Understanding Snapchat’s Disruption Story Using Jobs-to-be-Done

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Snapchat launched in September of 2011. Just 2 years later, Facebook attempted to acquire them for $3 billion. A year into their stratospheric growth, mainstream media assumed it was a sexting app. Why else would you want your photos to disappear? Now, Snapchat is worth $20 billion and major brands are spending hundreds of millions per year advertising with them.

Snapchat didn’t awaken the world to a deep latent need for sexting. By looking at Snapchat through the lens of Jobs-to-be-Done, we can see how they capitalized on an unmet need in the job of “Share a moment,” and we can project the next opportunities in this market.

Consider why people share photos and videos on apps such as Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and even Flickr. As the apps have evolved, users have been able to accomplish quite a bit:

The list barley scratches the surface. You can hire these apps to do many jobs. But at a high level, everyone posting on them has the same goal: they are trying to share a moment. “Share a moment” is the job-to-be-done that illuminates the disruption in this market.

If all of these apps help users do the same thing, how did so many of them gain millions (or hundreds of millions) of users? Different Job Executors consider different Needs to be important. Snapchat snuck up on Facebook by finding a large population of Job Executors who thought a Need was extremely important and were deeply unhappy with how underserved it was.

A Job Executor is someone who is trying to get a job done. In the case of “Sharing a moment,” you have many Job Executors: professional photographers, small business owners, parents, coaches, college kids, teenagers, journalists–a wide variety of people want to share moments.

Using conventional marketing tactics you could segment them into dozens, if not hundreds, of demographic personas. In the Jobs-to-be-Done framework, we segment by unmet needs, grouping people who believe the same needs are important and who are not satisfied with their ability to meet those needs today.

A Need is a metric used to measure the speed and accuracy of executing a job. Like Jobs, Needs are stable across time and across people. Here are a few Needs in the job, “Share a moment:”

  • Reduce the time it takes to recognize that this moment is shareable e.g. “You should take a video of that monkey because he looks like he’s about to steal something and that will be hilarious!” If you’re too slow to recognize the moment, you will miss it and not be able to share it.

  • Reduce the time it takes to capture the moment. You don’t want to be that person trying to unlock your phone while your kid’s homerun sails over the fence.
  • Reduce the likelihood that the way the moment is captured fails to communicate why it’s special e.g. the photo is out of focus or has bad lighting; the video is long and boring.
  • Reduce the likelihood that the moment damages your reputation. Anthony Weiner. ‘Nuff said.

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Each Need has a direction of improvement (“reduce”), a metric (“time” or “likelihood”), and a goal (e.g. “capture the moment”). This means you can measure each Need and know how well a given solution serves it. For instance, you can measure how long it takes to “capture the moment” with an SLR camera slung around your neck vs the camera app on your phone in your pocket. The method that is faster meets the need better.

The magic of Customer Needs in the Job is that everyone trying to execute the job has the same needs no matter who they are or when they are trying to do the job. Monet needs to reduce the time it takes to paint water lilies. Avedon needs to reduce the time it takes to snap the photo of the elephant before it puts its foot down. New parents need to reduce the time it takes to memorialize their child’s first steps. Teenagers need to reduce the time it takes to snag a pic of that most embarrassing but hilarious thing their friends did at a party.


The Needs in the Job are the same, but their importance and satisfaction are different for different Job Executors. Monet’s hand might have gotten tired if it took a long time for him to paint the water lilies, but that moment lasts a relatively long time. Therefore, it’s not very important for Monet to capture it quickly.

However, a child’s first steps start and finish in the blink of an eye. For new parents, it’s incredibly important to move fast to capture that moment. In the 80s, they were likely terribly dissatisfied with how long it took to bust out the VHS recording machine. Satisfaction levels have changed today. If you search Vine for “baby first steps,” you’ll see parents are now pretty good at capturing moments quickly.

The Need hasn’t changed; the technology has. As a result, there are new solutions that serve the need better.

So, why did some people take to Snapchat like bees to honey and others couldn’t have been more confused by it?

I’m 35. When Snapchat first came out, I told my younger friends, “Why do I want to look at your photos that are so bad they aren’t even worth saving to look at later?” I was flummoxed.

But, if I think about the Needs in the Job, “Share a moment,” and the Job Executors, it all makes sense.

Facebook didn’t hit my college until 2004, just after I graduated. Camera phones were crap, and with the iPhone launch still 3 years away, we only had dumb phones. Photo sharing was not a big deal yet. I did a lot of really goofy things in college and high school which, thankfully, are lost to the sands of time.

By the time camera phones and photo sharing on Facebook exploded, I was a bit more mature (but not by much). Reducing the likelihood of damaging my reputation was only somewhat important to me and I was pretty satisfied with my ability to do it.

What if I went to college a few years later? Everyone armed with a bazillion megapixel camera. Taking photos and videos of every single moment. Posting them to this site where all my friends, family and future employers can see them, for ALL TIME.

