The history of Snapchat began with an idea to send photos that would disappear soon after. Years later, billions of photo and video snaps have been sent, countless stories opened, and new features launched, making Snapchat a strategic channel for businesses and marketers to reach the younger demographic.
We created a Snapchat timeline by gathering the company’s key events, helping you understand the development and growth of this social media channel.
Who Owns Snapchat?
Snapchat belongs to Snap Inc., led by Evan Spiegel, the CEO, and Bobby Murphy, the CTO. Along with Reggie Brown, they co-founded Snapchat in 2011. The app was originally called Picaboo and later renamed Snapchat.
Spiegel, Murphy, and Brown met when they were Stanford University students. According to several sources, Reggie Brown had the initial idea of an app that would send photos before disappearing. When he shared the idea with Evan Spiegel, Spiegel said it was a “million-dollar idea”.
Evan Spiegel then brought Bobby Murphy into the picture as a coder. The trio of Stanford University students moved in together that summer to work on the app. While Spiegel worked on the business development and Bobby Murphy on the coding, Brown had fewer tasks to do. This led to disagreements, and as a result, Reggie Brown was no longer part of Snapchat.
In 2013, Reggie Brown filed a lawsuit saying he was unfairly ousted from Snapchat. The case was closed in 2014 when Snapchat paid Brown $157.5 million. “We acknowledge Reggie’s contribution to the creation of Snapchat and appreciate his work in getting the application off the ground,” said Spiegel at the time.
Snapchat got its first institutional venture partners thanks to high school students who were regular Snapchat users, namely venture capitalist Barry Eggers’ daughter. In 2012, Eggers’ business partner Jeremy Liew heard how much his partner’s daughter liked Snapchat.
Along with Instagram and Angry Birds, Snapchat was one of the three apps every high school student used to have on their phone. Liew was interested in learning more about the company, so he tracked down Evan Spiegel’s contact details. By the end of their meeting, he invested $485,000.
The seed funding was followed by a Series A round of $13.5 million in February 2013, and a Series B of $60 million in June 2013. According to Crunchbase, Snap has raised $4.9 billion in funding over 16 rounds up to 2018.
Growth and Development of Snapchat
Snapchat rebranded as Snap Inc. in 2016, positioning itself as a technology and camera company. In addition to the Snapchat app, it also owns Bitmoji, Spectacles, Looksery, and the Zenly app.
As of 2023, Snapchat has had over 400 million daily active users, 75% of whom were 13-34 year olds. Although its user base has always been the younger demographic, it hasn’t always been this big of a company.
Here are the key milestones in the history of Snapchat, from an app to send photos that disappear to a potential leader in augmented reality.
2011-2012: Early Days of Snapchat
Evan Spiegel wrote in his first blog post on Snapchat’s website.
With most photo apps on the market advertising ways to make photos prettier or more stylized, we thought there was an opportunity to do something different
Since its early days, what set Snapchat apart was its ability to share real-life moments, no matter how funny, awkward, or embarrassing they were.
Below is an example of how Snapchat users talked about the app on Twitter in 2012:
When it was launched in 2011, Snapchat was an iOS-only app. By October 2012, users had already shared 1 billion “snaps”, making it the #19 most popular app on the App Store. Shortly after, the app became available for Android users as well.
At the end of the year, Snapchat started video snaps, allowing users to share 10-second videos that would disappear once opened.
2013: Snapchat Launches Stories, Rejects an Offer from Facebook
By 2013, Snapchat was already seeing tremendous user growth. But the app was far from perfect. Many Snapchat users said they wanted a way to send snaps to multiple people. However, the Snapchat team thought adding a “select everyone” button might make the experience less special for the users on the receiving end.
The idea behind Stories was to respond to the users’ needs without compromising the experience of sending and receiving individual snaps. When a user posts a story, everyone gets a chance to reply. Through replies, users can continue sending each other snaps, making room for more authentic conversations that start through Stories.
Jack Brody, VP of Product of Snapchat, said that the Stories feature was not an immediate hit, but it did go on to change the social media app industry. Indeed, after Snapchat, other social media platforms such as Instagram launched stories.
2013 was also the year when Snapchat rejected Facebook’s offer to buy the company for $3 billion. In the same year, Reggie Brown sued Snapchat again, claiming that Spiegel and Murphy used his original idea without compensating him. The case would end up settled in 2014.
2014: Ads and Text Messages Become a Part of the Snapchat App
In 2014, Snapchat launched geofilters that enable location tagging, and ads hosted in the Recent Updates section. The company’s first ad was for the movie Ouija.
