It seems like only a year ago we watched Jesse Eisenberg (he of the floppy hair and moody expression) rise to fame playing the troubled but brilliant Mark Zuckerberg in The Social Network. Actually, the movie came out in 2010, and now it seems there’s another real life drama in the works, all in the name of sexy social media. Oh yeah, and there are millions of dollars at stake.
To recap, The Social Network saga showed Zuckerberg facing off against two bullies (a.k.a. betrayed co-conspirators) who had worked on “Facebook: The Prototype,” with him at Harvard. The movie echoed the real life drama which ended with Zuckerberg being taken to court by his former team, and settling for $65 million – a payout to the Winklevoss brothers and Divya Narendra.
Now we have a replay of this story, but this time it is king of the sext-ing app SnapChat. Launched in 2011 by Stanford students Evan Spiegel and Bobby Murphy, the app has amassed huge popularity for allowing the transmission of photos and videos that vanish in a set period of time, with no record stored on your cellphone. This has lead to a lot of venture capital investment and a recent report that values SnapChat at approximately $800 million. (Sums differ on different reports.) That’s a pretty sweet piece of pie, and has lead to a semi-identical Facebook lawsuit from an aggrieved ex-friend of Murphy and Spiegel.
Frank ‘Reggie’ Brown IV, a 23-year-old, claims he was part of the initial development team and wants his cut of the SnapLoot. He says he was doublecrossed by Speigel and Murphy and that he should have equity.
Brown was a student with Murphy and Spiegel at Stanford, and they lived in the same dorm.
They started work together on SnapChat – first called Pictaboo and Picaboo - however, somehow relations went south and their partnership dissolved. The company was first called Future Freshman LLC and was then renamed the Toyopa Group with no mention of Brown on the Crunchbase filing.
On the SnapChat blog there is zero mention of Brown.
“My co-founder Bobby and I met at Stanford in 2009. I was a freshman studying Product Design and Bobby was a junior working on his B.S. in Mathematical and Computational Science,” wrote Spiegel. “In April 2011 we moved into the not yet lucrative world of mobile photo sharing. We thought there was an opportunity to do something different. We wanted a place to share awkward selfie’s and funny photos with our friends.”
Further details have surfaced, making their wicked way across the web. This week new evidence has arisen on Business Insider which shows alleged text messages between Brown and Spiegel that gives Brown’s claim of ownership a lot more weight.
Supposed emails, texts exchanges, and group photos all suggest that Brown was pretty involved in the startup. Sure, Brown might not have filed a lawsuit till he saw the company was starting to make waves, but does that mean he should forfeit his rights - and did he have any to begin with?
In February 2013 Brown filed a lawsuit stating “that he originally conceived of the Snapchat concept, designed the logo, and came up with the app's original name”. The documents list seven complaints, which start with “betraying a fellow partner” and finish with “asking for relief (a.k.a money)”.
So far SnapChat have not been very responsive to these questions. There is no denying that Brown was involved in some way at the start of the business, but the level of his involvement is a tale of he said, and uh, he said.