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Bobby Murphy, the brain behind Snapchat

Bobby Murphy was born in Berkeley, California on the first of April 1988. Both his parents were state employees and his mother immigrated to USA from the Philippines.

He studied at Stanford University and was a member of the Kappa Sigma fraternity. When he received his degree in mathematical and computational science he started to create an online social network inspired by Google circles and this is when he hired Evan Spiegel for help. The two met at the fraternity in 2010 and they developed FutureFreshman.com together which was an online guide to college applications.

Their first projects weren’t successful, but the friendship remained and it would lead to a mobile application called Snapchat with the aid or Reggie Brown. The original name of the project was Picaboo and it was initiated by Brown and Spiegel who then brought Murphy in to code the application. As they recall, Spiegel presented the idea in front of a product design class as his final project in April 2011 and the class thought the idea of impermanent photos wasn’t good.

But this is exactly what Snapchat is, – a photo messaging application with which users can take photos, record videos, add text or drawings and then send them to a list of recipients with a time limit for how long the recipients can see the Snaps, ranging from 1 to 10 seconds after which they would be deleted. The platform chosen was iOS, the most widely used at the time, and it was launched from the living room of Spiegel’s father in July 2011 with the name Picaboo, being later renamed and re-launched as Snapchat.

The first concerns of the team were on the technical aspects of the product, making it as easy to use and as bug-free as possible, and only then would they think about branding, creating a mascot called “Ghostface Chillah”, derived from the name of a Wu-Tang Clan singer.

The cofounder Reggie Brown filed a suit claiming that he should own a part of the company since he came up with the whole concept, logo and the original name, leading to a falling out in August 2011 which was only settled on September 9, 2014, for an undisclosed sum and crediting Brown with the idea of Snapchat.

Despite the ideas of the product design class, the Snapchat app proved to be a success and by May 2012 they reported that 25 images were being sent each second, reaching one billion sent photos in November 28, 2012.

The unexpected growth in popularity of the product led to several problems with scaling and delivering images in real time, so they sought funding from places like the Lightspeed Ventures to help with these issues and to allow them to release the software for Android as well, which was done on the 29th of November 2012.

Additional funds were raised in June 2013 through a funding round led by Institutional Venture Partners, reaching $60 million and in this time a new board member was appointed with Michael Lynton from the American division of Sony.

A version of the program designed specifically for children under 13 years which was entitled Snapkidz, implemented as a part of the original application and activated when the date of birth is entered, restricting the program to only taking snaps and drawing on them, without the permission to send them to other users.

The issues of privacy were something many users were concerned about and the company revealed its compliance with the federal Electronic Communications Privacy Act in October 2013 and Micah Schaffer, the director of operations stated that “about a dozen of the search warrants we’ve received have resulted in us producing unopened snaps to law enforcement.”

Although you might think that the ephemeral nature of Snapchat is a drawback, its popularity proves the opposite, since it lets the people using it feel freer, not so calculated and worried about content, leading to over 400 million snaps being sent each day.

The late 2013 was when the company went through one of its highlights when they turned down a $3 billion buyout offer from Facebook that made the news. On December 31, 2013 Snapchat was hacked, revealing around 4.6 million usernames and phone numbers on a website, as an attempt to “raise public awareness”. The attack response was a new version of the app which would improve security and protect the users.

New features were added in 2014 to improve text messaging and video chatting and the content of Snapchat Stories became a lot more popular, managing to actually surpass the amount of Snaps in June 2014.

It is estimated that there are over 50 million users at the time, although Snapchat didn’t release the numbers of its users, and the average age is that of 18. “It’s about the moment, a connection between friends in the present and it’s not just a pretty picture”. Spiegel was always the public face of the company with his outspoken and charismatic presence, but the brains behind Snapchat has always been Murphy, working as the Chief Technology Officer.

Bobby Murphy is very private and quite the opposite of the expansive Spiegel. The first employee of Snapchat David Kravits said about him: “I’d describe him almost like a monk. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him upset.”

In August 2014 a financial agreement was negotiated between the Kleiner Perkins venture capital firm from Silicon Valley and Snapchat, after the firm has already raised $163 million in funding. At this time Snapchat was valued at $10 billion and the first paid advertisement was made two months later with a 20 second movie trailer for the film Ouija. By February 2015 the offers increased and the company was valued at $19 billion and Bobby Murphy is estimated to have at least a 15% stake in the company.

Looking back at the times when they were planning to create Snapchat, Murphy recalls his thoughts at the time: “We weren’t cool, so we tried to build things to be cool.” And with a current worth of $1.5 billion at the age of only 26 no one could argue that he is cool today.

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