Instagram is the kind of success story entrepreneurs dream about. Founded in 2010 by Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger, it gained over 100 million users within its first two years, and today has grown to more than six times that number.
If you are interested in founding your own tech startup, here are 10 takeaways from Instagram that can help you succeed:
1. Learn to forecast the future. Ask, "What will people do with this technology that nobody expects right now?" When Instagram was founded, most people were carrying camera phones in their pockets, but there was no great way to share the photos. Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger found a way to make photo sharing easy.
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 in his interview with Guy Raz, "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. Cash was in short supply in Instagram's early days. On one occasion, Systrom and Krieger heard that some investors were having a meeting and showed up with a working demo. The investors were so impressed with the product, that they signed on immediately.
4. If an investor tells you to change something, change it right away! Meeting with an interested investor creates a sense of energy and movement. If you wait to make your next move, energy will wane and the investor may think you are not serious and is likely to pull their backing.
5. Don't ask why people are not using your product/company, ask why they continue using it! Loyal customers are worth ten times more than new customers. They are your brand advocates, and are likely to do some of your marketing for you. A significant portion of your energy should be focused on satisfying and retaining these customers.
6.Figure out a way to make people feel better, and your invention will be a success. 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. Getting outside input is one of the quickest ways to leap over a hurdle. And friends and family are the easiest people to get feedback from. 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 take a vacation before you burn out!)
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 Systrom, 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.
How about you? Do you have any tips for success? Share them below, and be sure to follow me on Twitter.