Take it from Snapchat—Messaging Is the Medium

April 21, 2015

Wired Magazine

IMRAN KHAN HAD risen to be among the most successful investment bankers in New York when he quit the profession last December to become chief strategy officer at Snapchat. In the past few years, the messaging startup exploded in popularity, mostly among teens, who use it to exchange pictures and videos—which disappear a few seconds after being viewed—and to compile strings of publicly viewable photos and videos called Stories. Snapchat may well be the future of both messaging and watching videos, making it a significant threat to the current heavyweights, Facebook and Google.

The secretive startup shares little information about how many people use the service, but nearly a year ago, Snapchat’s 24-year-old cofounder and CEO, Evan Spiegel, said users send more than 700 million disappearing “snaps” daily and view more than 1 billion Stories. The company is capitalizing on that interest with new partnerships and product launches. Last November it teamed up with Square to launch a payment service called Snapcash. And in January, Snapchat partnered with media companies like CNN and Vice on Discover, a series of next-generation TV-like channels. Khan’s arrival suggests that Snapchat—valued at $15 billion—will continue expanding its business, with an eye toward going public before long.

Khan, 37, is a data cruncher often clad in suits that run a size or two large, and he has a knack for identifying big trends. Born in Bangladesh, he attended the University of Denver’s Daniels College of Business and started his career as a telecom analyst at ING. During six years at JP Morgan Chase, he published an annual report on Internet stocks called “Nothing but Net.”

When he arrived at Credit Suisse in 2011, the bank had a poor reputation among tech companies. Khan strengthened relationships with Asian contacts, including Alibaba’s CFO. He has advised on more than $45 billion in financial transactions, including IPOs for Weibo, King (of Candy Crush fame), and Groupon. Before decamping to Snapchat’s offices in Venice Beach, California, the banker took the lead on Alibaba’s $25 billion initial public offering last September. It was the biggest IPO of all time and marked the arrival of a global rival for American Internet behemoths like Amazon and Google.

Initially, Khan’s major contribution to Snapchat will be in fundraising. He traveled to Saudi Arabia with Spiegel in March to discuss partnership opportunities with Prince Alwaleed bin Talal. And he was the driving force behind Alibaba’s recent $200 million investment. But with just 200 employees, Snapchat is still small enough that Khan will be helping Spiegel out more broadly. Given that Snapchat’s chief operating officer left abruptly in March, Khan’s guidance will be crucial as the young CEO attempts to take a stronger role in managing the business. While the photos that users upload to the service may disappear, it will be up to Khan to make sure that the company’s value does not.