SAN DIEGO (TheStreet) -- Snapchat, the app for exchanging disappearing messages, has made a more lasting impression on the kinds of people who really matter in Silicon Valley: the ones with deep pockets.
The startup is soliciting venture capitalists for more money, this time asking for as much as $500 million which would value the company between $16 billion and $19 billion, according to reports from Bloomberg and The New York Times. Snapchat declined to comment on the funding reports.
The search for money is a big one, but not a ridiculous one. The company disclosed in a late 2014 filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission that it raised around half a billion dollars, or $485.63 million, from 23 investors last year. The raise, which had been rumored for months, reportedly valued the three-and-a-half year-old startup, which has raised a total of $648 million, at more than $10 billion. Apparently, it's not too soon to double up.
How is this possible?
The simplest answer is that opportunity knocks. Or, put another way, investors have an extreme case of FOMO (fear of missing out), as the kids say. "What you're seeing ... is a continuation of the enthusiasm for the messaging space," Gartner analyst Brian Blau said.
And, messaging, as Facebook (FB - Get Report) CEO Mark Zuckerberg has said, is one of the few things that people actually do more than social networking. Zuckerberg would know. He owns Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp, two of the most popular messaging apps on the planet. Facebook Messenger has a monthly audience of more than 500 million people, while WhatsApp, which the social network purchased last year for around $22 billion, has a monthly audience of more than 700 million people.
Biased parties like Niko Bonatsos, a partner at venture capital firm General Catalyst, an investor in Snapchat, believe the ephemeral photo and video-sharing application can build a business the size of Facebook's. "[Snapchat] is probably the ultimate product for communication and media content consumption for mobile natives, a.k.a the iPhone generation," he said.
We don't know how many people use Snapchat every month -- the app was rumored to have an active audience of 100 million people in August of last year -- but we do know the app's users have a voracious appetite for disappearing content: they send 700 million "snaps" per day and view 1 billion "stories" per day, according to the company. Snaps are the disappearing photo and video messages the startup has become famous for, and stories are a Snapchat function that allows users to share snaps with all of their followers in a digital diary-like format where they live for 24 hours instead of a few seconds.
The kids just can't seem to get enough -- Snapchat's audience is the youngest among all social and messaging apps with 59% of global users, excluding China, ages 16 to 24, according to GlobalWebIndex. Nearly 37% of 14-to-17-year-old U.S. Internet users said they used Snapchat at least weekly, according to a poll conducted by media research and services company NuVoodoo.
"Snapchat is where we can really be ourselves while being attached to our social identity," 19-year-old college student Andrew Watts testified in a blog post on teenagers' social media preferences.
By Watts account, Snapchat is fast becoming the most-used social network among his peers. "If I could break down a party for you in social media terms, here's how it would pan out: you post yourself getting ready for the party, going to the party, having fun at the party, leaving at the end of the party, and waking up the morning after the party on Snapchat," he said. Whereas you post your posed, perfected, and alcohol-free pictures to Facebook, he added. The cutest party picture of all gets shared on Instagram.
Watts' analogy measures Snapchat against leading social networks Facebook and Instagram, and mirrors the way investors think. Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, even Twitter (TWTR - Get Report) , are all proxies for Snapchat's present and future value.
"When investors make a decision they need as much evidence as they can get to make sure that what they're going to invest in is ultimately going to bring them a return," Blau said. There's no question, he said, that they're comparing Snapchat's metrics against public companies like Twitter, which has 289 million monthly active users and a market capitalization of around $30 billion.
If venture capitalists needed proof that Snapchat can, like Facebook and Twitter, develop into something greater than just a mobile app, something that others want to build on top of, they got it in Discover. Released a few weeks ago, Discover is a news portal where Snapchat users can view a daily assortment of ephemeral news stories, videos, and other content in channels produced by some of the biggest names in media, including CNN, ESPN, and Cosmopolitan. Partners can secure their own channel sponsors and proceeds are shared with Snapchat.
Bonatsos believes Discover is helping Snapchat already eat into advertising dollars budgeted for television. "If you are a brand, and you want to get in front of many millions of folks tomorrow morning, Snapchat is an excellent option to do so."
Discover is also the start of what some view as a Snapchat application platform.
The term platform typically denotes a technology service provider that has a set of tools, or APIs, that third-party developers and businesses can use to integrate with the service in question. Apple (AAPL - Get Report) is a platform. Facebook is a platform. Twitter is a platform.
"Getting users is one thing," Blau said, "but you reduce your risk by getting businesses to come on and help propel your network forward." Most software technology companies have to go the platform route to mature into actual businesses, he said.
"Think about the enormous amount of power that Apple has been able to get by creating the platform that everyone else has to play on," Joshua Benton, director of the Nieman Journalism Lab, said. "I think you can see Snapchat ... building that platform, and becoming the place where people spend their time, and converting that time into other monetization opportunities."
Snapchat may not have Apple-sized prospects ahead, but it has what counts -- at least to the people signing over the checks for hundreds of millions of dollars.
"Investors don't come in at this level without understanding how they're going to realize their own value," Blau said. "They're in it for themselves."
--Written by Jennifer Van Grove in San Diego, Calif.
>Contact by Email.