Be Really Good At One Thing: How Kevin Systrom & Mike Krieger Sold Instagram For $1 billion

This happened a couple of months back but a few days ago we featured an article “The Collapse of Time” and the first paragraph gives a snippet of the Instagram story, and this got us thinking on the phenomenal effect called the internet. Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger sold their company to Facebook for $1 billion; a company launched in October 2010. A lot of people screamed ‘where is the value?’ In our opinion any value is the difference between what someone wants to get and what someone will pay, whatever the payment is for. There is no other value, only an estimate. For over a decade now, the internet has made so many people millionaires and billionaires, we could list a 100 people who have made millionaires off the internet.

Let us get talking a little bit about the Instagram guys. Put simply, Instagram is a photo-sharing application, initially for the iPhone but shortly before it’s acquisition, the app was available on the android platform (adding to its value I suppose). Systrom, the initial founder is a big photography fan, he started looking at ways to share photos online. He then started Burbn, named after his favourite liquor, a company that focused mainly on mobile but performed numerous services and functions. It had photos but also check-in capabilities, like FourSquare, and other apps.

Then one of the initial user of the app in person of Mike Krieger, contacted Systrom and the two got talking about narrowing the focus of the app. Systrom and Mike then decided that, to build a company they had to keep it simple and focus on being really good at one thing. (One of our golden rules at CreativityTurf: Keep it simple). Systrom says on Quora “We saw mobile photos as an awesome opportunity to try out some new ideas. We spent one week prototyping a version that focused solely on photos. It was pretty awful. So we went back to … Burbn. We actually got an entire version of Burbn done as an iPhone app, but it felt cluttered, and overrun with features.”

“It was really difficult to decide to start from scratch, but we went out on a limb, and basically cut everything in the Burbn app except for its photo, comment, and like capabilities. What remained was Instagram. (We renamed because we felt it better captured what you were doing – an instant telegram of sorts. It also sounded camera-y).”

In 2010 the company launched, and in the first few hours, over 10,000 users downloaded the app, then 200,000 in the first week. Instagram reached 13 million users in just 13 months and as of today, the app has got 80 million users uploading millions of photos daily. When the firm launched the Android version before its sale in April, it attracted 1 million downloads in 12 hours.

Instagram was sold to Facebook even before it made any sort of revenue. We have pondered on, why Instagram was so successful even though similar photo-sharing apps like Hipstamatic, PhotoToaster, Photosynth, TiltShift existed. We wish we could give you the exact answer to that, although we came up with possible reasons.

One sure lesson we picked from this story is: Keep it simple and focus on being really good at one thing.

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