Since Facebook founder, Mark Zuckerberg’s announcement of his purchase of Instagram for $1 billion, the web has been agog with shares, reshares, retweets, posts and reposts about the deal. Was it a good deal? Was it a bad deal? Articles, analysis and counter analysis have cropped up around the web making its way and back from Africa to the Americas. Beyond the monumental nature of the deal, what has been most fascinating for us is the little cues in the Instagram story about the reasons behind the fledgling startup’s success and eventual sale. Find five of them below.
Though the news of Instagram’s sale has undoubtedly inspired and spurred a new generation of app developers looking to make the next killer “photo app,” the lesson that is often lost in the story of Instagram’s success as an app is in the fact that it’s co-founder, Kevin Systrom is passionate about photography. As the initiator of the idea, Kevin’s passion ensured that he obsessed about any and every minute detail behind the app’s design, something that is difficult to replicate by someone who is simply only looking to create the next big thing. Little details that might seem trivial to someone with only a passing interest in photography were amplified for him and they likely made all the difference. From ensuring that the Instagram’s photos were squares to obsessing over column widths and specifications, it is clear that only a photo junkie would take enough care to obsess over the elegance of his product the way Kevin did.
Lesson? Create a startup in something that you are passionate about, something that hopefully you have been doing since childhood.
This ensures that your startup is not a gimmick, a passing fancy or simply just an attempt to put money in your pocket. It will also give your startup a greater likelihood of success.
While it is true that Instagram is a an incredibly simple, easy to use and elegant app, it is worth noting that a big part of Instagram’s success was Kevin’s very high quality network in Silicon Valley starting from his days at Stanford. Most have heard or read about how Mark Zuckerberg had initially approached him to join Facebook, his internship with Odeo (Twitter’s precursor), the fact that he worked at Google and thereafter, Nextstop (which was later acquired by Facebook). But even beyond his career networks, the networks he built at informal gatherings in the Valley ended up proving invaluable. From being plugged into the startup investor network to being friends with people like Adam D’Angelo, former CTO of Facebook, all these added up into a series of serendipitous events from raising $500,000 in funding to eventually getting sold for $1 billion to Facebook.
Though he was formally hired as a product marketer at Google, Kevin was a self taught programmer who had been tinkering with ideas and building out his ideas since he was a teenager. While Systrom will likely win no awards in the programming hall of fame, it is still useful to note that he was not only interested in the marketing of products but in the thought process behind its design and code. Though he received no formal engineering training, he learned how to program at night in a handson way by actually working on building his ideas.
Instagram chose to focus on the iPhone initially and decided to hone in on it and execute really well by sheer focus. It could have spread itself thin by creating apps for other mobile operating systems but seeing the rapid interest in the app by iPhone users, it chose to focus on its iPhone audience in its early years. In fact, it was so focused and dedicated to the iPhone users’ experience that Apple had no choice but to pick it as the iPhone App of the Year in 2010.
The lesson learned here is to stay focused on building a passionate community of core users, listening to their needs and doing your best to satisfy them.
5. Stay lean
Most people were astonished when they realized that Instagram only had 12 employees. The tendency among startup founders once they get a significant amount of funding is to hire fast so as to scale and capture marketshare. However, sometimes the opposite might be the better strategy. By hiring great employees and staying laser focused on building a great product, a large staff base can often become a distraction or even a liability. Often, startups that stay lean, stay nimble. Only hire a crowd of engineers and business people if you have to.
On a lighter note, check out a humorous adaptation of the trailer for “the Social Network” titled “The Filtered Network”
“On Startups” is a brand new series on CP-Africa focused on Africa’s fast growing tech startup space. On Startups publishes insights on the growing trends in the space including opinion pieces and industry briefs. See our first post here.