Instagram: How a Simple Love to Whiskey Helped to Build a Billion Dollar Company

Galina Kosenkova
Apr 15 · 5 min read

If someone asks you about one of your favorite app, what would you say? I bet, one of them will be Instagram.

People check updates and stories in the morning or during the coffee-time, they post moments of their lives or even create amazing stores inside this tiny app. Nowadays, Instagram has 1B+ active users monthly and 500M+ active stories daily. It is a new culture, new way to communicate, sell goods or services, and see the world. In other words, 9 years ago Instagram changed everything around, it gave us a brand new world.


Obviously, many startups around the world dream to repeat this success with their own products. But no one knows for sure how to do it actually. Thus, let us look deeply into the success story of Instagram in order to find this ‘secret’.

Once Upon a Time…

Every great story has its own small but unbelievable beginning. This one was started by 2 talents: Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger. Kevin was ex-Google employee that joined a startup as a product manager. In university, Mike created an application that called Send Me Sunshine. Its main function was sending a photo of sunshine to another person on the other side of the globe.

So, one more time, people can take photos and send them to others, sound familiar, doesn’t it?


It Is All About the Whiskey

Although they met at Stanford University, their collaboration was started by work on an app called Burbn. It allowed to check-in, post thoughts, plans, and photos, as well as share them with other users.


Just imagine, that 10 years ago these guys created an application for local whiskey lovers with so interesting features for that time. Someone might think that it was a full package; however, instead of glory and success, this application received only confusing emotions by the audience. The biggest mistake was to put so many features into a small app; as a result, users were overwhelmed with it.

But, this story has actually a small happy ending as well. The only feature that was admired by users became photo sharing. They took and shared their own photos to show some moments of their lives, but that’s it.

Therefore, Kevin and Mike decided to shut down Burbn and start everything from scratch.

Becoming Instagram

This time, Kevin and Mike tried to do everything right. They spent a lot of time on research and looking for competitors on the market. Taking into account that Burbn users loved to share their photos, this feature became the main one in this new application.

After several months of tough and intensive working process, Instagram was released on October 6th, 2010. They received 25,000 users after first day. It was a miracle, users loved this new app and invited more and more people to join.


Moreover, Instagram reached 1 million users in just 3 months. Its growth was unbelievable and soon it became the one of the top favorite app among people.

In 2011, Kevin and Mike got about 7 million funding and Instagram become the application of the year at AppStore.

In April 2012, Instagram became also available on Android. At this point of time, the application had already included 30 million iOS users. Creating version for Android helped to expand this number rapidly.


Facebook Era

Such quick growth of Instagram could not be invisible for other companies. Therefore, Facebook made wise prediction and decided to acquire the app because of its features and amount of active users (80M+ at that moment). According to the agreement, Facebook did not intervene into Kevin and Mike style and vision of the product. Without a doubt, such thrilled proposal received a positive answer from Instagram founders.

Despite the fact, that it already had a huge audience, it was impossible to keep a leadership position on the market without constant improvement.

Therefore, in 2012 new versions of this app included filters for photo processing as well as translation into 25 languages. Instagram Video, Direct, and version for Windows Phone were created in 2013. Consequently, all platforms of mobile application were taken by Instagram. Besides, there was also a web version as well.

In next years, application was improved by adding more creative features, such as new filters, as well as more abilities for Direct and Videos. In 2016, Instagram Stories was released by new update. This feature changed the way of using this app and the number of active users increased more rapidly. In 2017, Live Stories became available globally and Instagram Direct received a huge update. In 2018, Instagram TV was launched that helped to use this app as YouTube. As a result, Instagram eventually got 1B+ active users per month.


So, What’s the Deal with Instagram?

Instagram has such a brilliant and fascinating history. It changed the world and nowadays ⅛ of Earth population are active members of this app. But, where is the ‘secret’?

Well, it’s sad, but it’s true; there are no secrets in strategy of Instagram co-founders. Nothing, except of listening to their target audience is matter in this case. Their first application was heavy, complex, and unsuitable; however, it included one small but perfect feature. Mile and Kevin took it and replicate as Instagram, but made it simple and easy-to-use; and most important, the target audience was ready and wanted it. The whole work on this application was built on users need.

Thus, based on the information discussed above, I can say that startups should always think about their audience, communicate with it, and be flexible for changes in order to become competitive ones on the market.

Who knows, maybe you will create a new app with 1B+ active users per month. Well, your target users do know! Just ask them.

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