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Why the founders of Snapchat and Amazon are geniuses, according to a VC who made bets on both

Bill Gurley, general partner of Benchmark Capital Holdings Co.
Patrick T. Fallon | Bloomberg | Getty Images
Bill Gurley, general partner of Benchmark Capital Holdings Co.

Snap's recent IPO was driven in large part on the pitch of its visionary founder, Evan Spiegel — not unlike Amazon's IPO, according to top venture capitalist Bill Gurley. He said both founders have the "genius" to see opportunities — like cloud and augmented reality — that others have missed.

Before becoming a venture capitalist, Gurley said he worked with famed investor Frank Quattrone on the team that helped Amazon founder Jeff Bezos go public.

"It was fairly early — I think it was a single warehouse. I remember because Scott Cook and I did a presentation on why the employees should not watch the stock price everyday, at Jeff's request," Gurley said.

The way Bezos has grown his small bookstore platform makes him perhaps the best entrepreneur in recent history after Steve Jobs, Gurley said. Not only did Amazon grow its core retail business, but it also launched dominant cloud platform AWS, a move that Gurley said was "pure genius."

"I would say of all the people I know, he's certainly the most strategic thinker I've ever met," Gurley said.

Gurley spoke with angel investor Jason Calacanis from the LAUNCH Festival in San Francisco. Gurley is at Benchmark, where he invested in Snap, and recently cashed out big time.

"When we first stumbled upon this opportunity years ago, there was a lot of noise that suggested the company was all about sexting," Gurley said. "When we spent more time with Evan, he had a very passionate view that social media, as it was defined at that moment, was intrusive."

Gurley said Spiegel was able to see that Facebook's greatest strength was also its greatest weakness: Because founder Mark Zuckerberg was so good at growing Facebook's user base, users began to lose track of who they were sharing with. Gurley said that makes users uncomfortable.

"Evan, as we've watched him evolve, was also one of the first people to exploit AR," Gurley said. "Those features were in the phone for like two or three years ... no one did it. Evan did it. Which is pretty genius."