SNAPCHAT, 2 LIES, and FREEDOM
“TECH MILLIONAIRE SELLS EVERYTHING TO TRAVEL THE WORLD.” That was the viral headline across the internet when people first heard about our family. But not so many people know exactly what happened just 1 week before I sold my company to Snapchat for $54 Million. I told 2 BIG LIES that forever changed my life.
THE iPHONE APP THAT STARTED IT ALL
Back in 2011, I created the iPhone app, Scan. I teamed up with two of my friends and classmates, Ben Turley and Kirk Ouimet. Scan actually started as a small side project. We had big plans for some big apps, but thought that this simple barcode and QR code scanner would be a great way to get our feet wet in the space. Our goal at the start was to somehow, someway, earn $5k by the end of the school year. At the time, $5k seemed a bit too lofty for my rookie Freshman mind to even imagine...But, I’ve always been quite the naive optimist :)
The app exploded in popularity and downloads, and soon we were flying out to San Francisco to meet with potential investors. We did our best to pretend like we belonged in those business meetings but the truth is, on the inside we were just some small town nerds that would have been stoked with our initial goal of $5k. But when opportunity knocks..
Eventually, I learned how to speak the foreign language of “investor pitching” and we received our first funding of $1.7Million from investors like Naval Ravikant, David Krane, Shervin Pishevar, Ariel Poler, Jonathan Triest, Christ Redlitz, Troy Carter, Jim Pollatta, Lady Gaga, and others. I’m guessing only 1 or 2 of those names sound familiar to most of you so let me tell you, they are some of the big dogs of the investor world and I’m grateful I didn’t realize just how big they were during our meetings, or I woulda shoulda been waaay more nervous ;)
Fun side story: I had a meeting with Troy Carter at the Beverly Hills Hotel. The only car I had access to was a stick shift and I didn’t know how to drive a manual so my dad had to drive me to the meeting. He dropped me off and I told him to drive off somewhere (because I was embarrassed) but he said, “No worries. I brought a book. I’ll be here when you finish your business meeting. Good luck!”...Troy Carter invested $100k.
So there we were, our small school project had turned into a business and we were running with it. I remember getting my first ever paycheck and being very proud of myself that we created the company that is now paying ourselves. That’s a beautiful thing. We started doing other things to “act like a real business” like hiring an assistant and setting up a hip swanky office space and sponsoring my soccer team to have our Scan logo on the jerseys. I don’t know this as a fact, but I tell myself that I might just be the first ever collegiate soccer player to have his own company sponsor his own team, and wear both his captain band and his company logo on the same sleeve :)
But soon, our investors encouraged us to move to Silicon Valley “where the best tech companies go to really become successful.” Whatever “really successful” means.. ;)
My wife Jessica and I packed up and moved to San Francisco. We signed a lease for an office space for $5,000/month. We began to hire employees. At one point we had 16 employees and I became a boss and a manager. Turns out, I’m terrible at both of those. I think I’m too nice to be a boss and too scatterbrained to be a manager. During that time I hardly saw Jessica, slept many nights at the office, and was a frail 135lbs that never exercised. But that was the rat race of Silicon Valley and by tech world standards, we were becoming “successful!”
One special day, I was invited to a San Francisco Giants baseball game to watch the game in a suite with probably the most famous tech-founder in Silicon Valley after Steve Jobs. I idolized this guy and the company he created. He was a designer like me, had multiple successful startups, and I thought he was the epitome of success. I was lucky enough to sit next to him for the entire game, and baseball games are NOT short! I was so excited to learn more about who he was, what his interest were, hobbies, family life, etc. I quickly learned that he had none. No family. No friends. No hobbies. Just work. He loved to work. This broke my heart. The man I thought was my idol was nothing of the sort. It was time for me to figure out my own definition of “success”. I realized why I was in Silicon Valley and why I was working so hard. My main motivation was and still is - FREEDOM.
