The app that has been downloaded a whopping 3.8 billion times, Instagram’s story is both- fascinating and inspiring. It nudges us to contemplate that sometimes taking a step behind at the correct time, leads us to a thousand steps ahead in the right direction.
The Founder and his story
In 2009, then 27-year old Stanford University graduate Kevin Systrom was serving at a travel recommendation company, Nextstop. Having already worked at Google and interned at Odeo (later Twitter and now X), Systrom learned to code on weekends, as he had no formal training in the same.
He built a web app prototype called ‘Burbn’, that allowed users to check in and post plans along with sharing pictures, a novel feature for that time.
The app raised $500,000 in seed funding from two venture capitalists. With these funds he built a strong team, the first to join was 25-year old Mike Krieger, another Stanford graduate. Both, re-assessed the prototype, and came to a conclusion that even after investing ample time and raising a large amount of money, developments at Burbn weren’t going as per plan.
This is exactly when one bold step taken by the founder changed the course of the internet.
Burbn was a distinctly different app for its photo-sharing feature. The duo studied various photo-based apps, but found that hardly a few had media-sharing proficiencies.
They saw massive potential in the combination of an app that has features like ‘filters’ applicable on photos and also be a social media platform, just like Facebook, which was getting huge.
Systrom and Krieger decided to strip Burbn of its exact features, for which it was known. They just let its photo-sharing, comments, and like functions be intact.
They also renamed Burbn to ‘Instagram’, a portmanteau of two names- Instant and Telegram, and re-released after improving the app’s photo-sharing experience. They wanted the app to be a minimalistic one, with lesser number of actions on the part of the user.
Instagram was launched on 6th October 2010, and registered 25,000 users on launch day itself. That week’s end saw more than 1,00,000 registrations and by mid-December, this number reached 1 million.
Acquisition by Facebook
Within nine months of its launch, the app amassed 7 million users. The surge in popularity saw more and more investors getting interested. Systrom also received acquisition offers for Instagram, from Jack Dorsey and Ali Rowghani, along with Mark Zuckerberg expressing his interest in merging Instagram and Facebook.
Zuckerberg offered $1 Billion USD, a deal that Instagram’s founders couldn’t refuse. However, as Kevin wanted Instagram to function as an independent entity, the deal was made accordingly.
In 2018, Krieger and Systrom stepped down from their respective positions at Instagram and today the company is headed by Adam Mosseri.
Learnings from Instagram’s story
Kevin Systrom was never formally introduced to coding, but went that extra mile to learn this skill. This teaches us to never miss out on opportunities and keep hustling.
Instagram’s story also teaches an important lesson that sometimes a step taken backward, propels us in the right direction, proving it to be the best way forward.
It is a classic example of how risk-taking, an indispensable business attribute has the potential to push companies and brands forward.