Snapchat CEO Evan Spiegel learned the wrong lessons from China

The Information has a story on Snapchat’s recent stumbles around it’s new app, which users have largely hated.  Because that story is paywalled, I’ll link to a Gizmodo article that has some of the coverage without a paywall. The interesting part for me is learning that CEO Evan Spiegel was visiting China (which is blocking Snapchat AFAIK) and started the redesign based on information he learned from his China visit.

Inspired by apps he’d seen in that country [China], Mr. Spiegel wanted to create a new version separating users’ friends’ content from the professional media. Each category would be sorted by an algorithm rather than Snapchat’s existing chronological feed.

Spiegel, who is only 27, and has had apparently limited experience in China, made the critical error of taking a trend from one market [China] and applying it to another market [Snapchat’s home market] without considering all of the cultural and market differences between the two. I think it is a good lesson to illuminate the differences between China and non-China markets. What works in China often does not directly work in non-China markets, and the opposite is often also true, either due to Chinese government censorship or market differences. That Spiegel is the CEO enabled him to push through this redesign without understanding this shows his naivete wrt both China and how international markets are different. Visiting China a few times a year and then basing drastic changes on your successful app from that limited understanding- just about anyone who had more than cursory experience in China could have seen this disaster coming. It is an expensive lesson for Spiegel and the Snapchat team and a good lesson for those of us who care to learn.