facebook, you certainly wouldn’t get 100% of their users signing up. And that would just make up for the money they currently make today if they were to switch all the way over to a direct monetized business.

And so advertising-supported businesses (in the upper limit) can really produce kind of counterintuitive amounts of revenue. And this is one of the reasons they’ve been such a powerful linchpin in the most high scale platforms that have existed.

Now, the other kind of implicit attribute of an ad-supported platform is that monetization mirrors engagement. The more engagement you drive, the greater your ability to serve an ad and the greater your ability to make money. And this means the implicit business incentive is to deliver engagement. And that’s why you hear folks like Facebook and these other really high scale platforms talk about engagement so much in their earnings calls and in the public.

Now, the subtle difference here is that monetization mirrors engagement, it doesn’t necessarily mirror value delivery. Monetization mirroring value delivery is actually an implicit trait of direct monetized businesses. When you directly monetize, you charge your users directly. And what this means is, if you as a business deliver enough value, people will pay you. And if you don’t deliver enough value to their lives, they’ll stop. And in this really kind of beautiful way, a direct monetize business has almost perfect alignment between the goals of the business and the goals of the user. The user’s goal is to get as much value as possible out of Netflix. And Netflix’s goal is to get as many people to stay subscribed because they’re delivering enough value to them. And there’s a really beautiful purity in that, and there’s a very subtle difference between engagement versus value delivery in there.

The other thing about direct monetize businesses is they are better at smaller scales. When you’re really early in just starting out, let’s say you have a couple million users, it’s really tough to build a great ad supported business in single digit millions. You can do okay – you know, you can build a business that maybe would fit well instead of private equity or a holding company or something like this. But to really have something that is successful and scalable and building enough revenue to keep the lights on and maintain a really fast growth rate, to do that with advertising when you’re smaller, can be quite challenging. And so direct monetization is a lot better when you’re starting out.

And I think one of the reasons that we’re seeing so many people focus their shift toward direct monetization is a result of the ATT and Apple tracking transparency changes because not only is it a little bit better to be direct monetized when you’re smaller, but also the pot of gold that you’re pursuing at the end of the rainbow when you do build an amazing business, has certainly gotten a little bit smaller and a little bit more difficult to access as a result of ATT.

That makes a lot of sense. Now, of course, if we’re going to be talking about social platforms, we have to mention that they’ve been taking a lot of heat lately as far as safety, misinformation, host of other issues. And as someone who’s spent the past more than eight years inside one of the largest social companies, what do you think these platforms can and should do to mitigate some of these issues? And building on that, what do you think the next wave of social platforms has to get right?

Yeah, it’s a really good question. I think there is a huge responsibility on the folks that are building social platforms to, from the ground up, design platforms in a way that make it really difficult for misinformation to spread, that make it really difficult for folks to engage in bullying and harassment, that make it really difficult for people to engage in the behavior that we’re seeing so widespread across so many forms of social media today. And I’ve seen many companies try to do this as kind of a bandaid. I’ve seen them try to build the platform that they want, that they think is going to drive and deliver a bunch of engagement and then maybe put up a page on the support site about how if you’re being bullied, you can use these resources and this bandaid solution is just the complete wrong approach.

One of the things I’m most proud about throughout our time at Snap is that we really built the platform from the ground up with these concerns in mind, with safety in mind, with misinformation in mind, and deliberately making design decisions to make sure that the platform is as positive as it can possibly be in terms of the way that people interact with it.

A more kind of benign version of a similar kind of problem – we talk about a lot because we’re in the middle of aging up on Snap, so we have more 35-plus folks joining the platform than we’ve ever had before. And the common question that we used to get is, “Well, aren’t the kids all going to leave once their parents join?” It’s a very kind of classic social media question. And the answer is no, not unless you give the parents a way for them to embarrass their kids. If you build really amazing tools to let parents embarrass their children on a platform, I promise you the children will leave when the parents get there.

