AIB Featured Business Leader Kevin Systrom

AIB Featured Business Leader  Kevin Systrom


Global business leaders reiterate how success is achieved through seizing opportunities. But how do such opportunities arise? We explore Kevin Systrom’s entrepreneurial journey as co-founder of social media giant ‘Instagram’ to learn how a billion dollar opportunity can be seized by taking a look at what is right in front of you – your customers.

Kevin Systrom was born in Massachusetts in December 1983. Unlike many children, Kevin not only enjoyed playing video games but he often created his own levels to complete. His affinity for technology continued through his teenage years, as he found thrill out of pranking his friends into believing their social accounts had been hacked.

Apart from Kevin Systrom’s obsession with technology, he was also fascinated with vintage records. During high school he tirelessly pestered old school vinyl-record store; ‘Boston Beat’ with countless emails until they offered Kevin his first real job. Little did Kevin know that his retro sensibility, and his passion for both technology and photography, were the beginnings of a very successful business opportunity with Instagram.

Kevin’s interests led him to study computer programming and technology at Middlesex School. After completing his secondary schooling, Kevin went on to study at Stanford University and graduated in 2006 with a Bachelor in Management Science and Engineering – although it was Kevin’s affiliation with the Mayfield Fellows Program (comprehensive training and experience in high-tech entrepreneurship) at Stanford University that landed him internships at Odeo and Twitter during his senior college years. Interestingly, Mayfield Fellows Program was also completed by founder of Facebook; Mark Zuckerburg.

After completing his bachelor degree, the opportunity arose for Kevin to work in a marketing position at Google. Working at Google did not fulfill Kevin’s relentless desires to escape the large corporate environment and become an entrepreneur, so he quit his position to work at a travel social site known at ‘Nextstop’. In true entrepreneurial style, Kevin’s break away to ‘Nextstop’ was one opportunity that finally married his two passions into a full time role; photography and mobile social sharing.

Apart from his job, Kevin’s spare time was almost entirely devoted to his own start-up business ideas. One of which was ‘Burbn’; a social and photo sharing site that resembled the beginnings of Instagram. When Nextstop was sold off to Facebook in 2010, it presented Kevin with the perfect opportunity to jumpstart his journey as an entrepreneur.

He teamed up with Mike Krieger, a fellow grad of the Mayfield Fellows Program, and began to build a social empire that filled the gaps in the competition and responded to the needs of customers. Through Kevin’s own analysis of Burbn users, the duo discovered that the apps’ photo sharing element was the most popular. Users liked the ability to capture and edit their photos with the apps’ 20 stored retro/artsy filters. The evidence was clear; remove Burbn’s additional features and let photography sit at the core. In Kevin Systrom’s mind it allowed users create and share an “instant telegram” – and thus ‘Instagram’ was born.

It was the night of October 6, 2010 when Instagram went live. Within 24 hours, 25,000 people downloaded Instagram. The flood of traffic to the online servers resulted in a crash and halted downloads – Systrom and Krieger had to work frantically all night to fix the crisis.

Within the first week of the app’s launch, it had been downloaded over 100,000 times. The launch of Instagram promptly influenced tech-enthusiastic celebrities, including Justin Bieber and Ryan Seacrest.

Only two years after Instagram’s launch, Kevin re-considered the fit and sustainability of the photo-sharing app within the social environment. In 2012, Facebook announced its purchase of Instagram – news that shook the globe. But Kevin Systrom felt this was the right decision for the users of his app, while also allowing him to continue his entrepreneurial journeys within the social networking space.

Today the Instagram community has grown to over 200 million monthly users and has sparked a whole new way of communicating visually with people around the world.

This article was written by Tina Beatrice on behalf of the Australian Institute of Business. All opinions are that of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of AIB.

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