Snapchat, the up-and-coming and increasingly controversial social network and mobile photo-sharing service, may receive some major venture capital funding.
While Fortune reported on Monday that Matt Cohler, a general partner at Benchmark Capital who spurred his firm’s initial investment into other popular social media ventures such as Instagram, said that his firm had not made any serious investments so far in 2012, the tech site GigaOM reported on Wednesday that Benchmark is “very likely to lead a big round of financing” for the new “red-hot photo sharing app.”
Founded and launched in September 2011 by Stanford students Evan Spiegel and Bobby Murphy, Snapchat is just over a year old and has already been making significant waves among its young audience of text-friendly users on Android and iOS smartphones. The unique differentiator of the service, however, is also its most controversial feature. The mobile app lets users take pictures and share them within a specific time-frame, after which the image is deleted -- at least within Snapchat itself.
The feature that allows users create time-sensitive images to share with their friends has caused several popular websites such as Gawker, Gizmodo and BuzzFeed to brand SnapChat as the go-to “sexting app” for young audeinces that, either deceptively or unwittingly, gives its users a false sense of security. Just this week, Gawker reported on an ad-hoc porn site set up on Tumblr to aggregate nude photographs and other compromising images known as “Snapchat Sluts.” As of this writing, the page seems to have been taken down or modified to remove any of the offending images.
The company, meanwhile, has consistently defended itself by maintaining that Snapchat is not a “sexting” app and was never designed for that purpose.
“I’m not convinced that the whole sexting thing is as big as the media makes it out to be,” Spiegel told TechCrunch when the concern was initially raised last May. By that time, Snapchat was already number 12 on the list of free iOS apps and had been covered by the New York Times.
“I just don’t know people who do that,” Spiegel added. “It doesn’t seem that fun when you can have real sex.”
As of Oct. 28, Snapchat said that users have shared more than one billion photos on its network. Last month, the company said on its blog that over one thousand images were being sent every second during the Thanksgiving holiday.
GigaOM claims that the start-up is currently raising $8 million, and it is rumored to be valued at $50 million already.
Despite whatever controversies and criticisms Snapchat may face today, Benchmark Capital’s track record, and Matt Cohler’s specifically, would put the company on another level entirely. In addition to Instagram, Cohler has had a hand in supporing the business side of social media giants like LinkedIn (NYSE: LNKD) and Facebook (Nasdaq: FB). Before Snapchat steps into that league, however, it may need to satisfy its decidedly older investors that its young users are being protected.