All my efforts in building this company, moving to San Francisco and doing the Silicon Valley hustle were to eventually earn ultimate FREEDOM to live my days how I choose. Yet, I found myself doing the exact opposite. I had become heads down in my own business, neglecting my marriage, friends, and personal health. :(
“EVERY DAY IS SATURDAY”
“Every day is Saturday” is a motto I came up with. As a child growing up, I had school and homework and practices and chores and jobs on all the weekdays. Sundays were busy with church and Sunday school. But on Saturdays...Saturday was the 1 day where I got to spend my time however I wanted. The 1 day I had ultimate freedom. So that became the goal, to create a life where every day is Saturday, or in other words, where you get to choose how you spend your time.
About a month after that baseball game, we ended up moving back to Utah. Rumor on the streets was that we were a failing startup and we were retreating back to Utah. Whatever. Let the critics critique. I knew the truth. We moved back to Utah to take our freedom back.
I enrolled back into my university, BYU. Not for education, but to play collegiate soccer. I filled my days playing my favorite sport, hanging out with friends and family, and then working hard on our iPhone app, Scan. At this point, the goal as a company wasn’t to make $5k or $50 Million. The goal was to make good money that would fuel SUCCESSFUL quality lifestyles full of FREEDOM for me, my team, and my trusting investors.
There have been a ton of successful entrepreneurs and businesses to come out of my alma mater. A lot of them were valued way higher than Scan ever was or cared to be. For me, my relationships, health, and freedom were always valued higher than the valuation of my company. I truly felt like every day was Saturday and I spent my days doing exactly what I loved to do. My “success” was exactly where I wanted it to be because my days were spent doing exactly what I wanted to do.
FREEDOM as a priority led us to not work in an office. We had an office, but mostly just for fun because I always wanted to design a cool office ;) We would only go there on the first Monday of every month. We were all proactive hard workers so working remotely was never an issue. The only reason we had an “in-office day” was really to see each other, hang out, and give us a reason to shower/shave ;)
THE FIRST BIG LIE
These in-office days were actually our least productive because we would get together and just want to chat and catch up on all things. The spirit amongst us was always positive and just, fun. But there was one in-office day that hit differently. The mood was anxious and the office was full of contention. It was very weird and discomforting. Our growth was at a breaking point and our path moving forward was unclear. I returned to my apartment and told Jessica, “Something needs to change or this company is going to fail soon.” The very next Sunday I woke up to an email:
“Hi Garrett, Really liking the Scan app - not sure where you are based but would love to talk/meet at your convenience. - Evan” - from email@example.com.
Ummm.. Is this really from the CEO of Snapchat himself??! People like that don’t send emails like this, just because!! I responded, telling him, “I’m located in Provo, Utah. Happy to meet. What works for you?” and he quickly replied, “Well, let me know if you’re ever in LA and we’ll get lunch.”
I didn’t know how I had his attention and how long it would last so I took my shot: “I will actually be in LA tomorrow!” That was my first big lie. But it worked. “Cool, let's do lunch. - Evan”
SO I BOOKED MY FLIGHT TO LA:)
We didn’t even eat lunch. Fine by me. I was so nervous I don’t think I could have kept any food down. We went for an hour walk along Venice Beach and it ended with Evan asking me if I would ever consider selling my company to Snapchat. There, on the spot he suggested the purchase price of $40 million. I think I did a good job of keeping my cool. I think I had a good poker face. I think.. He told me to give it some thought and call him before the end of the day. I was freaking out! I remember the song playing outside on the street as I exited the office and walked/danced to my car... "Come and Get Your Love" by Redbone
I was connected with an acquisition lawyer, Larry Chu, to help guide me through the upcoming week of negotiations. It was hell-level stressful. SIDE NOTE: this entire time I’m still a student in college, about to go play off-season soccer at the University of BYU Hawaii, so I’m at the airport about to board my flight chatting with this lawyer about an acquisition process I know NOTHING about!!
