Evan Spiegel: The Billionaire Who Can Admit It Wasn’t All Hard work

Sep 05, 2021
 Edited by the author — original image from WikiMedia Commons


Let’s face the facts. Most of us aren’t going to be billionaires no matter how hard we work. It’s patronizing when privileged people preach their work ethic as the secret to their success.

This is what makes Snapchat founder Evan Spiegel's confessions refreshing. While he’s intelligent, he’s self-aware enough to know it’s not only his brilliance that got him where he is today. Likewise, it’s not all your fault you aren’t filthy rich.

Yet this isn’t a pity party. You don’t have the upbringing Spiegel did but you can learn from his mantra:

“It’s not about working harder, it’s about working the system.”

The silver spoon

If you were going to bet on someone to become the world’s youngest “self-made” billionaire ten years ago, Spiegel would have been a wise choice. He had almost every unfair advantage possible.

  • Both his parents were millionaire high-flying lawyers.
  • He grew up in the exclusive Pacific Palisades in Los Angeles.
  • He went to Crossroads, one of the top private schools in the United States.
  • He knew Peter Wendall, the venture capitalist, through family connections.
  • His mentor was Scott Cook, the billionaire founder of Intuit.

Yes, he was exceptionally talented. Though it’s much easier to be when your mother was the youngest ever graduate from Harvard Law. 99.9% of people don’t have access to the resources to develop as much as Spiegel did at a young age.

Unsurprisingly, it made him into a douchebag. Leaked emails to his fraternity show shocking misogyny and disregard for other people. He was your stereotypical startup bro.

Yet he seems to have developed greater self-awareness since. At a Women In Tech conference, he declared “I am a young, white, educated male… I got really, really, lucky. And life isn’t fair.” It doesn’t excuse his previous behavior but at least he doesn’t condescend as much about being better than others.

Entrepreneurship is hard. This example came from “The Unfair Advantage” by Hasan Kubba and Ash Ali and they make the point that hustling harder won’t level the playing field. Unless you had a similar childhood to Spiegel, it’s illogical to try to compare yourself to him.


Fighting the system

“The system” at its core is the people who act as the gatekeepers. Spiegel was gifted access to these people but his practical intelligence allowed him to make the most of it.

The luck of his environment built those skills. Like a sponge, he soaked up the communication prowess of his parents. Eric Schmidt, CEO of Google, gives a nod to Spiegel’s underlying privilege whilst complimenting him.

“He has superb manners, which he says he got from his mother. He credits his father’s long legal calls, which he overheard, to giving him perspective on business and structure as a very young man.”

Would someone of Spiegel’s intellectual abilities but with a less refined childhood trigger the same praise from Schmidt?

It’s a slightly bitter pill but just focusing on being the best isn’t always the optimal path. You know you’ve seen someone who you think is underqualified get ahead and I have too. It’s frustrating but you can use it for good too. Knowing the system means you can compete with those who abuse it.


What you can do

You can’t change the lottery of your birth. Yet you can make use of your unique traits and abilities even if they aren’t as obviously beneficial as Spiegel’s. You must have some advantages over those most unlucky in the world to be able to read this.

Be the same

The movie cliche is where businessmen go to the golf course to get their deals signed. The common hobby gives them time away from the traditional working environment to forge stronger bonds.

We tend to like people who are like us and research backs this up. You might not have the same financial status as the gatekeepers but you could share other traits. For example, entrepreneurship is booming in British Asians and I know they are inclined to give me a shot when others might not.

Be different

This may seem like a contradiction but the important thing is not being ambiguous. If you can’t be memorable for your similarities, you could be for your differences instead.

When people hang around with others like them all the time, it can become stale. Shake things up and introduce something new and exciting. Many people I meet have never seen the style of dance I do so it’s easy to stand out. The people who are at the top often get there in part because of their curiosity.

Feed it.

Be a connector

Rosa Parks wasn’t the first woman to refuse to give up her seat in protest at the ridiculous racist rules of her time. Yet her story went viral because she was a connector. She had strong bonds with people from different backgrounds and could bring them together in unison.

If you’re already established in one area, use this to your advantage. Be the person who can speak the languages of both sides and you gain a unique edge. You’re able to offer the system in one field access to the system in another.

I am a relative novice at podcasting but I am established in the writing world. It’s not uncommon for podcasters to wish to talk to me because they want my insights into writing. This gives me access to people who I’d have no chance at otherwise.

Evan Spiegel is where he is today because he made use of his unfair advantages. He can even admit it himself. He worked the system and hit the jackpot.

How can you play the system ethically? There can be a few key people you need to impress to open the floodgates. Work out how to bond with them and a big barrier between you and your dreams evaporates.

Amar's Letter

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