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Snapchat is growing up, files for IPO

Evan Spiegel's teen-friendly social network is said to be valued at $20 billion to $25 billion. Now it's going public.

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It's official: Snap, the parent company of Snapchat, is going public.

First, the basics of the IPO. The company is said to be valued at $20 billion to $25 billion, and is looking to raise $3 billion in the offering. It will list on the New York Stock Exchange under the ticker symbol SNAP.

The 5-year-old company, founded by a college dropout, made its long-awaited IPO filing public on Thursday, in what's likely to be the biggest market debut for a tech company in years.

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Snapchat parent company and Spectacles maker Snap is getting ready to view the world through IPO-colored glasses.

James Martin/CNET

The Los Angeles-based social network, wildly popular among teens and young adults, has been one of tech's unlikeliest success stories in years. Started by Evan Spiegel, a 26-year-old who dropped out of Stanford University, the app was once dismissed as a sexting app.

But it's clearly much more than that. Power users include Kim Kardashian, DJ Kahled and John Mayer. Instead of posts piling on top of each other like they do on your Facebook timeline, pictures and videos posted to Snapchat disappear after a set amount of time. It ushered in a form of casual social networking that's something of an antithesis to Mark Zuckerberg's nearly 2 billion-strong behemoth.

"In the way that the flashing cursor became the starting point for most products on desktop computers, we believe that the camera screen will be the starting point for most products on smartphones," the company wrote in the filing. "This means that we are willing to take risks in an attempt to create innovative and different camera products that are better able to reflect and improve our life experiences."

Snap CEO Evan Spiegel

Snap CEO Evan Spiegel

Larry Busacca/Getty Images

While it's the most high-profile public debut the tech industry has seen lately, the amount of money Snap wants to raise pales in comparison to tech's last big IPO, from the Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba. That offering, in 2014, raised almost $22 billion. Facebook comes in second, after raising $16 billion in 2012.

Snap also said it now has 158 million daily users. The company made $404.5 million in sales in 2016, way up from $58.7 in 2015.

In the last few months, Spiegel & Co. have also broadened their vision beyond the flagship social network. Last September, they introduced Spectacles, flamboyant $130 smart sunglasses equipped with a video camera that are designed to make posting to Snapchat a snap (pun intended).

In its filing, Snap said Spectacles have not yet "generated significant revenue" for the company. The rollout of the product has so far been limited.

But though Snapchat's enigmatic allure with teens has been its secret weapon until now, if Snap wants to grow as a public company, it has to expand beyond its young, though demographically enviable, existing user base. Snapchat says on its website that it reaches 41 percent of all 18- to 34-year-olds in the United States. And nearly 70 percent of all 18- to 24-year-olds in the US use the app, according to ComScore.

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