“They offered you $40 Million? Okay, call Evan right now and tell him you’ve thought about it and you can’t do anything lower than $50 Million” - Larry
“Oh no! I HAVE thought about it and $40 Million is way more than enough. We’re stoked on 40!!” - Garrett
“Have you done this before?” - Larry
“No.” - Garrett
“Exactly. I do this every day. Trust me. Give him a call.” - Larry
“Do you want to call him?” - Garrett
“You have a long and difficult week ahead of you. I can guide you, but ultimately YOU need to step up and do the negotiations.” - Larry
“Okay. I’ll make the call.” - Garrett
I called Evan and told him I couldn’t do less than $50 Million and then I held my breath and waited for his response..
”Well, that’s too bad. Goodbye, Garrett.” *click*
NOOO!! I immediately called Larry the lawyer back..
“He said NO! I told you 40 was enough! You had to get greedy! It’s over. We lost our chance!” - Garrett
“Hold tight. Give it 10 minutes. He will call back. They always call back. And if he doesn’t call back, we’ll make a new plan.” - Larry
“My flight is boarding!! I don’t know what to do!! We told you! I knew we should have just.. Oh, wait! He’s calling, BYE!” - Garrett
“Hey Garrett, I don’t know if we can do $50 Million but we’ll see what we can do. I’ll talk to my team and we’ll call you tomorrow. I can hear you’re at the airport. Have a nice flight.” - Evan
Gulp. I boarded my flight. And Jessica, Dorothy and I “moved” to Hawaii.
THE SECOND BIG LIE
AND THUS BEGAN the crazy week of negotiations. I would be on the phone negotiating and on legal calls from 3am-7am Hawaii time. Then I would make up an excuse why I had to take a break and would sprint to soccer practice for 2 hours and then immediately get back on the phone. This lasted for about a week when it all came to a breaking point.
The current proposed purchase price was $44 Million. Things were moving smoothly. I would finish my senior season of college soccer and then join Snapchat in 3 months. We were in the closing stages of negotiations when Evan threw a curve ball directly at my heart! “I don’t want to wait 3 months for you to join the team. I want you to join now. If you quit soccer and move here next week I will up the acquisition price another $10 Million cash.” - Evan
I know this won’t make sense to many people reading this, but this is what I said: “No thank you. I’m going to finish my soccer season. Let’s keep the price where it is.” - Garrett
I hung up and called Kirk to tell him about that crazy curveball offer. And THANK GOODNESS I called Kirk. Something special about Kirk is his understanding of WHY people do the things they do. The better you understand the WHY then the better you can react appropriately. Kirk understands my WHY. “Garrett, I know money isn’t your motivation. But, you need to remember how many other people are affected by this deal beyond yourself.”
As soon as I heard those wise words from Kirk I realized the dumb, selfish mistake I had made. I was about to turn down $10 MM for a 3 month soccer season. At that moment, I just followed my heart. My heart knew that I had the rest of my life to make money but all the money in the world couldn’t buy back my youth and my senior season of soccer. But my heart was being wrongfully selfish and I needed to fix it. I called Evan back and told him the second big lie: “I’m just too excited to get started. I want to quit soccer and join Snapchat right away. Deal?”
THE PRICE OF FREEDOM
Not to be overly dramatic but as I hung up the phone I could literally feel chains and shackles around my heart. I was in a Walmart grocery shopping with my soccer teammates and my co-captain, Colby Bauer, saw me from a distance and literally saw my posture change as I hung up the phone. He could tell something just broke my spirit.
I quit the soccer team, moved back to the mainland and joined Snapchat the next week. I told Jessica I was excited to try having a “real job” for a change and she could plan on us being in LA for 2-5 years.
Within weeks, maybe even days, maybe even hours into my Snapchat welcome orientation I was miserable. You take away my creative FREEDOM and my motivation dies with it. I didn’t know that about myself. I had never worked in a corporate environment before. I was not happy. I was not free. And after just a few weeks at Snapchat, I began to care more about what my superiors thought of me than my own opinion of myself. This toxic feeling was completely new to me. I knew I needed to get out ASAP. Luckily the universe intervened just in time..
