Sony’s Michael Lynton Poised to Hit Jackpot with Snapchat Investment (Exclusive)

Studio chief's early $200k contribution could yield massive ROI when social biz sells or goes IPO

Michael Lynton Sony
Getty Images

If he ever tires of the movie business, Sony Entertainment CEO Michael Lynton has another career waiting for him in an even higher-risk field: Internet sector investments.

Unbeknownst to those following the frenzy over buzzed-about tech startup Snapchat is that the company counts the studio chief as one of its first investors, according to sources familiar with the transaction. Snapchat is widely considered to be on the verge of several scenarios that could see its value skyrocket, having reportedly turned down a recent multibillion-dollar acquisition bid from Facebook.

While Lynton’s ties to the Los Angeles-based photo-messaging service became evident in June when he joined the board of the company, what went undisclosed was an investment he and his wife, Jamie, made in the company estimated to be worth approximately $200,000.

A rep for Lynton declined comment. Reps for Snapchat did not respond to inquiry as of press time.

An SEC filing issued Wednesday confirmed Lynton’s status on the board of directors but did not identify his status as an investor.

That investment came in early 2012, before several rounds of funding that has pumped over $100 million into Snapchat from a variety of venture capital firms including Benchmark Capital, Lightspeed Ventures and IVP. On Thursday, Snapchat reportedly received $50 million in Series C funding from another firm, Coatue Management.

Arguably the hottest up-and-coming Internet venture right now, Snapchat has become a phenomenon among tens of millions of mostly teenagers who use the service to send each other photos or videos that disappear shortly after viewing via mobile devices. Partially clothed “selfies” are a common communique.

Adding to the sensation around Snapchat is that its founders are barely out of their teens themselves: Stanford U. graduates Evan Spiegel, 23, and Bobby Murphy, 25. Similar to Facebook, Snapchat has also become embroiled in a lawsuit by another person who claims they stole his idea for the company.

Better known as a fundraiser for President Obama than as a tech trendspotter, Jamie Lynton actually provided the impetus for the investment, according to sources familiar with the transaction. She was moved to contact Spiegel after seeing how her children gravitated to Snapchat. The Lyntons are said to have become close to Spiegel, serving on a consultatory basis and making introductions in the entertainment business, which could come to see Snapchat as a promotional platform though the company’s own monetization strategy is currently a mystery.

Oddly enough, Snapchat is thought to be the only investment Lynton has made among early-stage Internet companies unlike many other tech-savvy moguls who place bets on multiple companies in the sector in hopes of healthy ROI. Snapchat is also the only commercial board Lynton on which Lynton is known to be currently serving.

Unknown is what size a stake that gives Lynton in Snapchat. While $200,000 may not seem like a big sum in the scheme of the billions some tech companies get valued at, even a modest investment can yield an astronomical return depending on a company’s endgame. Like Facebook and Twitter, Snapchat could go the IPO route, but Lynton’s windfall could also be triggered by a sale. Other companies rumored to be kicking Snapchat’s tires include Google and Chinese giant Tencent.

Of course, Lynton still has a day job to keep him busy. He re-upped as Sony CEO in April, prior to a rough summer at the box office that drew criticism from activist investor Daniel Loeb. Last month, Sony pledged to bring in Bain & Co. to advise on $250 million in cuts to impose more fiscal discipline at the studio.

Sony itself has no known business relationship with Snapchat.