Why Snapchat and Business Aren’t a Perfect Match

Photograph by Daniel Grill

Snapchat is a popular way to send a quick photo to friends, but the app has its limitations in the workplace.

Howard Lerman, the CEO of location-services provider Yext, was interested in acquiring a smaller company last August, but he didn’t know what its executives would be willing to sell for. So Lerman, whose company has received about $70 million in venture capital, asked a well-connected tech investor for some advice.

Since the operation was secret, the VC was reluctant to send over the startup’s terms by e-mail or text message, where the information could be easily forwarded. But he was OK with whispering the numbers via Snapchat, the mobile app for sending annotated photos that disappear within 10 seconds.

Snapchat is known for riding a wave of ephemeral teenage selfies to a $3 billion buyout offer from Facebook (which the 20-something entrepreneurs turned down). But using the app for business communications can be pretty awkward. The tip from Lerman’s informant came scrawled in shaky lime green handwriting atop a grainy photo of a New York subway station — where the investor happened to be at the time.

“And of course, we had to be Snapchat buddies to make it work, and his Snapchat username is kind of embarrassing,” Lerman said. “It’s just not a professional way to do things.”

The experience, which is fuzzy on the details because the business negotiation was private, was one of the inspirations for Lerman’s new company. He’s launching an app called Confide with Jon Brod, a former AOL exec. For more, check out my story in Bloomberg Businessweek.

Confide aims to let professionals talk about personnel and legal issues, share tips on deals and even slip information to reporters without worrying about the permanence of the online written word — and without having to take pictures of subways.

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