As of April this year, Instagram has over 400 million monthly active users with 75 percent of them from outside the United States. Instagram went from literally a handful of users to the #1 free photography app in the world in a matter of hours and has stayed there. The quick growth rate of Instagram has made it to 33% of users’ No. 1 preferred social media app, with Facebook being selected by only 20% of them. So what made Kevin Systrom and his folks at Instagram such a hit and how did they get there? Let’s find out.

“It was an app that only took 8 weeks to build and ship, but was a product of over a year of work.”

The Genesis

The story starts when Systrom at Nextstop. He used to work in marketing there, and started doing more and more engineering at night on simple ideas that helped him learn how to program, since he didn’t have any formal training in Computer Science. One of these ideas was combining elements of Foursquare (check-ins) with elements of Mafia Wars (the online role playing game) and decided to create Burbn, the precursor to Instagram. Burbn let users tag friends, make plans with groups, upload pictures and a host of other features. That’s when Systrom says he realized that they should only really focus on one core concept at a time. “The importance of being really good at one thing can go a long way”, he said.


The Success

Systrom, now deciding how to rework the design of Burbn, since it felt cluttered and overrun with features suggests cutting every element off from the application except for the photo upload, comment and like capabilities. What remained of the old Burbn, was now called Instagram, since these pictures acted as an instant-telegram, of sorts. As soon as it launched for IPhones, downloads went off the roof. Celebrities and Fashion influencers flocked to the platform and its growth has been exponential.

Ever since Instagram was made available for the public in October 2010, Instagram reached 1 million followers in two months, 10 million next year, 40 million the year after that and by the time Facebook bought Instagram for a whopping $1 Bn. in 2013, Instagram had reached 80 million users. A few months ago, Instagram celebrated 400 million users. Instagram has some unique attributes and what appears to be a strong social base framework, and it seems the type of users they attract (photography & art) are naturally more interested in collaboration about their craft. These things stand out for a product that is delving in the visual space.


The thing with Instagram is – it does something really well – it’s a one-stop-shop for taking a picture and sharing it with a number of social networks.  The filters and its own internal social features drew in many initial enthusiasts, but at the end of the day, it is a really quick and convenient way to take a quick shot and shoot it off to the rest of the world.

To sum things up, Cofounder of the app, Mike Krieger had to say this, “When Instagram sold itself to Facebook, they had only 13 full time employees.”

Some argued that Instagram was a fad – that it would die off quickly. But, its sturdiness in this ever changing tech world has shown to the rest of silicon valley that some things are, just meant to stay.


Illustrated by: Anna Vital 




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