Even as you juggle multiple deadlines through the day, chances are you are checking your phone every other minute to treat your tired senses to a visual euphoria. Over time, Instagram has replaced the office water cooler; it’s where you find fodder for fashion gossip, discover updates about the outside world, and get updates about your colleagues’ personal lives. However, this wasn’t always the case. From a social platform that once best served aesthetic snobs, Instagram has come a long way. But have you ever wondered about what went into its making and how it became an overnight sensation? Read on to know.
The road to entrepreneurship
Instagram founder and CEO, Kevin Systrom, was a child prodigy who got into coding early in his childhood. He graduated from Stanford University in 2006 and went to work for Google as an Associate Product Marketing Manager. However, Kevin always had the itch to do something with the social space and so, in 2009, he joined Nextstop.com, an online travel recommender, as their Product Manager. Nextstop.com is where he realized that entrepreneurship is his calling, and this is where it all began!
Burbn, Instagram’s predecessor
While at Nextstop.com, Systrom took out time to work on an idea that he had in his mind for quite some time. It was a location-based photo sharing app that he chose to call Burbn because of his love for the namesake drink. He got the prototype ready and presented it to Baseline Ventures and Andreessen Horowitz at a party in January 2010. He quit Nextstop.com soon after, leaving the rest to luck, which didn’t disappoint. Within 2 weeks of quitting, he got a seed funding of $500,000 from both, Baseline Ventures and Andreessen Horowitz.
But before he could go full-throttle, he knew that he had to find a co-founder. Mike Krieger, a fellow Stanford graduate, was excited about the idea and the duo built Burbn together. Burbn allowed users to check-in to locations, make plans, earn points for hanging out with friends, post pictures, etc.
The birth of Instagram
Burbn was a failure; people were using the app to just share photos and didn’t want anything to do with the host of other features that it offered. When it came to sharing pics, users naturally preferred already existing apps like Facebook and Hipstamatic.
This failure led to the birth of Instagram as we know it. The duo decided to strip Burbn off every other feature and focus only on photo sharing. They began by studying the competition in the market. Although Hipstamatic had really cool filters, it was a task to share photos on the app, and Facebook’s iPhone app didn’t have a great photo-sharing feature. The duo saw an opportunity here; they decided to develop an easy-to-use app that made social photo-sharing simple, interactive and fun.
After eight weeks of experimenting and prototyping over countless bottles of Red Bull, Instagram was finally born on October 12, 2010.
The overnight success
Within just two hours of Instagram’s launch, its servers started crashing because of an incredible rush of traffic. Kevin and Mike had to burn the night oil to get the servers back up and keep them running. If rumours are to be believed, more than 250,000 people had signed up on Instagram within 24 hours of its launch!
Users loved the entire presentation of Instagram. They got hooked to the way the app allowed them to make their photographs unique without having to give out too much personal information or going through the hassles of building a network of friends. Users just had to follow others and share pictures, which made Instagram an instant hit! Instagram reached a record-breaking 7 million users just within 9 months, including some highly influential celebrities like Justin Bieber and Ryan Seacrest.
The acquisition by Facebook
While most people signed up on Instagram to share cool pictures, they eventually ended up trading likes and comments, making for a whole new social graph. This made Mark Zuckerberg notice the rising popularity of the app. In fact, Facebook saw an alarming decline in the number of people using the app to post photos; they were sharing pics via their Instagram handles instead. This bothered Mark and that’s when he thought of acquiring Instagram. He went to Kevin with the proposal.
Incidentally, during the same time, Kevin received an offer from Jack Dorsey (now CEO of Twitter) to buy Instagram for $500 million. Moreover, Kevin was also being offered a great amount of funds from Sequoia Capital, which he was more inclined towards. But Mark wasn’t someone to take no for an answer and he finally floated an offer to buy Instagram for $1 billion in cash and stock, in April 2012. Even after the acquisition, Instagram would remain an independently managed company.
Had the co-founders not tasted failures initially, Instagram would never have existed, and who knows what the future of Burbn would have been? In the words of Systrom himself, “It’s about going through false starts. Burbn was a false start. The best companies in the world have all had predecessors. YouTube was a dating site. You always have to evolve into something else.”