Day 42: Instagram – $0 to $1 Billion in 500 Days

If you are lucky enough to own an iPhone, it’s fairly likely that you’ve heard of an application called ‘Instagram‘. It’s very simple; you take a photo, apply a polaroid-styled filter to it and upload it to to various social networking sites. It’s a particularly easy way to show the world what you are seeing at that exact moment in time. Founders Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger started the company less than two years ago…and have just sold it to Facebook for $1 Billion. Yes, that was a ‘b’.


There are a  few things we can learn from the Instagram story:

1. If you don’t know what ‘apps’ are, you need to learn. Fast.

Apple revolutionised the way we use mobile devices by introducing the ‘App Store’ in mid-2008. The ability to easily download new applications (often for less than £1 or completely free) instantly increased the lifespan of its iPhones and iPads…but more importantly, it opened up an entirely new market with one master stroke – Apple also released a ‘Software Development Kit‘ that enabled the technologically astute to create and sell apps through the company’s store. The Apple App Store has grown from just 500 apps to well in excess of half a million apps in less than four years. There are even a few household names that have arisen out of the app market; most notably the ‘Angry Birds‘ brand. Instagram jumped on the band wagon only around 500 days ago – there are now over 30 million users of the app and the company has just sold for $1 billion, despite the fact that it doesn’t actually make any money at the moment! The app market is still far from saturated and with countless companies from Microsoft to Samsung picking up on the ‘app revolution’, don’t be surprised to see similar success stories popping up over the coming years.

2. Keep it simple, stupid.

Instagram is an incredibly simple product. The process goes like this: take photo – apply filter – upload photo. It’s hardly a shining example of mobile capabilities nowadays, but it works. It fulfills a need that people will always have – connecting with other people. Facebook has never really gotten to grips with the web-to-mobile device transition and consequently, Instagram were able to capitalise on the ‘photos on the go’ idea. And capitalise they have. This is just one example of many thousands that follow the ‘keep it simple, stupid’ rule that my old music teacher taught me as a teenager. Time and time again, we see that simplicity is key – whether music, design, businesses or technology. Doing the simple things very well is often the making of a great idea. Usually, it’s when we try to complicate or ‘over-think’ things that they don’t have the impact that we’d hoped.

3. The future is mobile.

More and more people are living out of their mobile devices. The app revolution has vastly accelerated what is already an exponentially growing industry – there’s no getting away from it: mobile devices are the way forward. Get used to seeing the ‘#’ symbol a lot more along with QR codes, targeted online marketing and greater interactivity with everything you see. Expect websites to be utterly transformed within the next five years  (drop down menus will almost certainly be redundant within that time), expect all televisions to be ‘socially integrated’ and physical newspapers to finally be a product of a time gone-by. We’re living in a time where seemingly infinite amounts of information and and tools are at our fingertips around the clock. This is something we need to embrace. I think we’ll see more and more business success stories around mobile devices in the next five years.

I’m intrigued to see what the future holds for Instagram; will they soar to new heights and transform the online world as we know it? Or will the company coast for a while before falling into relative obscurity before the next ‘fad’ comes along. What do you think? 


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