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Meet the secret power players who run Snapchat

Biz Carson
Snap CTO Bobby Murphy

Mike Nudelman / Business Insider

An illustration of Snap co-founder and CTO Bobby Murphy.

CEO Evan Spiegel may be the public face of the newly-rebranded Snap Inc., but it’s taken more than his hard work to turn what started as a disappearing message app into a $20 billion media, entertainment, and now camera company.

Since he started Snapchat with co-founder Bobby Murphy in 2011, Spiegel has surrounded himself with a team of deputies who oversee everything from relationships with advertisers and media partners to the company’s eventual IPO.

Here are the most important power players who helped Spiegel turn Snapchat into more than just a disappearing fad:

Bobby Murphy co-founded the company and is now CTO.

Unlike Evan Spiegel, Bobby Murphy has maintained a decidedly low profile since the beginning of the company.

As co-founder and Chief Technology Officer, Murphy leads Snap’s engineering, product, and research teams. Sources say he’s also involved with a team called Snap Labs that works on secret projects like the recently announced Spectacles glasses.

Murphy and Spiegel’s friendship goes back to when they were both in the same fraternity at Stanford. 

Spiegel, a product design student, needed someone to write the source code for the app that would become Snapchat. He recruited Murphy, a mathematics and computational science major, after the two had finished working on a failed startup called Future Freshman.

The quiet, 28-year-old engineer remains the author of much of the app’s code to this day.

Imran Khan is a former banker who now leads business strategy.

Imran Khan jumped from the banking world to the tech world in January 2015 when he joined Snap as its Chief Strategy Officer. His connections have already helped Snap get a $200 million investment from Alibaba — he was the lead banker for the Chinese retail company’s IPO — and Snap raised an additional $1.8 billion in May 2016.

One of Spiegel’s direct reports, Khan’s main job at Snap is to lead its strategy and help chart its path to IPO. He’s one of the few executives besides Spiegel to represent the company publicly at events, and he’s working on telling the story of Snapchat to make it more appealing to bankers.

Khan’s background means he has the experience to do it. In his previous role as Head of Global Internet Investment Banking at Credit Suisse, he advised on more than $45 billion in M&A and financing transactions.

Nick Bell courts media companies like BuzzFeed and Vice to create exclusive content for Snapchat’s Discover section.

Nick Bell is the golden ticket for any media company wanting to work with Snapchat. A former SVP at News Corps, Bell joined the company in 2014 to lead its content strategy, including Live and Discover. Whereas the app used to be all about sending messages to friends, Bell has been the one in charge of turning it into full-fledged media company.

Hailing from the UK originally, Bell first made money off the dot-com boom as a teen, selling his first company at 16. He then tried to start a chain of spray tan and tanning beds in UK grocery stores and to start a few other companies before he joined News Corp in his twenties. Described as one of Evan Spiegel’s closest lieutenants, he’s been at Snapchat for the last two years as its VP of Content

Tom Conrad is driving the changes to Snapchat’s products.

Snapchat is one of the fastest innovating companies around, and former Pandora CTO Tom Conrad jumped on board in March 2016 to oversee its quick-changing product.

Since he stepped in as VP of Product, Snapchat totally revamped how people message each other in the app and added Memories, a way for people to store the images they’ve captured on Snapchat. While Spiegel still controls a lot of the product decisions at the company, Conrad’s decade leading Pandora’s product means he can handle the day-to-day and help Spiegel execute his vision.

Timothy Sehn was an early employee and now leads software engineering.

Since joining in 2013, Timothy Sehn has grown Snapchat’s software engineering team by more than 10x.

His name is also on a half-dozen of the company’s patents, which range from “object recognition based photo filters” to “user interface to augment an image.”

Before joining Snapchat as its VP of Engineering, Sehn spent over a decade at Amazon, where he started as a software developer intern and left as an engineering director.

Steve Horowitz leads hardware engineering and has decades of experience at Silicon Valley’s top companies.

Steve Horowitz’s career hits almost every major tech company. He started off at Apple, working on Macintosh products then went to Microsoft for a decade. He then went to Google to oversee Android development before jumping to as its CTO. From there, he became a Senior VP of Software Engineering at Motorola. 

Snapchat poached Horowitz in February 2015 to be its VP of Engineering alongside Timothy Sehn. Horowitz, though, has been specializing on its hardware teams that created the Spectacles and he has poached other key Motorola execs to work alongside him

Jia Li drives the research behind the Snapchat features that delight users.

