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Snap Is Losing Its Hardware Chief. Again.

By Evan Niu, CFA – Updated Dec 19, 2018 at 9:44AM

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The Snapchat operator's hardware division continues to suffer from excessive turnover.

Snapchat parent Snap (SNAP 1.49%) bills itself as a "camera company," although it has historically always relied on the camera hardware made by other companies, namely smartphone manufacturers. In recent years, Snap has been futilely trying to establish itself as a camera hardware player, releasing a couple of versions of its Spectacles wearable cameras while actively working on third-generation models. Meanwhile, the company has been suffering from an ongoing executive exodus, with top talent heading for the exits amid reports of CEO Evan Spiegel's impulsive hiring and firing decisions.

Another one bites the dust.

People wearing second-generation Spectacles

Image source: Snap.

A revolving door

Recode reports that Snap hardware chief Sahil Sharma is the latest to call it quits. Following a restructuring last year, the company's hardware division was being led by Mark Randall, who left over the summer, according to his LinkedIn profile. Sharma, who joined Snap in 2016, had taken over the department following Randall's departure. The company is naming Steen Strand as the new head of hardware, after joining Snap in October.

This level of turnover in leadership within the hardware division may explain why Spectacles have never seemed to have a cohesive vision. Spectacles have never sold well or contributed meaningfully to user engagement on the Snapchat platform, which is ostensibly the purpose of the company pursuing hardware in the first place. Spiegel is hardly a product visionary but said last year that "hardware is going to be an important vehicle for delivering our customer experience, maybe in a decade."

Can Snap survive for another decade?

Whether or not Snap can even remain a going concern for the next decade is a much more pertinent question for investors. Analysts have been pointing to Snap's troubling cash burn in recent quarters, as the social media company's core ad business is still far from mature. BTIG analyst Rich Greenfield has documented a noticeable decline in the quality of advertisers buying up ad inventory, asking on the October earnings call why "most of Discover seems very much kind of racy, clickbait-y content focused around kind of who can promote the most T&A to drive a click."

Yet Snap continues to be distracted by other initiatives around original content and hardware, despite little evidence that any of those efforts support engagement on Snapchat. Perhaps the clearest indication of the company's inability to focus comes from an internal memo from Spiegel that leaked to Cheddar in October. Spiegel positioned Snapchat as fundamentally a communications and messaging platform. Spectacles don't really help users communicate, yet Snap continues to invest in hardware in vain.

Evan Niu, CFA, has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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