How to Turn Down a Billion Dollars

At 23-years-old Evan Spiegel, co-founder of Snapchat, turned down three-billion dollars. Here, author Billy Gallagher takes us inside the start-up's fascinating rise.

How to Turn Down a Billion Dollars

'Reggie claimed he owned one-third of Snapchat’s intellectual property since he filed the original patent (which, again, was never approved)'

These depositions did significant damage to Snapchat, both in the case and in the court of public opinion. Someone leaked videos of the depositions to Business Insider, making Evan and Bobby look bad for cutting Reggie out of the company and inconsistencies in response to deposition questions about Reggie’s level of  involvement.

After these disastrous depositions, Evan and Bobby replaced Cooley with David Quinn and the team at Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan, the same firm where Lee and his partners got their start. It was also the firm that represented the Winklevoss twins in their infamous suit against Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook. David Quinn was tenacious in and out of the courtroom, running Ironman triathlons in his free time. Evan and Bobby were convinced Quinn Emanuel could use their experience from the most infamous startup lawsuit of all time to help them defeat Reggie.

Quinn Emmanuel was much more aggressive than Cooley had been. They filed a sea of requests for documents, depositions, and subpoenas. They tried to dismiss the case and remove it to federal court, and they sought contempt sanctions and a restraining order against Reggie and Lee Tran & Liang.

Lee Tran & Liang tried to have Quinn Emmanuel thrown off the case, as Reggie had tried to get another Quinn Emmanuel lawyer to take his side of the case before he went to Lee Tran & Liang. Ultimately, the judge ruled against Reggie and said the waiver Reggie had signed and the ethical wall Quinn Emmanuel erected were sufficient for them to continue representing Evan, Bobby, and Snapchat. Lee Tran & Liang also tried to sue all of Snapchat’s investors, claiming their shares were diluting Reggie’s one-third stake. They even lined up a tell-all interview for Reggie with GQ magazine, but he backed out at the last minute. At one point, Lee’s partner Luan Tran took a copy of Forbes magazine with Evan on the cover, scrawled red devil horns over his head, and pinned it to the wall in his office.

The combative trial would wage for months, and each side had plenty more cards to play. Reggie claimed he owned one-third of Snapchat’s intellectual property since he filed the original patent (which, again, was never approved). He also claimed that they had entered into an oral partnership agreement when he and Evan initially agreed to split everything 50/50 (before they brought Bobby in).

Evan and Bobby claimed Reggie was merely working with them on a project, and they never agreed to an equity split; because they used the Limited Liability Company (LLC) structure that Evan and Bobby had set up for Future Freshman rather than a whole new one, they claimed Reggie should know he had no equity in the venture.

One of the most difficult parts of the case was that Snapchat’s valuation continued to soar throughout the lawsuit, climbing from $70 million when Reggie filed to $800 million in a matter of months. Soon, the company was worth billions. If Reggie was owed something, what was a fair amount? If a picture is worth a thousand words, and Evan’s disappearing pictures company was worth millions and then billions, how much was Reggie’s idea worth?

The lawsuit had a significant effect on Evan; he was already secretive and a bit paranoid by nature, but the lawsuit, combined with Snapchat’s growing public profile, made him retreat further into the bunker—he preferred to take walking meetings so that others wouldn’t overhear him, and he noted that iMessage and emails are permanent records. The stress was clearly getting to him. He would frequently blow up at his lawyers, screaming at them in the hallways in between depositions and settlement talks. It would be many months before the lawsuit reached a conclusion.

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