It’s easy to add emojis to an image, but Snapchat doesn’t stop there. In April, the app took emojifying your life one step further when it made it easy to attach an emoji to an object (say a smiley face onto a cat) and then have that emoji stick with it as it moves around. 

Technically, it’s a hard problem to solve — and one that Jia Li’s research team has been working on at Snapchat. As Head of Research, Li’s team develops new ways to innovate and surprise users with the app. The moving emojis are just one example. 

Li, who is well-known for her work in computer vision, joined Snapchat in early 2015 after spending three years leading the Visual Computing and Learning Group at Yahoo Labs.


Jeff Lucas came from Viacom to lead a growing sales team.

After spending over a decade at Viacom leading its ad sales and marketing, Jeff Lucas left for Snapchat earlier this year to be its VP of Sales.

The industry veteran now leads a growing sales team spread out across Los Angeles, New York City, Chicago, London, Sydney and Toronto. Around the time he joined, Snapchat started letting advertisers buy ads through an automated, auction-based system.

The fact that Lucas came from Viacom is likely no coincidence — Viacom signed a multiyear deal with Snapchat to sell ads for the app in February.

Drew Vollero handles all of the bookkeeping.

Since joining Snap as Vice President of Finance in 2015, Drew Vollero has become the company’s permanent Chief Financial Officer and now reports directly to Evan Spiegel.

The former Mattel executive manages the company’s books and will be instrumental in overseeing its impending IPO.

He has yet to make any public appearances on behalf of the company and so far seems comfortable letting COO Imran Khan court bankers and advertisers.


Jad Buotros makes sure Snapchat is a safe place for people to communicate.

Jad Buotros has an important role: making sure tha Snapchat’s security is rock solid.

As Chief Security OfficerBuotros oversees privacy engineering, spam, and any issues with abuse for the app. He also manages corporate security.

Under his leadership, Snapchat published its first transparency report that showed government inquiries for user information. He also grew the company’s bug bounty program and cracked down on the ability for third-party apps to access Snapchat’s user data.

Before joining Snap, Buotros worked on software security at Google for nine years and led the security team behind Google+. 

Jason Halbert is in charge of recruiting and on-boarding new employees.

As VP of Talent, Jason Halbert is in charge of attracting new employees and making sure they fit in with Snap’s corporate culture.

A doctor in clinical psychology, Halbert previously served as Director of Special Projects at the company for four months before he was promoted to VP in November 2015.

Before that he was a legal consultant and officer in the United States Army Special Forces Command.

Ben Schwerin brings events like NFL football and the Olympics to Snapchat.

Ben Schwerin’s job is to get the biggest events and networks hooked on Snapchat.

As Director of Partnerships, Schwerin works with organizations like the NBA, NFL, MLB, and the NCAA to increase their presence in the app. His deals are the reason people can watch videos from the sidelines of a football game or award shows like the VMAs. 

Before Schwerin became Snapchat’s deal architect, he cofounded Fenway Strategies, a business communications firm. He also served as an aide to Bill Clinton and musical group U2. 

Micah Schaffer is in charge all policy issues.

Micah Schaffer joined Snapchat in 2013 to develop the app’s user safety guidelines and customer support operations.

As Director of Public Policy, he oversees all internal and external policy issues. Last year, he helped the company respond to a FTC investigation that accused the app of misleading users about how it stored messages on its servers before they were opened and deleted.

Prior to Snapchat, Schaffer developed YouTube’s content policies.

Peter Hamby explains the news to Snapchat’s young audience.

Peter Hamby surprised much of his peers in the media when left his role covering politics at CNN in 2015 to be Snapchat’s Head of News.

Hamby now leads a small team of journalists out of the company’s New York office that cover events like presidential debates. They also splice together crowdsourced footage from Snapchat users for national news stories like the San Bernardino shooting and recent Louisiana floods.

Given Hamby’s background, much of his focus has been on covering the 2016 election. He anchors a show in Snapchat’s Discover section called “Good Luck America” that “aims to provide young voters with an informative and entertaining glimpse into life on the campaign trail.”

Phillippe Browning helps the company come up with new ways to monetize.

Snapchat had no ways to monetize itself when Phillippe Browning left his role as a vice president at CBS Interactive to join in May 2013.

Now the app sells video ads, sponsored geofilters, and augmented reality selfie “Lenses.” Snap Inc. is diversifying its sources of revenue further by selling hardware this fall with the launch of its $129 Spectacles.