In addition to photos and videos, the app also enabled users to send messages in text format.
2015: Snapchat Introduces New Features, Including Discover and Lenses
With the launch of Discover, Snapchat started showing content from brands and publishers such as Wall Street Journal and Vox. Next, it introduced Tap to View, a feature allowing users to view a Snap or a Story without holding the screen.
In 2015, Snapchat also launched Lenses, adding a new meaning to the word “selfie,” which was named the word of the year two years earlier by Oxford University Press. Lenses gave users the choice between fun Snapchat filters, allowing them to make their selfies more creative.
2016: Snap Inc. Rebrands
Three years after Facebook attempted to purchase Snapchat, Google offered to buy the company for $30 billion. Snapchat rejected again.
In September 2016, Evan Spiegel and Bobby Murphy announced they would change the company’s name to Snap Inc. By 2016, Snapchat had created products like Stories, Memories, and Lenses, and started a new company called Spectacles, focusing on AR glasses.
Just a couple of months before the rebrand, Snapchat acquired Bitstrips, the company behind personalized Bitmoji avatars. Users could now integrate their Bitmojis into Snapchat’s chats and stories, making the conversations more fun and personalized.
2017: Snap Map Launches
In 2017, Snapchat added a new feature called Snap Map where friends could share their location and see what others were doing through an Actionmoji. For privacy reasons, users can also select “Ghost Mode” if they don’t want anyone to see their location on the map.
Below is the Snap Map of a user who has friends in various parts of the UK:
2018-2020: Snap Launches New Features, including Snapchat Spotlight and Creators
Between 2018 and 2020, Snapchat users gained access to the Explore feature for Snap Map, group video chats, and CitizenSnap reports. Published annually from 2020 onwards, CitizenSnap aims to increase transparency around data, diversity, and the planet.
With the substantial growth of the creator economy in 2020, in part due to the pandemic, Snapchat had to catch up. In September 2020, it announced that creators would be able to access advanced analytics to connect better with their audience. Two months later, Spotlight launched as a feed for users to discover new creators and snaps, including Trending Sounds, Lenses, and Topics.
2021-2022: Snapchat Remains an Independent Company Despite All
By September 2021, Snap’s stocks skyrocketed. Only a year later, the company was affected by Apple’s new privacy changes, with its stocks plummetting. At Code Conference 2022, Evan Spiegel responded to questions about selling the company. He said that building an independent company was the best option for Snap, as he believed the company had not reached its full potential yet.
This same year, Snapchat launched Snapchat+, its paid subscription service.
2023: AI and AR Investments Mark the Year
By 2023, Snap increased its revenue and decreased its net loss. One of its focus areas was to diversify its revenue growth, which was possible thanks to optimizing ad strategy, integrating machine learning solutions, and more.
It launched AI-powered features, such as the My AI chatbot and Dreams, a generative AI selfie creator. My AI was one of the hits of Snap’s 2023, with 200 million Snapchat users sending 20 billion messages to the AI chatbot. In addition to this, the company continued seeing results from its existing products, as the total time spent on Spotlight increased by 200% year-over-year, and over 5 million people signed up for Snapchat+.
History of the Snapchat Logo
Tech journalist Billy Gallagher wrote about the story of Snapchat’s logo in his book, How To Turn Down A Billion Dollars: The Snapchat Story. According to the book, Evan Spiegel and Reggie Brown wanted the logo to symbolize the app’s disappearing messages. Eventually, they decided on a smiling ghost which they named Ghostface Chillah.
As for the colors, having studied the hundred most popular apps on the App Store, Evan Spiegel realized that none of the apps had a yellow background. To make their app stand out, Spiegel placed Ghostface Chillah on a yellow background.
Snapchat still uses the ghost logo, both in yellow and in black and white. There have been small changes, such as removing the ghost’s face and making the borders bolder. The video below shows how the logo has evolved over the years.
The Future of Snapchat
As of 2023, Snapchat had five core platforms that will be important both in the short and long term:
- Snap Map
In its Q3 2023 report, Snapchat also announced that it will continue investing in AR and immersive experiences in the future. On average, 250 million users engage with AR on a daily basis. This includes first-time users, with 70% of them using some form of AR on their first day in the app.
AR in Snapchat is present in Lenses, Lens Studio, and AR Shopping, a feature that enables users to virtually try on clothes. In the future, Snapchat aims to be one of the industry leaders for AR.