The Instagram Diaries: A Success Story

Written by: Mashiat Chowdhury

In this era, we cannot even imagine sharing a photograph without a good filter to tweak its hippie look. Nor can we imagine having the time to sit down and narrate the day’s experience in our personal journal anymore. This is where Instagram does it for us: it creates an online journal of daily lives using those beautifully tweaked photographs.

To come up with it required more than just a brainwave, though.

The co-founder, Kevin Systrome, had been employed in the marketing department of Nextstop (a travel-based startup), with no prior degrees at CS. He learned programming by night, and came up with an idea to combine elements of FourSquare (this involved check-ins to places) and elements of Mafia Wars using HTML5, to come up with an app named Burbn. This app had 4 tabs and allowed users to post plans, check-in, share photos and so on. Systrome convinced Baseline and Andreessen Horowitz to invest $500k in the project, contingent on finding another co-founder. This is where Mike Krieger came in, and they set out to improve Burbn, which was then an app only for iPhones.

Burbn, however, was too cluttered. Systrome realized they needed to focus on one specific element, and all was discarded except the photos. And then the Eureka moment hit.

While Systrome was on a study abroad opportunity in Florence, Italy, during his time at Stanford University, he had taken a photography class. He had brought his advanced SLR camera, but his teacher showed him how a cheap Holga camera could capture light streaks and vignette borders and make the photographs so much more interesting. This memory came flooding back when Systrome was vacationing after the inception of Burbn. His girlfriend stated she wouldn’t use Burbn as her photos weren’t as good as her friend’s, who she thought had a natural eye for it. Systrome knew better, though. The difference was due to the use of filters. That was when he designed his first filter, X-Pro II, discarded Burbn, and created Instagram.

Launched in October 2010, the app was an instant success with over a million users only a month after its inception. In 2012, Facebook stepped in and acquired Instagram and its employees for $1 billion, which at that time raised eyebrows.

And now, with 2014 nearing its end, Instagram is valued at $35 billion, as stated by Citi analyst Mark May. It beat Twitter in terms of users, and is certainly exceeding expectations in bringing in revenue. When it began advertising in 2013, it was able to instantly acquire clients the likes of Nike, Burberry, Adidas, and later moving overseas to acquire foreign clients. Since then, Instagram has upgraded and added a lot of features, also laying out video ads from selected partners. Estimates state that Instagram could hoard its advertising revenue to be $2.7 billion in 2015 alone.

These staggering figures make one reminisce of the 2012 purchase of Instagram by Zuckerberg that had then been frowned upon. In truth, he might just have made the best business deal in history.

About the author: 

Mashiat is an impulsive, freelance writer. Her interests are eclectic, ranging from World History to new developments in research. To her, even doing rewrite articles is a form of self-expression – the way you choose to deliver the news represents the person that you are.


SD Asia Desk