As VP of MonetizationBrowning is responsible for making sure Snapchat keeps finding new ways to money. With projections that the company will rake in nearly $1 billion in 2017 from just $367 million in 2016, he certainly has his work cut out for him.

Mary Ritti is the gatekeeper between the company and the media.

As VP of Communications, Mary Ritti acts as the gatekeeper between the highly secretive company and the media.

She manages a small team that handles all internal and external communications — no small feat for a company with over a thousand employees across the globe. 

Before joining Snapchat in 2013, Ritti was a partner at the PR firm North of Nine Communications.


Brian Theisen is in charge of turning the Snapchat app into a cash-making machine.

Brian Theisen is the Director of Growth, Revenue, and Analytics at Snapchat, a long title that means Theisen is in charge of making sure the social network doesn’t turn into another money-losing business. 

He oversees the teams that are in charge of attracting more users to the app and the teams that are then in place to monetize that audience. His background shows he comes from a place where he should know how to do it.

Before Snapchat, he spent years at Facebook leading the monetization and mobile business development teams.

Steve Hwang’s power was exposed thanks to the Sony leaks.

The Sony hack in 2015 was terrible for Snapchat because it exposed the dirty details of how it fired employees and some secret acquisitions.

A name frequently seen in the emails was Steve Hwang’s, a long-time employee and now Director of Operations and Strategy

Another lawyer in Evan Spiegel’s close circle, Hwang used to oversee legal operations at the company, making sure board members like Sony’s CEO signed off on things like compensation packages. Now in a bigger role, Hwang is representing the company at events and offering strategy advice to brands.

Steve LaBella is in charge of the company’s quirky marketing.

A relative newcomer to Snapchat’s upper ranks, Steve LaBella joined as VP of Marketing in May 2016 after a long stint at toy maker Mattel (where CFO Drew Vollero also worked prior).

He’s in charge of Snap’s playful marketing and brand identity. That includes its upcoming Spectacles eyewear launch, which Evan Speigel has referred to as a “toy.”

LaBella is coincidentally well suited for marketing toys — he most recently managed the preschool division of Fisher-Price toys, which is owned by Mattel.

Chris Handman is in charge of all legal affairs.

As General Counsel, Chris Handman leads a close-knit team of lawyers tha handles everything from IP litigation to mergers and acquisitions.

A former US Supreme Court specialist and partner at the Hogan Lovells firm, Handman’s team is also responsible for developing Snapchat’s privacy policy, which has evolved over the years to balance the targeting needs of advertisers with the app’s ephemeral, privacy-minded design.

“Working in legal at Snapchat is an incredibly rewarding experience if you like thinking creatively about the law,” he said in a 2015 interview. “Given the company’s culture of restless innovation, we have no playbook. We often have to go back to first principles, since there is no blueprint for what Snapchat is doing.”

Dom Perella helps the company navigate privacy and the law.

Dom Perella might not have the top position, but don’t underestimate his impact on the company.

As Deputy General Counsel, he has a huge role in the company’s litigation, compliance and copyright issues. In particular, Perella works on the legal and privacy issues around Snapchat’s “Live Stories” feature, which curates videos from users around the world. 

His background isn’t in tech. He was a partner at Hogan Lovells in Washington, D.C. (like Handman) and a member of the firm’s Supreme Court and Appellate Litigation team. 

Before Perella entered law, he spent five years as a reporter for the Associated Press in Richmond and New York, editing stories on the war in Afghanistan.

Martin Lev is in charge of keeping Snapchat’s sprawling campus secure.

Snapchat has eschewed the typical, insulated tech campus in favor of scooping up buildings throughout the graffiti-covered and eclectic Venice Beach neighborhood. It makes protecting the employees and company secrets that much harder. 

Marty Lev, though, has the experience after spending 12 years at Google as its VP of Security, Safety, and Transportation. The avid runner jumped to Snapchat in April 2016 to become its VP of Securities and Facilities.

Robyn Thomas oversees Snapchat’s rapidly expanding ranks.

Snap is no longer a small team of 30 people working out of a house in Venice Beach, California. In the last five years, the company has expanded to now employ over a thousand people around the world.

After spending nearly a decade at Google, Robyn Thomas joined Snapchat in May 2015 as its employment counsel and was shortly promoted to its VP of Legal and HR six months later. 

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