Instagram is the kind of success story entrepreneurs dream about. Launched in 2010, it gained over 100 million users within its first two years, and today has more than six times that number.
NPR's How I Built This interviewed Instagram cofounder Kevin Systrom to find out how this simple photo sharing app became an overnight success and attracted enough attention that Facebook bought it for a cool $1.1 billion in 2012. The episode is worth listening to, as is the previous week's interview with Spanx founder Sara Blakely.
2. Entrepreneurs don't always invent something new, sometimes they develop a new way to use a technology that already exists. As Kevin put it, "Everyone knew you could take photos with your phone, they just didn't know the photos could be interesting." Can you think of a technology people are already using, but not fully implementing? Figure out how to increase implementation, then monetize it!
3. Sometimes a little legwork pays off. Systrom and Krieger learned that some investors were having a meeting and showed up with a working demo of their product.
4. If an investor tells you to change something, change it right away! Don't let the energy disappear. If an investor thinks you're not serious, he/she is likely to pull their backing.
5. Don't ask why people are not using your product/company, ask why they continue using it! This one's pretty obvious, it's just a matter of focusing on your strengths rather than worrying about people that may not be in your target demographic anyways. Loyal customers (brand advocates) are worth 10x more than new customers.
6. Want your invention to be successful? Figure out a way to make people feel better. In the language of economists, people consume a product or service because it increases their "utility." That is, the satisfaction a consumer derives from your product, minus the price they paid for it, is greater than the satisfaction they would receive from another product. Instagram wasn't the only photo sharing app launched in 2010, but it was the first to use filters well. Filters make your photos look better, and that makes you feel better.
7. Ask friends and family for input on your ideas. Sometimes a person close to you could provide an obvious solution that is right in front of you, that you just can't see because you're overthinking it. Kevin's wife was the one who suggested adding filters to Instagram, and she came up with the idea while vacationing in Mexico. (Maybe I should add another tip: Work hard, but then take a vacation!)
8. Innovation can happen in the way a product is shared. Instagram was the first app to allow open sharing, so you can follow people without waiting for them to accept you as a "friend." This was another reason for the app's success.
9. When you make a mistake (and you will), apologize and be transparent. Remember the whole fiasco about "Instagram now owns the photos you post, and will use them in advertising?" According to Systro, that misunderstanding occurred because they didn't put enough effort into writing their terms of acceptance. Instead of blowing off critics or hiding it, they apologized for their mistake and moved on.
10. It takes grit to succeed. When the stars align and your product works and you have investors who back you, getting your product to market is still going to take sweat, sleepless nights, and a strong desire to succeed. This is what it means to be an entrepreneur.