Many famous and productive friendships have come out of California’s Stanford University: from Google founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page to Yahoo’s Jerry Yang and David Filo. Snap billionaire Evan Spiegel started Snapchat with Bobby Murphy, who lived across the hall in their fraternity house.
But Spiegel also made another enduring friendship at Stanford with a fellow future disruptor before the two were famous: Michael Tubbs, now the mayor of Stockton, California, who has made a name for himself piloting one of the country’s first universal basic income experiments.
“While I was campaigning for city council, [Spiegel] was building Snap,” Tubbs told The Wall Street Journal Magazine for a feature about Spiegel and his model wife Miranda Kerr published Tuesday.
About a decade ago, Tubbs and Spiegel met while studying abroad in South Africa. The two came from different backgrounds — Spiegel was “this white frat boy” said Tubbs, who went to private school and grew up in tony Los Angeles suburb Pacific Palisades, while Tubbs was raised by a single mother and earned a scholarship to Stanford after excelling in public school in Stockton.
But the two men “just clicked,” according to Tubbs. Spiegel “was fearless in the way I was fearless, in terms of new experiences,” Tubbs said.
In the Journal Magazine, Tubbs told the story of how, while in South Africa, the pair made a tour bus they were on pull over so they could walk around Soweto, a predominantly black township once home to Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu. “I was like, I’m not going to Johannesburg and not going to Soweto,” Tubbs said. And in turn, Spiegel “he had me go to some electronica concert,” he said.
Back at Stanford, Spiegel moved into Ujamaa House, an African-American themed dorm, according to its website, where he lived across the hall from Tubbs.
It was there that they nurtured their career paths.
Spiegel, with Murphy and another fraternity brother, Reggie Brown, started working on Snapchat in the summer of 2011 and soon dropped out of school to focus on it full-time. (He later completed his outstanding credits and graduated in 2018). Over the years, Snap had its ups and downs. It went public in 2017, and Spiegel is currently worth $4.78 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.
Tubbs had his sights set on politics. In 2012, just as he graduated from Stanford, Tubbs ran for a District 6 City Council seat in Stockton and got a rare campaign donation from Oprah Winfrey. At just 21, Tubbs ousted the incumbent and served until he was elected mayor of Stockton in 2016. That win made Tubbs, who was then 26, the youngest mayor ever of a city of more than 100,000 people. In 2019, Tubbs lead Stockton in a universal basic income test program (which is ongoing), where 125 randomly selected recipients receive $500 a month for 24 months.
And Spiegel and Tubbs are still “good friends,” according to a Snap press officer.
In 2018, the Spiegel Family Fund donated $20 million to establish the Stockton Scholars program, which Tubbs started to help underprivileged students graduate from college, according to The Wall Street Journal Magazine.
“I’ve known Michael since college. We met in Cape Town during a Stanford program and lived across the hall from each other in Ujamaa during my senior year. He has never once wavered in his mission to uplift the Stockton community. Michael is brilliant, he is resilient, and he is kind. I am so grateful to be able to support his work,” reads a note from Spiegel on the Spiegel Family Fund website.
The program is still young, but “aims to dramatically increase the number of Stockton students who enter and complete higher education” via scholarships, support with the application process, and events to build “a city-wide college-going culture,” according to its website.
On June 3, in the wake of protests sparked by the killing of George Floyd (the Journal interview took place on May 22), Tubbs had an IGTV conversation with Spiegel’s wife Kerr about fighting racism, which she captioned, “Chat with my friend Mayor of Stockton Michael Tubbs.”
Tubbs’ mayoral office did not immediately respond to CNBC Make It’s request for comment.