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Why Snap's Evan Spiegel Got Paid $638 Million–And Deserved It

Tom Farley, president of the NYSE Group, from right, Evan Spiegel, co-founder and chief executive officer of Snap Inc., and Bobby Murphy, co-founder and chief technology officer at Snap Inc., Michael Nagle — Bloomberg via Getty Images

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Snap CEO Evan Spiegel just got paid $638 million and everybody’s freaking out. Calm down. Aaron in for Adam on this hyperactive Friday.

First of all, there’s no news here. Almost a year ago, Snap disclosed that back in July 2015, its investors had struck a pact with Spiegel that if the company went public, the leader would be entitled to another 3% of the outstanding stock.

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At the time, it looked like that might be an $800 million bonanza, but it’s now worth only $637 million, according to Snap’s December 31 10-K filing made yesterday. (The other million-ish dollars of pay reflect tax fees, security costs, and other charges the company paid on behalf of the CEO.) And as of Snap’s actual closing stock price on Thursday of $17.51, the award’s value is down to $603 million. (Thank you very much, Kylie Jenner.)

Also, the agreement was a smart bargain, as one only has to look down the list of the dozens and dozens of “unicorn” startups that have not gone public (I see you hiding there at #8, WeWork). Their investors, including many regular employees, have no straightforward way to cash out or diversify their stock holdings. Motivating Spiegel to go public avoided that financial purgatory fate. And it probably took an amount between $500 million and $1 billion to motivate the co-founder, who already was worth billions on paper, could sell some of his shares even while the company was still private and, with his college buddy Bobby Murphy, effectively controlled the company.

So the bottom line is that the 3% stock award was for past deeds that Spiegel completed with aplomb.

Looking ahead, we can certainly debate how well Spiegel has performed as CEO of a public company. Snap’s stock snap had taken a drubbing since going public last June at $17, trading at less than $12 within months. Then two weeks ago, the shares soared to almost $21 as revenue and user growth seemed to pick up again in the fourth quarter.

On Thursday, the shares were dropping again, down 6% and back around the original IPO price, thanks to growing resentment over an ugly redesign of Snap’s app. Reality TV star Kylie Jenner tweeted her dislike on Tuesday night and my focus group of one, my 13-year-old son, agrees. “I hate it,” he told me this morning as we waited at the bus stop. “I cannot name a single person who actually like it. I’m considering not using Snapchat anymore.”

Snap has said it’s sticking with the new app layout. But if too many people agree with my son and Kylie, it could be a much smaller payday for Spiegel in the future.

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