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Non-Disappearing Messages Could Cost Snapchat Founders

Non-Disappearing Messages Could Cost Snapchat Founders

Photograph by J. Emilio Flores/The New York Times via Redux

Snapchat’s founders may wish they had had a self-destructing messaging system when they were in college. The company is facing a lawsuit from a man claiming that the message app’s co-founders, Evan Spiegel and Bobby Murphy, pushed him out after he came up with the idea. This isn’t the first lawsuit in which someone has emerged looking for a cut of a multimillion-dollar tech startup. But Reggie Brown, who was in the same fraternity as Spiegel and Murphy, has produced a number of e-mails and messages that seem to quote Spiegel giving credit to Brown for making photo messages that disappear, according to documents filed on Thursday in a California court.

Snapchat’s founders have not responded to a request for comment.

In an e-mail to an associate, Spiegel described Picaboo, the precursor to Snapchat, as the work of three people (presumably the third is Brown):

“I just built an app with two friends of mine (certified bros—our frat just got kicked off campus) and we think you might really, really like it. It’s called Picaboo and it’s a game for sending disappearing pictures with your friends. You just take a picture, set the timer up to 10 seconds, and send it to a friend—when they receive your Picaboo they can view it until the timer runs out and then it’s gone forever! Fun stuff.”

Among other documents in the filing are an e-mail showing that Murphy tagged Brown as an employee of Picaboo on Facebook, plus another showing Brown’s name listed on Crunchbase, an index of startups, as Piacaboo’s chief marketing officer. In a text message sent to Brown in August 2011, Spiegel alludes to a conflict between the two men but says he wants credit for the basic idea of Snapchat to accrue to Brown:

“Hey man I honestly feel insulted so I wanted to make sure I didn’t want to overreact. I definitely want to continue the conversation but it’s hard when I feel so attacked. I want to make sure you feel like you are given credit for the idea of disappearing messages because it sounds like that means a lot to you.”

In the two years since that message was sent, Snapchat’s brand of ephemerality has become one of the hottest ideas in tech. The company recently raised $60 million, at an $800 million valuation, even without any firm prospects to make money. The two founders also reportedly took $10 million in cash, pocketing a fortune for themselves, even if the app fizzles before they can figure out how to turn it into a sustainable business.

According to Brown, he should be sharing in the windfall.

Brustein is a writer for in New York.
Gillette is a staff writer for Bloomberg Businessweek in New York.

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