If there was ever a start-up success story, it’s Instagram. The photo sharing superpower was founded in 2010 by 28-year-old Kevin Systrom who had recently graduated from Stanford University, interned at Twitter, and worked at Google – an impressive background, to say the least. After only a few hours of Instagram going live, it already had more than 10,000 users. By the end of the first week, the app had been downloaded more than 100,000 times. Once the three-month mark rolled around, the community had grown to a million.
In 2012, Instagram was purchased by Facebook for a cool $1 billion and the site now boasts an impressive 500 million active, monthly users. So how did Systrom take his start-up from humble beginnings to social media dominance? A combination of timing, strategy, and good ol community building.
Their Timing was Perfect
Instagram’s timing couldn’t have been more perfect. In 2010, 298 million smartphones were sold worldwide, which was an increase from 175 million in 2009. That’s a growth rate of 70%!
Since Instagram started out as an iOS app, the company was targeting the throngs of loyal iPhone users who considered themselves to be savvy tech users. Instagram followed up with a release on Android once their market share increased and there was a sufficient amount of hype built on iOS.
As of last year, smartphone ownership in the US reached 86% for people aged 18-29 and 83% for people aged 30-49. If Instagram was released in this saturated environment, it may not have found the same success.
They Put the Community First
When Instagram hit the app store, that wasn’t the first time consumers gave it a try. Systrom and his team shared it with friends, tested it with other start-ups in their building, and even put out a beta version. And guess what? People loved it! They developed a cult following and strong brand ambassadors even before their product hit the metaphorical shelves.
Blogger and tech evangelist, Robert Scoble, worked in the same tech start-up space as Instagram and claims to be one of the app’s first 80 users. He credits their success to an awesome app, solid interaction model, and lots of San Francisco influencers advocating for the brand.
Systrom believed in his start-up and the product he was bringing to consumers. Instagram’s early focus was building a functional and community-rich experience over striking it rich. The start-up began with only a dozen employees who worked out of Dogpatch Labs, a tech start-up space that rented desks out by the month. Within a year, they were forced to vacate the building because it was so structurally unsound.
Early adopters like Scoble say that the initial engagement levels boosted their interest in the site. After posting a photo, Scoble was astonished at the comments that began quickly popping up from other users. “That never happened on other photo apps. Got me instantly addicted. Also got me to get other people on the app, because the more who were there the better the app became,” he explains.
They Saw a Space for Visual Content
Instagram isn’t just used by millennials. It’s a staple social platform for people of all ages. One of the reasons why was adopted by such a range of users is the apps simple design. The Instagram team thought long and hard about every aspect of their app. They even pared down their original 30 filters to a list of only 11, although that number has increased over time. It doesn’t take long to learn the key features like adding a filter, following other users, and sharing a photo. Their focus on functionality over complex add-ons made it user friendly and positioned Instagram for success.
The average person gets distracted in 8 seconds which certainly isn’t enough time to read through an entire Facebook post! We’ve become a visual society that is constantly capturing the moments of our lives on our ever-present smartphones.
What better way to enter the social media game than to build a platform dedicated solely to visual content? Apparently Instagram was onto something. It’s predicted that by 2018, an estimated 84% of communication will be visual.
Instagram’s focus on providing users with a quality product that capitalized on the rise of visual content resulted in massive success. The app is no longer just another social media platform. It has become part of our culture and daily lives. From children’s first steps to wedding photos and weekends away, Instagram is there for all the moments we don’t want to forget.