Don’t Be Afraid to Change the World: Instagram’s Meteoric Success in 3 steps

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Wake-up. Eat breakfast. Check your phone.

Sort through emails. Read some articles. Check your phone.

Eat lunch. Take the dog for a walk. Check your phone.

These are the patterns of the average American tech-user in the year 2015. The likelihood that a third of those daily activities involved an app called “Instagram” is very high – about 200 million a month in active users, high.

Instagram did not begin with a bang, but with a simple plea. Instagram founder Kevin Systrom posted what he believed was a slightly innocuous question into the Internet: “What are some good places to get professional business cards printed for someone in the Bay Area?”

He sent the message out to, and five years later he continues to be astounded by his response.

To say that Instagram has shot up to gargantuan heights is a massive understatement. The photo-sharing app ran like wildfire through smartphones, changing the entire game of the evolving social media landscape.

“Great products sell themselves.”Kevin Systrom, co-founder of Instagram

Today, Social Media Directors for the top brands in the world integrate a strong presence on Instagram into their strategies. They couple it alongside mega giants like Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn among others.

Instagram’s appeal is simple: Show, don’t tell. This alone forces brands to think visually in ways they may never have previously considered. Instead of weeks lamenting over the perfect copy for a marketing campaign, they can post a stream of photos with simple hashtags.

The app forces companies to think outside of the box, and stretch their creative muscles. For example, if you’re a follower of Pizza Hut’s Instagram, you may get abstract photography using pizza slices as geometric art; Taco Bell’s stream gathers humor with a personal-user appreciation appeal; Playboy’s Instagram offers a “Behind the Scenes” look from exclusive parties to photo shoots with Playmates. In the internet world, there’s truly something for everyone

“Every startup should address a real and demonstrated need in the world. If you build a solution to a problem lots of people have, it’s so easy to sell your product to the world.”Kevin Systrom, co-founder of Instagram

Instagram’s story is as classic as a Silicon Valley fairy tale can go, but don’t for a moment believe this is standard fare. For every Instagram success, there are hundreds, if not thousands of tech app start-ups and failures. Founders Systrom and Mike Krieger don’t for a second take their success for granted.

When Facebook purchased Instagram for a billion dollars in 2012, just 2 years after its inception, they had no idea what they were in for and neither did Instagram’s employees. At the time, they were a modest 13-person team, with no furniture in their office and with two founders who were still in their mid to late twenties.

How do you drive a ship that large when you’re still just getting a handle on being a responsible adult? It wasn’t easy, but they managed to figure it out by a combination of humility, grace, and asking the question, “Why not?”

1. Just Keep Building

If you’re a frequent user of the app, you may notice that updates are consistent, and distinct. They’re constantly rejiggering the formula, making the app appeal to the stingiest of photographic eyes and the most timid of novice users.

A recent update switched up their trademark “filters” by allowing users to adjust highlights, contrast, and more.

2. Don’t be Discouraged to Sit with the Cool Kids

“If you’ve got an idea, start today. There’s no better time than now to get going. That doesn’t mean quit your job and jump into your idea 100% from day one, but there’s always small progress that can be made to start the movement.”Kevin Systrom, co-founder of Instagram

Instagram’s success can be pointed to many things, but an especially helpful push was by celebrities. People like Kim Kardashian, Beyoncé, and more have helped Instagram become a household name to smartphone users. Kim’s recent book, “Selfish” a photo essay of “selfies” she’s taken, consists of many images pulled directly from her Instagram account.

3. Lead with Humility and Gratitude

Part of the reason why Instagram continues to expand has nothing to do with the users — it’s all about the founders Systrom and Krieger. They stay focused, they remember their roots, and they’ve maintained a strong vision not just for leveraging their own company, but improving the world.

In an interview in 2012, Systrom spoke on the company’s future goals post-Facebook acquisition, “When Mike and I started Instagram nearly two years ago, we set out to change and improve the way the world communicates and shares.” 3 years later, I think it’s safe to say they’ve done just that.