NORTH KOREA HACKED SONY AND SNAPCHAT
Something crazy happened. If you believe that coincidences are simply coincidences, then goodness do I have quite the stars aligning divine intervention coincidence for you :) Sony released a film, The Interview that was highly offensive to North Korea. As retaliation, North Korea hacked Sony’s email servers and because the Sony CEO sits on the board of Snapchat, all of Snapchat’s most important emails got hacked with it, INCLUDING ALL THE INFORMATION ABOUT OUR ACQUISITION!
Up until this point, Snapchat had decided to keep our acquisition 100% confidential. Legally, I wasn’t allowed to share the news with anyone except my wife. My own parents, siblings, and best friends didn’t know. My soccer teammates didn’t know. I remember sitting on the locker room bench before a soccer game getting my ankles taped and looking around at my teammates and thinking to myself, “I just sold my business for $54 Million and they have no clue.” Honestly I loved it. During the grind of building the business I would sometimes dream of the day I had a successful acquisition and had my name in the headlines. But after experiencing the privacy of keeping it confidential, I was actually so grateful as it caused everyone to treat us no differently and for Jessica and to act and live no differently. Until the hack happened and all the details and numbers were leaked throughout the media, it was crazy times.
Fun side story: Part of keeping the acquisition confidential was a Snapchat lawyer reaching out and telling us to change the name of our company to something vague like, “Company G” so that when things were publicly filed the media still wouldn’t know who we were. “The name can be vague and doesn’t need to mean anything” Hah this lawyer had no idea that I am literally incapable of doing something without extra meaning ;) I told him to name it “Illuminati..yes the name that represents selling your soul to the devil for worldy gains.” Was I being overdramatic after quitting soccer for millions of dollars?? Yup.
So the Sony Hack happened and that was just the tweak in the universe that I needed to take a step back and ask myself, “Am I on a good path for me and my family? Should I stay at Snapchat? Or should I follow my gut and leave???”
STAY OR LEAVE SNAPCHAT??
I remember calling my older brother, Brennen Gee, and doing my best to explain my situation. I told him my salary and the money I would be walking away from but also what was going on inside my heart. Brennen at the time was working as a high school math teacher and living in a 1 bedroom house with his wife and 4 kids in Utah. His response:
“Sorry. I’m still trying to wrap my mind around the size of your salary!!” - Brennen
“Yea I know. It’s all madness. So, you think I should stay?” - Garrett
“Knowing your salary.. Knowing how difficult it is to achieve a job title like that.. I think you should quit.” - Brennen
“Wait, really??” - Garrett
“I also know how your heart works. I also know you’ll go on to do many more great things.” - Brennen
That conversation with my big brother gave me the confidence I needed to schedule an appointment with the CEO, Evan Spiegel in person the very next day. This time, no lies. I told him the truth of how I was feeling. His response shocked me:
“I get it. I knew it was a long shot when I hired you. You and I think very alike. I could never work for someone else. Thanks for giving it a shot. If you ever change your mind, you have a job here at Snapchat.” - Evan
BACK TO WHERE IT STARTED
I quit Snapchat. I wanted to take back my life. I wanted to take back my freedom.
Coincidentally I received a phone call from my soccer coach checking in on me and asking how things eventually played out..
“Sorry coach. I’ll forever feel like I abandoned the team and will always wonder what could’ve been. It wasn’t the choice I wanted, but the choice I felt I needed to make. And even worse, I’m not even working at Snapchat any longer. I’ve left the company.” - Garrett
“What? It’s not too late! You should join us!” - Coach Watkins
“What do you mean??” - Garrett
“I mean, you missed all of preseason but our first game isn’t until next week! If you can move back and get the university to re-enroll you, you’re on the team!” - Coach Watkins
“I’ll talk to Jess.” - Garrett
Little did I know, that conversation/fight/debate/argument with Jess would be the conversation that hatched a plan to change our lives forever.. THE BUCKET LIST FAMILY.
“TECH MILLIONAIRE SELLS EVERYTHING TO TRAVEL THE WORLD.” That was the viral headline that swept the internet. Except I don’t think it was the millions of dollars that had everyone talking. In reality, people become rich all the time. Why was our story unique? It was the decision to leave the money all behind, sell everything, start over and become The Bucket List Family.