Focus is Key

(3 minute read by Rachael Pesch)


In our last Insights post, Hunches for 2016, Instagram was singled out as a Hype Cycle exception due to the company's singular vision, easy-to-use interface, discipline to avoid “feature creep”, and exploding technology. In a 2012 interview with internet entrepreneur, Kevin Rose, Instagram co-founder Kevin Systrom reflected back on the growth story of the successful photo-sharing app. He concluded that arriving at these success factors was not merely luck, but a combination of focus and hard work. 

The birth of Instagram came out of Kevin's first start-up, Burbn. During the process of building out Burbn, Systrom learned of problems in the photo-sharing space that required a solution: a simple way to share professional-looking photos. 

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The initial three goals for the Instagram team were: 

    1.    make pictures look better using professional-grade filters

   2.    the ability to share the pictures over a social network

   3.    a faster photo upload time

With these goals and focus, the Instagram team was able to avoid "feature creep", or unnecessarily adding new features, and instead go deeper with the ones they had and perfect them for the user. It was also this focus that allowed the app to launch and be managed by a mere 6 employees, a feat even for the start-up world. Even at over 15 million registered users in 2012, they had added only 4 more members to the team. 


When asked about his vision for Instagram's future at the time of the interview in 2012, Kevin Systrom wisely described Instagram as a visual media company, not as a photo-sharing app. This way of thinking parallels with Theodore Levitt's Harvard Business Review essay, Marketing Myopia. The essay describes why some companies fail - they assume they are in the 'railroad' business and not the 'transportation' business. Rather, they act as a product-centered company and not as a customer-centered company. Instagram is positioned as a 'transportation' company, therefore setting the stage for further growth.

As such, since the 2012 interview, Instagram has seen added success including being acquired by Facebook for about $1 billion USD. Follow Kevin's lead: with focus and simplicity, great things can be achieved. 

For a deeper conversation with Kevin Systrom:

If you are intrigued and would like to learn more, please enjoy the full-length interview from 2012 of Kevin Systrom with Kevin Rose, as he shares the growth story of Instagram and reflects on learned lessons along the way. Kevin Rose is an internet entrepreneur and co-founder of Revision3, Digg, Pownce, and Milk and produces a series of these interviews with innovative leaders called Foundation - definitely worth checking out further. 

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