If I told you that it would be possible to make a billion dollars in two years by launching a startup, would you call me crazy, out of my mind, delusional or all of the above? See, there are people out there for whom impossible is not a problem, in fact, it’s a challenge and a dare they can’t wait to tear down and overcome. The story of Instagram is the story of an app that rose to fame and popularity in a flash of a second, but is it really as glorious as I’m making it sound? Was it that easy? Some people say Instagram was made in a matter of 8 weeks and racked thousands of users in a few hours, but few know what went on behind the scenes before Instagram saw light. Here, let me show you what I’m talking about.
Before you jump to conclusions and assume the guy behind Instagram is yet another coding genius who used to build apps by the age of six, Kevin, the primary co-founder, started learning the art of coding during late hours – after work. He hustled everyday and pulled off extra hours on his laptop just to understand how the whole coding thing worked. I mean most people would just come back from work and switch on their favorite TV show, grab an “after work” or really, just hit the bed.
Kevin had an ambition, a vision and a drive to stand out and do things differently. Understanding how to code was just his gateway to becoming a self-made entrepreneur, an individual who was going to revolutionize the app-world. Those long hours, absorbing the ins and outs of coding, eventually paid off when Kevin finalized his first app called Burbn.
Burbn was more like a check-in app that Kevin developed in light of the trend Foursquare set at that time. Believing strongly in user feedback and using everyone’s opinion to improve his product, Kevin shared his app with friends, family and anyone he could get his hands on. He was so obsessed with user feedback that he would show his app to investors during parties. You can call that pushy, stubborn or “a little too much”, but it turned out pretty good for Kevin who ended up landing $500K in funding. Not only did he win big on funding, but he also took the leap of faith and quit his job in order to follow his passion and work on his baby product.
With more hours on his hands and no boss to satisfy but himself, Kevin went back to refine Burbn and tried to get his app to a stage where he could really test it out. Like any glorious story, shit happens, and for Kevin, rolling out his first photo app version of Burbn was pretty awful. But what do you do when things don’t work out? You pick yourself up, understand where things went south and move forward. You learn your lesson and capitalize on it, that’s how things get done and improved.
One week after his first flop, Kevin came up with a photo sharing app from scratch, this time focusing only on one thing: photos. Simplicity was key here, “simplicity is the ultimate sophistication”, and simplicity is what Kevin went for to make his app kick off. But what’s a great idea and a great product without the right team? Kevin was quick to find a co-founder, Mike, who had the brains, the passion and the drive to work on this “Next Big Thing” Kevin was preparing the world for. With the right team, Kevin and Mike went on launching Burbn on the app store, spent a while cleaning it up, removing all the glitter and the bling, leaving a simple photo sharing platform that even my grandmother could use (no offense grandma). The results were mind-blowing. The new app, now renamed Instagram, skyrocketed in a few hours after its initial launch on a lucky Monday. In less than a day, Instagram had over 25.000 users! Like I wouldn’t be able to get those kinds of numbers even if was giving away free pot to high school fraternities!
The rest is history as they say. Instagram shot up to the #1 photo app on the App store, signing in users by the thousands and millions later on.
Instagram was definitely the new kid in the block, getting the attention of tech giants who felt that this little guy was becoming an actual threat. In that spirit (and in order to avoid clashing with the rising titans), Facebook moved quick and made an offer Instagram couldn’t refuse: $1 billion! Yeah it looks small compared to their $16 billion acquisition of Whatsapp, but hey, we’re talking about 2012 here.
Fast-forward two years and Instagram today has over 200 million users, gets 16 billion photos uploaded on its servers annually and hosts a steady growth. The only trouble is, the most followed “star” on Instagram is Justin Bieber – yeah I know, it ruins all the fun but you can’t have it all now can you?