EVAN SPIEGEL, SNAPCHAT
“Let’s just take a shot at restoring some context.” That was Evan Spiegel’s modest goal when he laid the foundations for the picture-messaging app in his Stanford University dorm room in April 2011. Like many tech entrepreneurs before him, he dropped out of college to pursue his idea. Now, at just 26, he runs a company valued at $16bn. Snapchat’s young user base – predominantly people in their teens or 20s – seems to have endorsed Spiegel’s central observation that pictures spontaneously taken and shared on smart phones should not necessarily live forever on a searchable database. The company now boasts 200 million active users. As well as its headquarters in Venice, Los Angeles, the company has offices in Seattle, New York and London, and around 330 employees, and counting, as it brings on new hires.
ADAM NEUMANN, WEWORK
In February 2014, WeWork was valued at $1.5bn. Now, a little more than two years later, it is worth $16bn and has hired 900 employees in the past year alone, bringing the employee count to just over 1,200. However, is Adam Neumann a tech entrepreneur or a real estate magnate?
While chiefly a provider of collaborative offices, WeWork’s 6’5’’, leather jacket- wearing, Israeli-born CEO likens the firm to a smartphone’s operating system. It brings buildings to life in the same way that Android or iOS makes a smart phone much more than the sum of its parts.
The seeds of WeWork were sown in 2008 when Neumann, a serial entrepreneur, partnered with his co-founder Miguel McKelvey to create an ecologically-minded co-working space, GreenDesk. Both Neumann and McKelvey had experienced communal living as children – Neumann on a Kibbutz and McKelvey in a collective of mothers and their children that was formed in Oregon. After GreenDesk morphed into WeWork, WeLive was not far behind. The company’s first communal living space launched in New York in January and there are ambitious plans to have opened 68 more by 2018. At present, WeWork has a presence in 15 cities within the U.S. and 11 more globally. More offices are planned for Sydney and India.
Neuman says the company could also expand its range of products to include shipping, software, credit cards, travel, payroll, banking, and training. Eventually members might be able to sign up for these alone, without having to rent space in one of the company’s buildings.
ALEX KARP, PALANTIR
With the controversy surrounding government intelligence agencies, Wikileaks, Julian Assange and Edward Snowden still fresh in the memory, you could be forgiven for being a little suspicious of a man who runs a company that has been referred to as a “combination of big data and Big Brother”, been backed by the venture arm of the CIA (In-Q-Tek), and also counts the NSA and FBI among its customers.
However, Alex Karp is at pains to argue that his business is not the malevolent Orwellian entity that some people imagine. “I didn’t sign up for the government to know when I smoke a joint or have an affair,” he once said. “We have to find places that we protect away from government so that we can all be the unique and interesting and, in my case, somewhat deviant people we’d like to be.”
Karp is known as the company’s “conscience” and readily admits that his lack of technical qualifications makes him a slightly incongruous figurehead for such a complex operation. He has been called “sheer brilliant” by former head of the CIA, General David Petraeus, and he went to Stanford Law with the now-legendary Silicon Valley investor, Peter Thiel. Eleven years after the college buddies reunited to set up Palantir, the company has 19 offices around the world, including its Palo Alto HQ, about 1,800 employees and is valued at $15bn.
A DAY IN THE LIFE OF DIVYA NARENDRA
More than a decade on from co-founding Facebook antecedent ConnectU with the Winkelvoss twins, Tech entrepreneur, Divya Narendra, is making waves with a social network for investment professionals, SumZero
I usually get up between 7am and 8am, when I open the Bloomberg News app on my cell and read the top articles. Then I’ll walk over to my office in Soho to be at my desk between 9am and 9:30am. Although I hate to admit it, I usually skip breakfast and keep myself going until lunch with a banana or two.
My typical day at work is a mix of wading through emails, client calls, demos, book-keeping and team meetings. Functionally speaking, I probably spend the greatest proportion of my day focused on helping our sales team with leads and account management, but I also try to reserve time to think about the various initiatives we have to drive user engagement on SumZero. Greater engagement means more high quality, user-generated content that will in turn attract people to join our community. That’s how we see SumZero becoming a must-have resource for investment professionals around the globe.
In terms of SumZero’s potential for growth, the sky is the limit. We’re aiming to provide value-adding services to investment professionals throughout the various stages of their careers and to connect members of the investment community, no matter where they are in the world – although, I do still think that there will always be those who value physical proximity and the benefit of living and working in large financial centres.
In tech hubs all around the world, people have seen the number of unicorns and decacorns rise and started to question whether we might be in a bubble. I would argue that investors should be extremely cautious with how they size up private market investments, in particular. I’m sure a few will do well in the long-run, but the reality is that many will see their valuations collapse once they are exposed to the public markets. We’ve already seen a several publicly traded technology stocks fall dramatically post-IPO or within the last year (for example: LNKD, TWTR, BABA, JD, BOX, and ETSY). Even Apple shares have struggled recently, with many investors now thinking of it as a deep value stock. However, I think the signs suggest that, as a whole, the industry is still trading at reasonable levels.
After a day in the office, I often head straight to the gym, which I find helps me keep my mind clear and recharge for the next day. My gym also has the advantage of being close to Wholefoods, so I can grab some produce before walking home and making dinner.