To be brutally honest, business is far from easy and the Internet can be an incredibly fickle mistress. She can be a tough nut to crack, even when you think that you’re currently king of the hill. That’s exactly what has happened to Snap, the company that we once knew by the name of its hugely popular social networking app Snapchat.
Here was this crazy idea that actually worked. Everyone thought they were nuts. If you asked someone several years ago whether people would want a picture and video messaging app where the messages automatically self-destructed after being seen, they’d think you were out of your mind. Why would anyone want that? Don’t you want records of your conversations so you can refer to them later?
But it worked. And more importantly, it tapped into the wildly elusive and hugely lucrative demographic of millennials and other young people. Up until that point, advertisers were having such a tough time reaching this cohort. Younger people generally don’t respond as well to traditional marketing and they’ve gotten savvier at dodging regular online ads too. But engagement and excitement around Snapchat was huge.
Then, the company rebranded from Snapchat to Snap, right around the same time that they released Spectacles. The sunglasses have a built-in camera in the frame that connects to your smartphone, allowing you to automatically send those “Snaps” from a first-person point of view. For the Snapchat generation, it sounded like exactly the quirky and fun product that’d be a hit.
And Snap bumbled it.
In an attempt to make Snapchat Spectacles a viral sensation, Snap only made them available through the random appearance of Snapbot vending machines that would land in pop-up shops across the United States for a very limited amount of time. Only a select few (we’re talking several tens of thousands, but still only a select few) people could get one.
They wanted to build hype. They wanted to build excitement. And to some degree, they succeeded… but they allowed hubris to blind them to reality. As of October 2017, reports say that the company has hundreds of thousands of unsold Spectacles. The problem is that not nearly enough people want them anymore.
Following the initial wave of excitement, the company went on over to their suppliers in China and upped their order. The thing is that user interest started to wane over time, partly because of the limited supply in the beginning, but also because Instagram Stories took over. It turns out that some people want their “stories” to be seen by other people and Instagram provided exactly the platform to do that when it added an effective clone of Snapchat Stories.
Technology works quickly, especially in the purely digital space. And if you demonstrate a successful model that generates all sorts of buzz, if you show that what you’re doing is getting people excited, chances are that someone is going to copy you. Have you seen how many Candy Crush clones flood the App Store? Everyone is copying everyone, so you need to bring something else to the table.
With Instagram, it is a gigantic user base that’s backed by the mega giant of Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook. Along with names like Google and Apple, they’re the elephant in the room and they simply cannot be ignored. Snapchat thought they were onto something, but they got too far ahead of themselves.
What can we learn from this experience as online entrepreneurs and Internet marketers ourselves? You’ve got to strike the pan while it’s hot, milk it for all that it’s worth, and don’t assume that your success will last. You could be flying high one day and it could all blow up in your face the next. Always be ready to move on to the next thing.