Instagram has become one of the most rapidly growing social media sites. Over the last few years it has grown into a global community that exceeds 300 million users who share more than 70 million photos and videos on a daily basis. There were several key factors that made a significant contribution into the growth of the company and its increasing popularity not only among photo enthusiasts, but also among celebrities and brands.
In their talk at Stanford University, Instagram co-founders Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger talk about how Instagram got started, share lessons learned (see infographic) and a couple of things that had a profound impact on Instagram’s success in its early days:
- Instagram co-founders were committed to finding the right problems to solve and working hard to scale the solution
In the talk Kevin Systrom said, “I always thought like, you're faced with these problems that people have, you assume that you know exactly what you're going to tackle, and the hard part is finding that algorithm. The hard part is scaling that solution. It turns out that the hard part is actually finding the problem to solve.”
So here is what Kevin and Mike did when they decided to work on Instagram:
“ We wrote down the top five problems people have with mobile photos because we wanted to build a product that solved problems. We didn't want to just build a cool app to look for a problem that people had. We wanted to do it the other way around. So what we did was we listed out these five problems.
And I remember the top three that we circled. Number 1 was that mobile photos don't look so great. We've all had that experience: you're seeing the sunset, you take a snapshot, and it looks washed out, you can barely see the sun, etc. And we were like, 'That's the major problem we want to solve.' Number 2 was that uploads on mobile phones take a really long time. So we were like, 'What could we do around that?' Well, maybe if we started the upload way before you're done even editing the photo's caption, and what if we sized down the photo just to fit perfectly on the screen but nothing else? And that's the small little problem and solution that it turns out really delights people because they press 'done' entering their caption, it's already been uploaded. The third problem was that we really wanted to allow you to share out to multiple services at once. We felt like, should you have to make the decision of taking a photo with a Facebook app, the Twitter app, so on and so on, or should you just take it in one place and distribute it to many places at once? Those top three problems allowed us to really hone in on what solution we wanted to build. And that's really what Instagram became.”
- Instagram co-founders managed to get along well and complemented each other
“Because we both have our own specialties but also overlap into each other's areas, it really provides for this nice relationship where you can bounce ideas off of other people or get that person to say, "Are you sure you want to do it that way?". And what has happened is it's that yin-yang relationship that I really think has helped us succeed. And it's hard to screen for ahead of time. We knew each other. We barely knew each other. Yeah, barely knew each other. We figured out that we can work together on a technical level by just getting together over a bunch of weekends and saying, 'Let's build a little simple Facebook game. It's going to take a few hours. Let's build it together,' whatever, and you can get going. But a lot of it ends up being, what's your gut feel?”
“The biggest source of strife I found is when there's a disconnect between expectations as to what you're building and how long you want to be building it for. And it's important to both of us that are like, 'I can't imagine doing anything else in the world. I love doing this and I want to be doing this for a really long time. I love what I do. I love coming in.' If people are, oh, six months to a year, then cash out, that's going to be really difficult. Unless you're both feeling that way, then it's a different relationship. But if you're in it for the long haul, make sure that the people you know are in it as well. It's a tough conversation and you might lose a co-founder that way early on, before you start, but it's much better, I think, than going on and then six months later having that really, really worned-down relationship.”
“I can't imagine starting a company without a co-founder. It's such a hard job to get off the ground. It's such a hard job to recruit people, to deal with whether it's investors or press. Having someone across the way to be like, "Man, this really bummed me out," or "How do you think about this?" I actually think that's one of the things that has kept us going in 4 am or 5 am when we're fixing the servers or dealing with some issue. It's been fantastic. Absolutely.”
- Instagram co-founders learnt how to deal with competition effectively
“I think early on, as you built something, you've put your baby out in the world, and people are using it or criticizing it or loving it, and then every week something pops up that is at least nominally competitive with us. And I think at first, personally, I would look at them and be like, 'Oh, man, they have this one thing that's better than ours! It's going to take off!' You shouldn't be completely oblivious to it, but there was a moment about three or four months in, we looked at each other and we were like, 'The only way we got to where we are today is being ourselves and putting in the work that we want to do and building the product that we want to build.' And then when that clicked, that changed the way we looked at competition.
You're not oblivious to it, and it's not good to be just like, 'Oh, I'm in my own world and nothing else is happening out there.' But build the product that you're in love with and I think good things will follow, and ultimately you'll see the extent of your vision versus trying to cobble together. Because what I've found in products that end up borrowing from other things is that you end up with this 'Franken' product where nothing feels sincere.
The biggest learning for me was - we were looking at a sign-up form for a particular startup and we were like, 'Well, I wonder why they mail these decisions?' And months later we met their founder and they were like, 'Oh, we did that in an afternoon. It's totally wrong. I can't believe we shipped that.'
And so the things that you think are really well-thought-out in other startups might have been off-the-cuff, last-minute thoughts. And same for us. Some people copy things in our app that I'm like, 'Oh, we're probably changing that next week.' But at the same time, I think it's really easy to get caught up in competition early on, especially in the press. I think I worried a lot about, 'Who's announcing funding and when?' It just doesn't matter. It spends a lot of your cycles worrying about this meta stuff. What matters is building great products and delighting people. And I would just encourage you to focus on building great products.”
by Natalie Myhalnytska