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Snap's making the same 'terrible' mistake as other tech companies, tech investor says

Investors in Snap's public offering were seeing green on Thursday, as the stock popped around 50 percent from its pricing.

But technology investor Roger McNamee was seeing red: Red flags, that is. McNamee said that the company's unique share structure may result in a lack of needed oversight from investors.

"I think tech companies make a terrible mistake trying to create their own rules, and trying to make themselves separate from the core economy," McNamee told CNBC's "Squawk Alley" on Thursday. "Whether it's staying private for much longer or not having voting."

Snap started trading at $24 a share on the New York Stock Exchange on Thursday, rising 41.2 percent from its pricing at the open. About 100 million shares changed hands in the first 30 minutes of trading — by far the most active stock on the NYSE — after it opened shortly before 11:20 a.m. on Thursday in New York.

But buyers are in an unusual predicament: They'll have almost no power over the company, since shares offered negligible voting rights, said McNamee, co-founder of technology investment firm Elevation Partners, which invested in Facebook and Yelp.

CEO and co-founder of Snapchat Evan Spiegel
Getty Images
CEO and co-founder of Snapchat Evan Spiegel

"I think it insulates them in a way that allows them to do as many dumb things as smart things," McNamee said. "Look at some of these unicorns — some of which also have had very, very limited voting on the part of their investors. Many of them have done incredibly stupid things."

Investors can play a key role in calling out young start-ups when they misbehave. Uber, for instance, has faced heat from investors over some aspects of its culture. Theranos — an embattled blood-testing start-up that has fallen from fame — had concentrated power in the hands of the founder.

Still, Snap would be far from the first company to get away with a unique financial situation. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has unique control over his company. Google co-founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page also retain a hefty stake. And Apple co-founder Steve Jobs was secretive about his shares, his biographer wrote, in keeping with the idea that "ordinary rules didn't apply to him." (The S.E.C. is also reportedly investigating whether Snap has been completely transparent with investors.)

"It really bothers me when people have no voting," McNamee said. "Does it bother me as much as the stock price? No. Because the stock price stops me from investing way before the no voting."

Like many big tech companies before it, Snap may well fall below its IPO price at some point, McNamee said.

"I don't think it will take all that long to get back down there," McNamee said. "I think cool heads will be more successful. It will be a great trade — let's see how long it lasts. ... Eventually people are going to look at the fundamentals. It's going to be very hard for the fundamentals to catch up to the valuation we're talking about today."

Eric Hippeau, on the other hand, thinks Snap will excel. Hippeau is managing partner at Lerer Hippeau Ventures, which has invested in viral media companies like Thrillist, BuzzFeed, Distractify and NowThis.

"We had a duopoly [in digital ads]: Facebook, Google. I think they're going to continue to do well," Hippeau said. "But now there's a new player on the scene."

With "incredibly cool" and "truly brilliant" management, McNamee said he thinks Snap is a brave and clever company. But he said he separates the performance of the company from the performance of the stock.

"Snap is a network — of younger people who are having fun. It's hard to pry those people away from the network," Hippeau said.