But when it comes to the design of Snap, we really made sure that there were no ways for this to happen. And the example we would always repeat to ourselves internally is iMessage doesn’t get worse when your parents have your phone number.

So clearly there is a way for us to build a platform that doesn’t get worse when your parents are there. And in fact, talking to my parents is one of my favorite things to do on Snapchat, so maybe also a bit of a counterexample. But the reason I give these two examples is they’re both things that you can’t solve after the fact, whether it’s safety or misinformation, or whether it’s building a platform that’s able to age up really gracefully from a social standpoint. Both of these things have to happen in the actual bones and design of the product itself. And if you do get to a point where it’s becoming an afterthought, it’s very often too late.

And so I think when it comes to future companies and future founders, thinking about the things that are really important to get right, it’s about being as proactive as you possibly can and thinking about the ways that this platform could be abused, the ways in which someone may feel unsafe, and really trying to preserve that relationship that you have with your user. The more comfortable you can make them, the more at home they feel when they’re using your service, the more intuitive and just familiar everything feels to them, the more they’re going to engage and the more value they’re going to get.

And at the end of the day, the incentives to solve this problem, from a foundational level, with respect to safety, misinformation, and also even parents, are completely aligned with your goals as a founder and your goals as someone building one of these products. And so thinking about that from day one is critically important.

Right. Figuring out how to age gracefully is critical. Throughout your career, you’ve been known for bringing an art-plus-science mindset to your work. And one of your biggest contributions at Snap was establishing the company’s core product value growth framework and its international growth playbook. That led to growth in daily active users from 80 million to 363 million. And we talked a little bit about this in the beginning, but really what did this entail?

Yeah, well, I certainly can’t take all the credit there. There’s an amazing team of folks that has come together and worked really closely together for years now. Actually, the guy who leads the growth team today, was one of the original members that I had managed to recruit to the growth team from another department of Snap almost eight years ago when we were first creating the team. And so that team has just built an incredible operating model and a really fantastic framework.

But one of the things you mentioned is kind of developing this growth framework.  And one of the things that we had to think a lot about at Snap was, we for a long time were a company that I would say was probably quite far on the art side of the spectrum. I think we really prided ourselves, and we do today, in our innovation and our ability to define something that doesn’t exist that we believe is going to add value or be important to people and set that out in the world without having people ask us for it, find a way to build a thing that really connects with them that they really love, that they use every day, and that delivers a ton of value.

This art approach, I think, works really well when companies are on the smaller side. And the reason really often is, your early adopters are usually your early adopters because they had the same problem that you did. And the problem that you had that caused you to build this company, your early adopters had that same problem and that’s why they became early adopters. And what this means is in those first few years, you can develop your product and you can evolve the company by just asking the question, “Well, what do I want next?” And you almost get to build for yourself for a little bit.

This question, “What do I want?” is really powerful in the beginning because your empathy with these early adopters is basically free. You guys have really similar problems, you have really similar worldviews, and when you’re answering that question for yourself, you’re very likely also answering it for your users. And the challenge, of course, comes when companies and products scale. When you go from having a million users to having 5 million users to 10 million users, suddenly the percent of your user base that you are representative of starts to shrink. And your ability to say, “Well, what do I want?” And just build that, the degree to which that thing that you’ve decided to build connecting with now 10 million people, 15 million people, that’s only going to get worse over time.

And so what ends up happening is, you end up with this fork in the road where you have to decide, “Do I still want to develop products by building the thing that I want to see in the world and just setting out and doing it?” Or, what many companies do is kind of almost throw all of that away and instead shift to a world of being very data-driven and just kind of like AB testing everything, shipping 50 variants of a button, and just seeing which one leads to the highest click-through rate. And almost changing the entire product ethos of the company from one that was really deeply rooted in art to begin with, which is how so many products get started in their zero to one moment, to instead one that’s almost entirely rooted in science where it’s only about really AB testing experimentation, and it’s a very, very data-driven product culture.

Now, the unique thing about Snap that we really try to spend a lot of time focusing on, is finding a way to bridge these two things.

