A lesson from Snapchat: Ask before you sign your soul away

As Snap gets ready to go public with a $20 billion IPO, the underlying story may escape casual observers. The founder of the company that owns Snapchat, Evan Spiegel and Bobby Murphy, own preferential shares that give them 10-to-1 voting rights.

 That’s very unusual. The reason goes back to the company’s early days. Spiegel’s father was getting tired of paying Snapchat’s bill as his son was completing his studies at Stanford University. So Spiegel and Murphy found a venture capitalist, Jeremy Liew of Lightspeed Venture Partners, who came up with $485,000 in two weeks. The young startup entrepreneurs agreed.

 Little did they know that it was a pact with the devil. In an agreement that signed their souls, they gave up essentially the rights to accept other investors and essentially running their own company. Eventually they managed to buy Liew off with an 8 percent share that may give Lightspeed about $1 billion when Snap goes public. But he no longer has veto rights in the company.

 Understandably, the company is not very keen on discussing the dark side of its success. But here is the lesson Spiegel learned when you are presented with documents that lawyers tell you are “all standard”: “When someone says something is standard, just ask why, and why and why and why, until you really understand intricately, I think, how the deal is structured.”

The Flight of the Eagle at the Venice Carnival

Long forgotten and become a shadow of its former self, the Venetian Carnival was revived by Italian officials in the late 1970s. The goal, obviously, was to boost tourism revenue. It was rewarding, massively, to the point that tourism has become a scourge for Venice, as much as a source of income.

 Yet it has paid off handsomely in other ways, too. For perhaps better than elsewhere, the Venice Carnival is a reenactment of the glorious day of the Serenissima, the Venetian republic that was ruled by an elective Doge, a true precursor of modern democracy. And amid the crowds of tourists, you still do get a sense of the past glory and splendor of the city-state, now imperiled by so many challenges, including depopulation, rising water levels and unregulated tourism. It is still, arguably, the most beautiful city in the world.

Five years ago, the Carnival organizers instituted the Flight of the Eagle on the last Sunday before the festivities end, mirroring the Flight of the Angel the Sunday before. A model descends along a rope the bell tower of the St. Mark’s Basilica to the Square. It evokes a feat that, according to legend, a Turkish acrobat performed in the era of the Serenissima.

And indeed, the display of beauty and wealth is unabashed. “Vanity is a human condition,” one of the anchors of the Flight of the Eagle said at St. Mark’s Square. “And how would it be possible without a mirror?” A female presenter replied that, indeed, mirrors had been invented in Venice, possibly referring to how they were perfected by Venetian craftsmen in the 17th century. In any case, it is perfectly fitting for a city of, quite literally, specular architecture and beauty. It has been projecting itself in narcissistic reflection in the waters of the lagoon for over a millennium.

Renault and Nissan will still roll after Ghosn steps aside

Carlos Ghosn, the car industry executive, is now in his sixties. It is time, he decided, to start taking off some of the many hats he is wearing. He is both Chairman and CEO of French carmaker Renault as well as Nissan and Mitsubishi, its Japanese peers. But now he is handing over Nissan’s keys to his co-CEO Hiroto Saikawa in April. Mr. Ghosn will stay on as Nissan chairman and will focus on strengthening the three carmakers’ alliance.

As the move was unexpected, the industry reacted with concern. It should not. Mr. Ghosn groomed Mr. Saikawa for years, since the latter overhauled procurement at Nissan, improving efficiencies.

Branded “Le Cost Killer” at Renault, he moved on to turn around Nissan (and now, Mitsubishi, the long struggling Japanese carmaker). Like great leaders, Mr. Ghosn made delegating a key to his management style. That, and hard work. As he said in an interview some five years ago, he worked “like a beast” since he became the CEO of Renault at the age of 45. And the left pocket in his shirt did not know what there was inside the right pocket. As soon as he got onto a plane from Paris to Tokyo, he stopped thinking about Renault and his mind would be on Nissan.

Since his childhood in his Brazilian birthplace not far from the border with Bolivia, he was into cars. Legend has it that at the age of 4 he could tell the make of cars by the sound of the horns.

Lucky Mr. Ghosn grew up in a world where there was more freedom of movement for people. The grandson of Lebanese immigrants on his father’s side who had settled in Brazil, his mother was born in Nigeria, also to Lebanese parents. When Mr. Ghosn was little, he became ill after drinking contaminated water and his mother took him to Rio de Janeiro to heal, but he did not. They ended up going to Beirut. Mr. Ghosn was schooled in Lebanon and later went on to Paris to continue. Maybe that peripatetic upbringing explains how easily he bridges cultures and makes him an extraordinary problem solver. Only God knows how many future Carlos Ghosns are being turned back at airports in the United States and around the world.