In conversation with Claire Valoti – Snap Inc.’s VP of International Business

 

1. A day in the life of Snap’s VP?

No day looks the same. As the VP of the International Business at Snap, I’m ultimately responsible for driving all revenue for our key markets outside of the Americas. There are three core parts to my role, one being the operational side and the second – a huge part of my thinking – is ensuring we are operating globally by translating the needs of our local partners. Thinking globally, acting locally is a really hard dynamic to work with every day, but it’s critical as the business scales. The third area is around our people and ensuring we’re driving and creating high performance teams. 

 

2. As a mom of 3 how do you achieve work-life balance?

I try to avoid the term work-life balance. Whether you have children or not it’s hard to achieve and everyone has their own interpretation of what it means. Pre-Covid I used to think about it in terms of credits, for example if I travelled a lot during the week I owed my family credits or if I had taken time to do lots of school drop-offs I’d owe the company credits (in most cases the former!). Since Covid, I actually think the credit balance is harder. Even though I’m around my family more everything has become more intense, I feel like I’m in a blender and it’s on full speed!

Therefore I would say, you have to figure out as a person what really matters to you and what you aren’t prepared to negotiate on. I can tell you I have never missed a key moment in my children’s lives and I never apologise for prioritising my family over work – they are everything. However, what you don’t hear enough people talk about is sacrifice. To be successful in your role or if you’re growing a company, it takes a lot. You have to figure out what you are prepared to sacrifice because the truth is, something just has to.

 

3. An insight into Snap’s culture – any takeaways for founders building their own business?

What Snap did really well early on was have very strong roots and values. When you have a founder-led business, I think it’s actually easier to achieve because one person is driving it. Our values have always been around being kind, smart and creative. What I love about them, is that they are clear and we’re really explicit about what they mean. To be kind is not to tell someone they’re lovely, but rather to tell them when they have something stuck in their teeth. Being creative is not about how well you can draw but rather about how you solve problems and if you challenge the status quo. When we’re hiring or promoting people we always bring it back to these values.

In some cases when you’re growing a business really quickly, many founders tend to focus solely on outcomes and meeting investor expectations. How you get there, in my opinion, is equally important if you’re trying to build for the long term. I’m a firm believer that culture is the fundamental thing that will drive you to success – you can’t shortcut culture.

 

4. What does the future of work mean to you?

Talent will have more choice in how they work and I think that’s fundamentally a great thing for society. As a manager or a leader of an organisation, the challenge now becomes: how do you ensure teams are still productive? That we all come together? Especially for new people, how are we sharing best practice and finding ways for them to pick up on nuggets of information one would usually get from someone across the desk? We’re still figuring this out…

From an operational point of view, it’s become easier than ever to run a global business. I used to do a lot of calls to the US, where I’d be one of two people dialling in, whilst the rest of my colleagues were in the room physically. Now that everyone is remote, the dynamic has completely changed as we all feel like we’ve got a fair playing field to have our voice heard. One thing I will say, however, is you can’t underestimate the value of people being on the ground in a different country for a week or two to understand the culture and pick up on local nuances as it can have huge impact on how you build products.

 

5. What is it that makes something viral? And how can you embed this within your product?

‘Virality’ is a big word. Most people think about it in relation to a campaign that goes viral but it can also refer to a product that scales very quickly. For something to go viral it has to be authentic – grounded in a consumer insight – and only then should you start to think about the utility. Take Snap’s augmented reality filters which are now being used by people to shop online – a completely new behaviour that initially caught users’ attention because it was a fun and entertaining way to create and share stories. Over time as that behavior became more normal and people learnt the power of the camera and therefore the power of what AR can do, its utility evolved… but where it all began was with fun. This generation of digital natives sees through things, if something is not authentic or thoughtful they won’t share it.

 

6. What advice would you give to a start-up when considering entering a new market?

The key word for me in expansion is focus. Depending on the business model, you’d start with population size – or in Snap’s case the ad market size – to gauge how large the opportunity is. From there, you’d start layering in the geopolitical context, for example understanding how easy it is to hire talent. Then the most important step is making sure you’ve got someone on the ground giving you real intel about how that market operates and what they believe you need in order to be successful. This step is really important as all the data in the world can’t always flag how people do things – it could be something so slightly nuanced but have such a tremendous impact on uptake. Once you’ve done all your research, you have your focus. It is critical that the execution stays… you guessed it – focused.

 

7. The question you get asked the most by other women in business?

“How do I juggle it all?” One thing I’ve really committed myself to do, is to be honest. When I was coming through the ranks in my career, I heard lots of inspirational female business leaders talk about their role and how they loved it. I remember saying to one, “give me tips – you must need to have a nanny to make that function!?” I wanted to understand what it would really take logistically to get to the top and to make everything work. You can have it all but you have to be clear about what all looks like to you. 

 

8. Biggest failure?

My biggest failure is equally something I consider to be one of the most important parts of my career. I went into a joint venture and like lots of ventures they can be hard at the beginning when you’re blending lots of people from different companies, instantly. It takes time to nurture and grow from a culture point of view. I went into one when I felt I should as I was bringing a big part of my team in but when I got there I knew it wasn’t right for me personally and I left six months after. Now I look back and I see it as the highlight of my career because what it taught me, is that you only have one life and for me to leave my family to go to work I need to be enjoying it and at that moment I wasn’t.

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