The need to reduce the likelihood of damaging my rep would be terribly important and horribly unsatisfied. This is life for everyone who started college in say, 2007 or later. Enter Snapchat.

With their self-destructing photos, Snapchat met the need of reducing the likelihood of damaging your reputation, while keeping it easy and fun to share moments.

This was not just for the Anthony Weiners of the world. This was for any normal kid who did kid type stuff and wanted to laugh about it with their friends. Snapchat let them laugh without the risk of an employer or someone important eternally judging them. A disappearing photo has a really hard time reaching unwanted parties. And even if someone who saw it judged you, you could deny, deny, deny.

Snapchat disrupted Facebook by serving a need that was deeply important and hugely unsatisfied for an enormous population. They served the need much better than Facebook or Instagram.

Now with image filters, they are serving the need “Reduce the likelihood that the way you captured the moment fails to communicate why it’s special.” Watch out, Instagram!

To find the next big opportunity to disrupt the “Share a moment” market, we would:

  1. Uncover all of the Needs in the Job with customer interviews
  2. Execute quantitative research to determine the importance and satisfaction of each need to different Job Executors
  3. Generate ideas and build features that serve the unmet needs for the highest value segments better than the competition, like Snapchat did

If you execute well against the most underserved needs, you become a threat to the incumbents. When you move on to serve the whole job (or even multiple jobs) better, you can disrupt them and be on your way to building a 100 year business.

Anyone have a good idea for reducing the time it takes to recognize that a moment is shareable?

Posted by Jared Ranere


Claudio Perrone

Nice JTBD/ODI analysis.
In terms of outcomes, I’d tweak the ‘share a moment’ job analisys a bit to:
– reduce the likelihood that I miss to recognize that a moment is shareable
– reduce the time it takes to capture and/or share a shareable moment
A relatively simple solution to achieve both job outcomes is to delay commitment until ‘after’ the moment has started.
For example, you could crete an “always on” device that records everything you see but routinely wipes everything older than – say – 30 seconds. Then you can decide to start sharing/keeping from… 30 seconds ago 🙂
The technology has long moved in that direction. There are commercial solutions for voice recorders, security, car dashboard recorders (to capture traffic accidents) and some notable attempts in the wearable department (with seemingly deal-breaking privacy concerns 😉 ).

Jared Ranere

Yes, there are likely over 100 needs related to this job. I just took a few examples. I do think it’s helpful to not have conjunctions (“and” or “or”) in Needs. Even if the time it takes to execute one Need is brought down to 0 seconds by a given solution, it can still be useful to separate it from the other Needs to understand the user journey.
But more interestingly, your comment shows that this job can have conflicting needs such as privacy concerns related to an always on camera or how Snapchat’s core functionality conflicts with a Need to “Reduce the likelihood of forgetting the moment.” It’s one of the reasons there’s so much room in this market. Different solutions emphasize different Needs in those conflicts.

Claudio Perrone

Good points Jared. They are different needs that may be addressed by separate features/solutions. In the end, JTBD helps us understand and potentially explore different needs and relative priorities. As long as they keep experimenting, companies can leverage this knowledge to gain traction and converge to success.

Jared Ranere

@Claudio, there’s no ‘like’ button, so I’ll just say, “Couldn’t agree more!”

Great post, but i would argue that different Job executors do NOT have different unmet needs. Actualy different circunstances have different priorization of the needs. The needs are the same for that Job but when executed in different circunstances people evaluate those needs differently. Let me be clear: what causes different unmet needs to emerge in the same job is not the different executors of that Job but the different circunstances in which that Job is executed. The same person may capture a casual moment in the morning using his smartphone but in the evening, while in his wedding, he will hire a professional photografer to do the Job. The circunstance changed, not the executor, and this change in the circunstance caused a different evaluation of the same needs.

Jared Ranere

Victor, I agree that the needs are the same for the job. When I say ‘unmet,’ I mean a person (or a collection of people) assesses that need to be important and unsatisfied. In my example, people who haven’t suffered the pain of embarrassing photos lasting forever on social media and causing life problems are less likely to rate “Reduce the likelihood that a shared moment will damage my reputation” as important and unsatisfied and therefore they are less likely to care about a solution for that need. So the needs of the job are the same, but for different people they are more or less important, and either met or unmet.

And yes, the circumstances do play a role. Perhaps “people in certain circumstances” and “Job Executors” are one in the same if we allow that one person can be more than one kind of “Job Executor.” In your example, in the morning the person is a “snapshooter” and in the evening he is a “host of a special occasion.” In my example of people who care about reducing the likelihood of damaging their reputation, we could define the audience by a variety of circumstances that could lead to this problem and we could note that young people at parties where there are a lot of smartphones find themselves in these circumstances a lot. And we could further say that college students and high school juniors and seniors after 2007 were particularly likely to be in these circumstances often and there are a lot of them, which might help us target our marketing.

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