Social Media, Startup News & Analysis

Instagram’s Mike Krieger and Kevin Systrom are stepping down, but what’s the key to their success? Hint: It’s super simple

Stephanie Palmer-Derrien /

Instagram founders Mike Krieger and Kevin Systrom have stepped down from the US photo-sharing platform, six years after they sold the app the Facebook for $US1 billion and before it had generated a penny in revenue.

In a statement released on Monday, Systrom confirmed the founders are leaving, while hinting at the possibility of a new venture, saying they plan to “explore our curiosity and creativity again”.

However, reports have suggested the resignation follows increasing tension between the founders and Facebook’s Mark Zuckerburg, and a gradual reduction of Instagram’s independence.

Founded in 2010, Instagram recorded 25,000 downloads on its first day. Within a week it had 100,000 downloads, and within the first month, it hit 1 million users.

After 18 months, Instagram had 30 million users, and only 13 staff members on board.

So how do you get your product to go viral? How did these founders go from founding to acquisition within two years, and what was it about Instagram that made it a success?

Speaking on the Masters of Scale podcast, hosted by LinkenIn co-founder Reid Hoffman, earlier this month, Systrom said Instagram owes a large part of its success to simplicity.

Instagram started life as Burbn, a check-in app that also allowed friends to schedule visits to a particular place, and to share pictures while they were there.

This was Systrom’s brainchild, but it was when a venture capitalist made him a offer of funding with the caveat that he find a co-founder that Krieger came on board.

“Our friends liked it, but noone else liked it,” Systrom said.

“Looking back I’m surprised anyone gave us money to work on this idea”

The co-founders decided to scale back and focus on just one feature of the platform. Partly, this was simply to make the product easier to describe.

“If you’re going to tell your friends about a cool new service that does all these things, how do you explain it to them?” Systrom said.

Of course, they chose the photo-sharing feature, and Instagram was born.

Instagram was also in a position to use other social networks to scale. People who used the app could also share their pictures on other networks, meaning the social experience wasn’t dependent on having an Instagram network.

“You have this app that’s a network but noone is on the network, and it only becomes useful once people are on the network, so you have to have what we called single-player mode feel awesome,” Systrom said.

“Single player mode as an app where you could take a photo, filter it and send it to many networks at once, that was a utility in single-player mode.”

People began sharing filtered Instagram pictures, which meant their friends would download the app to try to replicate them.

“The square photo and the borders and the links to Instagram were calling cards,” Systrom said.

However, while Systrom still swears by simplicity, he did say the founders could have made life much easier for themselves “had we just hired”.

“Find great people that know their stuff because there are a lot of them in the world and they would be happy to deal with the problems that you are currently facing,” he advised.

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Stephanie Palmer-Derrien

Stephanie Palmer-Derrien is a reporter at StartupSmart.

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