Host Guy Raz dives into the stories behind some of the world’s best known companies. How I Built This weaves a narrative journey about innovators, entrepreneurs, idealists, and the movements they built.
The first How I Built This podcast I listened to was Instagram: Kevin Systrom & Mike Krieger. Both co-founders were extremely frank and insightful about how they built Instagram. The stories of how they differentiated Instagram from the many other photo apps that flooded the market is of particular interest.
First, by following the tenets of lean startup guru Eric Ries, they looked into the the usage and engagement patterns of the roughly 100 users they had for their initial app, Bourbon, which was one of many location-based check-in apps, including Foursquare. What they found was very valuable: users were most interested in the photo sharing feature of the app, far beyond it’s key location-based check-in feature.
Then an insightful comment from one of the founder’s wives, Systrom and Krieger lead the founders to realize that by building photo filters into Instagram casual photographers could create much better looking photos, leading them to be far more willing to share those photos on the Instagram network.
Perhaps the most important differentiator, which was strongly emphasized in the podcast, was that Instagram ran totally counter to all the other photo sharing apps out there that were closed networks – you had to request permission to follow anyone. The founders decision to keep Instagram open, so anyone could follow anyone, was seen as one of the best decisions they made – though at the time it was a strongly debated question.
There are a lot of other great insights into what it takes to build a successful startup, including a wonderful disquisition on the role luck plays in startups.
The one last item I’ll share with you before recommending you listen to the entire podcast – and explore other podcasts in the How I Built This series – is the issue of market timing. A key success factor for Instagram was that it was launched coincidentally with the moment that the built-in cameras in smartphones basically matched point and shoot digital cameras in quality. All of a sudden millions of people had a point and shoot camera in their pocket or pocketbook. And as the saying goes, The best camera is the one that you have with you. But what they didn’t have was a great place to quickly and easily store and share those photos. Instagram solved that problem for them.
Finally I should also praise host Guy Raz for his excellent questions and management of the discussion with the two founders. I’ll certainly be listening to more of the series and I hope readers of this blog will do likewise.