Former Snap exec shares advice for tech companies as he gets ready to take on Amazon

  • Snap's former Chief Strategy Officer Imran Khan said he believes that companies should always be "fearful" of their competitors but that should not drive the way they do business.
  • Khan left Snap to start a new e-commerce business that reports said recently raised $17.5 million in funds.
  • While he did not share details about what the start-up will do, he acknowledged that it would eventually put him in competition with tech juggernaut Amazon.

Snap's former chief strategy officer believes that while companies should be wary of their competitors, they must not forget to focus on their customers.

"I think that so many companies always forget who their customers are," Imran Khan told CNBC's Deirdre Bosa during a fireside chat at the East Tech West conference held in the Nansha district of Guangzhou, China. "Once you identify who your customers are, you have to be maniacally focused on serving that customers the best."

Khan recently left Snap to start a new e-commerce business that will put him in direct competition with tech juggernaut Amazon, which is predicted to take nearly half of the U.S. online retail market by year's end.

"Big is not always better," he said. "If you look at the history of innovation, if big was always better, new companies would never come up."

Khan explained that despite Amazon's massive presence, the U.S. e-commerce market, as a percentage of total retail sales, was still small. That left enough room for smaller companies to innovate and take some market share.

"I think you should always be very fearful of your competition but you shouldn't let fear drive it," he said when asked if he was worried about Amazon.

Imran Khan, former chief strategy officer of Snap,  speaks during Fireside Chat on Day 3 of CNBC East Tech West at LN Garden Hotel Nansha Guangzhou. 
Dave Zhong | Getty Images
Imran Khan, former chief strategy officer of Snap, speaks during Fireside Chat on Day 3 of CNBC East Tech West at LN Garden Hotel Nansha Guangzhou. 

But the former Snap executive declined to reveal details about what his start-up will do.

His e-commerce venture is predicted to launch in time for the holiday shopping season 2019, and recently raised $17.5 million in funds from investors including Lightspeed Venture Partners, according to Axios. The news site added that the company will be aimed at millennials.

After three years at Snap, Khan announced in September that he was leaving. In a filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, it was said that Khan's departure was not related to any disagreements over Snap's accounting, strategy, management or policies.

Investors have been wary of the social media company since it went public in 2017. This year was a tough year for Snap which saw a plunge in its stock price and lost popularity among its users to rival Instagram.

CEO Evan Spiegel vowed that Snap will remain independent five years from now, amid speculation that one of the other major tech companies might buy Snap.

Khan appeared confident in the future of his former company.

"Evan and team are focused on building the business and I think it's all about innovation. If they can continue to innovate, they will do fine," he said.

Before joining Snap, Khan was an investment banker for Credit Suisse where he played a leading role in the initial public offering of Chinese tech giant Alibaba and worked frequently with Jack Ma.

Khan said a crucial lesson that he learned from Ma was the importance of building a good company culture by hiring the right people — something he is thinking about in his own efforts to build up his new e-commerce business.

"I think the culture is the immune system of a company because when you build a company, you're going to have a good time and you'll have a bad time. You need to have a strong immune system to survive through it," Khan said.

Disclosure: CNBC parent NBCUniversal is an investor in Snap .