Musings on


By April 18, 2012

Instagram = Instabillion

Yes, it’s old news by now, but if you’ve been living under a rock for the past week and half, here’s the scoop: Facebook purchased the popular app Instagram for $1 billion dollars.

Instagram allows people to share photos taken with their mobiles with their friends through its app, on Facebook, Twitter, or via text.

So, how did this two year old company with roughly 10 employees (and making no money), grow so dang fast?

Three lessons businesses can
learn from Instagram

Thinktank, an international qualitative research consultancy, honed in on three tips that all small businesses can learn from Instagram’s success. I’m going to call them InstaTips. Because Insta can go with a lot of things, don’t you think?

InstaTip #1: Be Focused.

“We decided that if we were going to build a company, we wanted to focus on being really good at one thing. We saw mobile photos as an awesome opportunity to try some new ideas.”

— Kevin Systrom, Instagram founder

Instagram concentrated its efforts solely on the mobile platform, and one step further, originally focused solely on iPhone users. They have kept their internal team small by outsourcing many online and offline capabilities.

They also learned to prioritize in order to avoid chasing the shiny objects. “Everything became a priority,” says Systrom, “and because everything became a priority, we had to focus on what was most important, which was to keep the site going and make users really happy.”

InstaTip #2: Occupy that mobile space.

If Facebook were created today, it would have been built as a mobile service. Instagram played to the mobile strengths and pushed usage along to create new mobile experiences. Their website is a simple splash page, while the magic to add creativity to photos and share with friends is all done from the palm of your hand.

Originally, the development started with the Burbn app, allowing users to check-in to locations, make plans with friends, earn points, and post pictures. Systrom realized that the app was bloated and convoluted –  most of Burbn’s users engaged the app to upload photos of their visits to bars and cafes. To keep it simple and focused, while still filling the obvious need, all but the photo element was scrapped. The integration of both camera and communication created an instantaneous mobile use: sharing your life when you’re on the go.

InstaTip #3: Don’t try to target everyone.

Not only did Instagram decide to focus their business efforts on doing one thing really well, but they focused their attention to one specific audience. By creating the app for iOS alone, Instagram was able to target the design and tech conscious trendsetters. The program also builds on human emotion – mainly nostalgia – which has had a huge effect on consumers. Photographers can use a variety of filters to alter the look of their pictures, giving their images a vintage, old-world feel. That throw back feeling of the 1977 filter makes you yearn for the good ole’ times, doesn’t it?

Facebook made a smart decision: why fight mobile when they can embrace (aka purchase) it? Instagram has a strong brand and offering in an area where Facebook has had challenges – photos and mobile. It will be interesting to see how the integration continues to develop, and I’m sure there will be many more lessons learned along the way.

Oh, and as a disclaimer, I’m a late-adopter when it comes to technology. So, I am downloading the app as I type this. Let the photo editing begin!

For your personal enjoyment, take a gander at a few popular galleries of Instagram photos:

ABOUT Alison Tierney

Alison is a believer in the power of connection: connecting great people to great companies, connecting purpose-driven leaders to the tools they need to be successful, and staying in constant connection with the Portland business community. In her role as Director of Community Engagement, Alison gets to live and breathe that connective power every day.

Read Alison's Posts