Why Uber, Snapchat and Tinder are So Successful Despite Themselves

fraternity boys


Mobile Apps have created a new generation of tech moguls. As with everything in mobile, app innovations move at lightning speeds, and so does the creation of billionaire entrepreneurs. Take 23-year old CEO and co-founder of Snapchat Evan Spiegel. Snapchat has a current valuation of $10 billion. Just to get a little perspective, Spiegel was only 16 when the iPhone first launched.

As this newest round of mobile billionaires take their start-ups to dizzying heights, they also seem to be redefining the depths of entitlement, misogyny and poor choices, epitomizing the very worst of the frat boy persona.

Let’s review:

Snapchat suffered a very public embarrassment when Spiegel’s old emails were leaked to the public. Far beyond normal college nonsense, these emails were grossly misogynistic, offensive, and disturbing. But it didn’t seem to slow them down. While this may be infuriating to our collective senses of decency, let’s think about why this PR disaster had no effect on them: Snapchat does a real job for users and it does it very well. It allows users to share fleeting, ephemeral moments of their lives through images.

It’s the distillation of the best and most popular parts of every other social sharing app, giving users just what they want and nothing extra. This laser focus on one job is responsible for the app’s meteoric rise from a germ of an idea in 2011 to a $10 billion valuation.

Why wasn’t Snapchat gored for Spiegel’s behavior? Because the job users hire it to do is not related to users’ image. If Tim Cook would send similar emails (I know its beyond imagination but try) Apple users would revolt. Why? Because we hire Apple products to help tell others who we are as people. We don’t do that with Snapchat. So Spiegel’s character, while embarrassing and offensive, hasn’t deterred investors or users.

Tinder’s missteps were even more widespread and far more public. In a much-publicized lawsuit, Whitney Wolf alleged that both founders Sean Rad and Justin Mateen were guilty of “atrocious” misogyny.

The proof was in dozens of hateful texts and emails, all of which culminated in Mateen being asked to step down. Yet use of Tinder hasn’t slowed, with more than 10 million matches being made every day. They’ve even launched a paid arm of the company, and their current valuation is $1 billion. Again, because Tinder understood that the very first and critical thing we want to know is: are we physically attracted to this person and do they like me back? Understanding this, there are no profiles just pics and age. Like or Don’t Like. Elegant and powerful. Again, their laser focus on a clear job to be done is what has made them weather a scandal storm that should have toppled them.

Uber is maybe the most egregious example of all, not because it’s founders have been caught sending compromising emails (they haven’t), but because they lied to users about their driver screening policy (that is, they pretended to have one). To date Uber drivers have been implicated in a number of sexual assaults and even one case of vehicular manslaughter. Nonetheless, Uber is now valuated at a staggering $41 billion, and is active in 230 cities. I use Uber a lot, because it solves my problems (getting me quickly from A-B, no tipping, secure payment) better and more efficiently than any cabs ever could.

If it seems like we’re being apologists for inexcusable behavior, we’re not. Bad behavior is unacceptable especially those we have entrusted with our private moments, our hearts and our safety.  But the the bottom line is that if we hire your brand to do a utility rather than tell others who we are it doesn’t matter what sort of repellent behavior they exhibit, as long as they solve our real problem.

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