We were really sure we didn’t want to throw out the innovation that got us there in the first place. But we also knew that as we became higher scale, we probably needed better ways to build empathy for our growing user base and have a little bit more rigor in the ways that we were evolving our product. And so that’s really where it came together in this kind of framework of bridging the art and science of product development.

One of the best examples is in the core product value framework that we use for growth, and that now is something that’s used kind of across the company. This is not a framework that we invented at Snap by any means, but is one that I think we’ve had quite a bit of success implementing. And what it really comes down to is if you can define, hopefully in a single sentence, why an end user would describe something as valuable, that that’s probably the right starting point for then building your scientific approach to metrics, instrumentation and AB testing.

The way that looked at Snap is that to kind of kick off our work with the growth team, we actually did user research in a bunch of countries around the world. And we just asked our community why they use the service every single day, what was the reason it was important or valuable to them? Why did they keep opening the app? And the sentence that came back from almost every single country and that we then kind of distilled down was, Snapchat is the fastest and easiest way to capture and share a photo with my friends. And that, very quickly internally, became the fastest way to communicate.

Now, that is something that we can orient an entire team, an entire organization around. If you just hire a growth PM with no context, they’re probably going to tell you to send more notifications, they’re probably going to tell you to add a select all button to our send to screen where we’re choosing how many people a Snap is going to go to. But these are not things that make the service more valuable.

However, if you start your growth team from the standpoint of, I just want you to make Snap a faster way to communicate, I want you to help people express more emotional context information, and I want you to make it faster and easier for them to do it. This, suddenly, is an orientation for our growth PM that’s actually allowing them to not just work on the growth of the product, but actually working on making the product more valuable. And this framework steered us from kind of the earliest days with the growth team, but it’s something that we still use today.

Actually, every part of Snap’s product, whether it’s the product as a whole, the fastest way to communicate, or any sub feature that we build, we try to push all of our teams to define this sentence for the future they’re building, tell us the sentence: Why will this be valuable for someone? And have that turn into the success metrics that we’re going to go look for in the AB test or in the experiment that we run. This helps you avoid kind of a culture where experiments are won by time spent being green and everything else kind of being neutral, or a world where, you know, say, “Oh, well, Snap sends are up and everything else is kind of flat, so maybe we should just ship it.”

And it instead always brings you back to the user. It always brings you back to the value the feature was supposed to deliver, the way that someone is supposed to be using it, and did we achieve our intended goal? And it leaves a ton of room for innovation. Because obviously in improving a product to be a faster way to communicate, there’s a thousand ways to do that. And so it ends up being a really, really nice approach to both bring together the art and science of building, growing, and evolving a product at scale. And it’s been something that’s been really successful in our time at Snap.

Great. And you worked very closely with Evan Spiegel, the founder and CEO of Snap for, as we know, more than eight years. And specifically about that relationship, what can you share with us about how that work history and your day-to-day shaped how you’ll approach working with founders in your new role as an investor? And maybe explain some of the characteristics you saw in Evan or see in Evan that you now consider to be must-have qualities in successful founders.

Yeah, it’s a great question. The real joy for me, of the last eight years is, beginning to partner so deeply with Evan and helping him build this business. And the amount that I’ve learned from him and his leadership, his leadership style, the way he thinks about the product, the way he thinks about building an amazing business, it has really deeply impacted so many of the ways that I think about building products and building companies today and I’m in incredibly grateful to have the opportunity to have partnered with him for so long.

I will say that that relationship with Evan is one of the things that makes me so excited for having that same degree of partnership with founders moving forward as an investor. To get to join someone on this journey when they’re in that early stage and they see that thing that’s supposed to exist in the world that doesn’t, or they see that opportunity. And then to watch that evolve from being just kind of an amazing product or to solve for something into something that is able to then grow really quickly and then actually become a business, that journey and that the partnership throughout the context of that journey is something that I’ve really come to appreciate in the last decade, and I’m super excited to do a lot more of.

