Snapchat just filed for its IPO

The move signals the most critical shift for the Snapchat maker in its history, paving the way for a large injection of capital to help it grow and better compete with Facebook, Google, and others in the realm of social video and mobile messaging. At its last valuation back in May, Snap Inc. was estimated to be worth as around $18 billion. A successful IPO could catapult the company to many times that figure, establishing Snapchat once and for all as a product with staying power and influence for years to come.

There’s reason Snap Inc. may want to act sooner rather than later when it comes to an IPO. As it stands, Snapchat as a product is currently the largest existential threat to Facebook’s social dominance. After Snap Inc. CEO Evan Spiegel spurned Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg’s acquisition offer three years ago, the two companies have been in an ever-escalating battle for teen mindshare. And as much of the social behaviors of US smartphone owners have shifted to mobile video, so too have the advertising dollars.

This shift has informed how Snapchat and Facebook have grown as products. As Snapchat tried to move into news with a focus on visual storytelling, Facebook began investing heavily in live video. Now the two companies are fighting over younger eyeballs, with Facebook looting Snapchat’s best features and bolting them onto its main products. Instagram now sports Stories, its own version of disappearing updates designed for more raw sharing of images and video. And a new set of Facebook camera features being tested in Ireland adopts Snapchat’s entire design to promote the same type of communication within the main Facebook mobile app.

So before the battle gets too bloody, an IPO could capitalize on Snap Inc.’s more immediate successes. The company happens to be riding a wave of positive press on the heels of its buzzy pop-up launch of Spectacles, a pair of camera-equipped sunglasses that mark the company’s first hardware product in the consumer tech category. If Snap Inc. acts now, it could avoid the potential possibility that Spectacles don’t take off like the company hopes. That way, investors pour money in on the prospect of success, instead of on the reality of a flop. Between now and a potential IPO in March, Snapchat could sell thousands of its Spectacles in pop-up vending machines around the country.

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