When it comes to the traits, I think one of the things that was most fascinating to me in my time at Snap and partnering with Evan is the degree to which he has just crazy empathy for our end users in our community, has clearly become one of the guiding forces for all the decisions that we make as a company. And I think when you look at building a product that’s going to become really high scale or is going to be used by millions of people, I think, to make sure that you just
continue to have tools and mechanisms to just maintain crazy deep empathy with the people you’re building for is so important.

As soon as a company or a CEO or a founder starts to lose sight of the actual people on the other side of the service they’re building, this is when things start to slip down this path of you becoming a little less focused on delivering value and a little more focused on just metrics and the engagement and the behavior that you’re seeing. And while this can be fine, maybe in the short term, and you can just focus on making the numbers bigger and growing time spent and growing DAU, at the end of the day, if you’re not increasing the value you’re delivering to the actual people on the other side of the screen, then it’s not going to be a business that’s going to be really long-term valuable and it’s not going to be business that’s going to be able to grow really, really quickly.

And so this kind of crazy deep empathy and this drive to always more deeply understand the people who are using the products that we build every single day, the way it fits into their lives, the way they think about us, the way they interact with each other using our products, this kind of obsession with understanding and building this empathy, I think is one of the traits that has just been the most striking for me in my time in Snap. And I think it’s clearly something that, like any founder building consumer products looking forward, you really need to have at a pretty deep level this obsession with deeply understanding the people using the service and the ways that they’re using it.

"When you look at building a product that's going to become really high scale or is going to be used by millions of people, to make sure that continue to have tools and mechanisms, you have to maintain crazy deep empathy with the people you're building for."

As soon as a company or a CEO or a founder starts to lose sight of the actual people on the other side of the service they’re building, this is when things start to slip down this path of you becoming a little less focused on delivering value and a little more focused on just metrics and the engagement and the behavior that you’re seeing. And while this can be fine, maybe in the short term, and you can just focus on making the numbers bigger and growing time spent and growing DAU, at the end of the day, if you’re not increasing the value you’re delivering to the actual people on the other side of the screen, then it’s not going to be a business that’s going to be really long-term valuable and it’s not going to be business that’s going to be able to grow really, really quickly.

And so this kind of crazy deep empathy and this drive to always more deeply understand the people who are using the products that we build every single day, the way it fits into their lives, the way they think about us, the way they interact with each other using our products, this kind of obsession with understanding and building this empathy, I think is one of the traits that has just been the most striking for me in my time in Snap. And I think it’s clearly something that, like any founder building consumer products looking forward, you really need to have at a pretty deep level this obsession with deeply understanding the people using the service and the ways that they’re using it.

That’s great. So we’ve got a really good idea of where your head is now on everything, but physically, where are you going to be working and how can founders get in touch with you?

Yeah. Well, so I’m based in LA, but I’m spending a ton of time in San Francisco and splitting time between both LA and San Francisco. I’m super excited for both the startup scene in LA and I’m really excited for this recreation of this center of gravity in San Francisco over the course of the last six months. It really does feel like things are coming alive in San Francisco after the pandemic and everyone’s kind of worked everything through their system.

I’m specifically excited with the ways that San Francisco has become the center of gravity for folks building with AI. I think, like I said, we’re in the really early innings of that, but I think we’re going to see some really amazing companies that are kind of AI powered, be built in San Francisco, where the just density of talent is just really fantastic there. And then in LA, I think we have this really interesting backdrop of the social scene here, Hollywood, the industries that exist here.

And I think when it comes to creators, which we talked a little bit about, I think founders based in LA, when it comes to building social products and when it comes to building products for creators, are able to have this kind of one step closer when it comes to that empathy of building really great products for those communities. And so I’m just really incredibly excited about both places.

Jacob, it’s been great speaking with you about your career up until now and what you hope to bring to your new role as an investor here at Greylock. I’m super excited to see what you do next. Thank you so much for joining me today.

Thank you for having me. It’s been a lot of fun.