Kevin SystromFounder of Instagram – A different breed of nerd! Published On: Monday, November 09, 2015 Views 21040


Born on the 30th of December 1983; Kevin Systrom is the Founder and CEO of the globally famous – Instagram. For all those who aren’t aware; Instagram is an online mobile photo and video sharing application.

Instagram is also known to be one of the very few products which accounts for some of the biggest names from the celebrity world as their users. It was acquired by Facebook for a whooping $1 Billion in 2012, within just two years since its launch. Presently, at a valuation of more than $37 Billion the company accounts for over 400 Million active users.

Kevin still takes care of the overall vision and strategy along with day-to-day operations of the not-so old start-up. Under his shelter, Instagram has gone on to become the fastest growing services of all time.

He is a man who since always believes in simplifying matter and using creativity to solve all the problems. The product is also perceived by many to be home for visual storytelling for the masses, be it – celebrities, newsrooms and brands, to teens, musicians and absolutely anyone.

Talking about his personal life; Kevin is known to be a very reserved man, who is engaged to Nicole Schuetz and lives with her in San Francisco, where his sister also lives. He has completed his Bachelors in Management Science and Engineering from the Stanford University. And some of his weaknesses include fine dining and coffee.

Life As a Common Man…!

Kevin was born in Massachusetts to Diane and Douglas. His mother was a marketing executive at Zipcar, while his father was the Vice President (HR) at TJX Companies.

He was first introduced to computer programming during his schooling days at Middlesex School, which only grew further while playing Doom 2 and creating his own levels as a child.

As he grew in age, he began creating programs to prank his friends by appearing to hack their AOL Instant Messenger accounts. This undying love for technology was initially instilled in him from his mother, who had entered the tech world during its nascent stages. Although, his first real job was far from technology.

Kevin during his high school days, was obsessed with becoming a DJ (Disco Jockey) and used to pester Boston Beat – an old-school, vinyl-record store by writing them emails to give him a job there. Later, he was given entry to work few hours a week.

When the time came to apply in a college, without a flinch he chose Stanford University. The choice was obvious, given the fact that they had a list of tech offerings and also held deep ties with the Silicon Valley.

Kevin although began his college life with Computer Science but later moved to Management Science and Engineering Program because the classes at CS were more academic than applied, and MS had a focus driven towards more practical subjects like finance and economics.

kevin college

Going ahead, he was one of the twelve students who were chosen to participate in the highly prestigious Mayfield Fellows Program at Stanford University. This is where he first got to taste how the start-up world felt like.

This fellowship eventually led to a 4-month internship at Odeo Inc in June 2005. Odeo was a podcast start-up created by Evan Williams. It gave users an easy way to record and share podcasts. Kevin used to work there as a Technical and Business intern and also made the Odeo Widget as well. It was launched around the same as Facebook and then, also went on to give rise to Twitter.

TRIVIA: – Mark Zuckerberg had first tried to hire Kevin while he was still an undergraduate at Stanford in 2004, but he had turned down the offer because he wanted to complete his degree.

Anyway a year later, after completing his degree in 2006, Kevin joined Google and went on to work for them for around 3 years. He began as an Associate Product Marketing Manager and worked on products like Gmail, Google Calendar, Docs, Spreadsheets, etc and after two years he moved ahead to the Corporate Development team.

He always had this itch of getting into the social space, but for some or the other reason he just couldn’t. But in January 2009, Kevin finally decided to take the risk and joined a start-up called Nextstop.com as their Product Manager.

The company used to offer travel recommendations to users and was founded by ex-Googlers. Here, he got the opportunity to do more of what he always wanted all along – write code and create app-style programs, including games revolving around photos.

And this is where it all began!

The Not-So Short Story of Instagram..!

While at Nextstop.com, it had become very clear to him that entrepreneurship was where he was meant to be. He just had to pursue his passion for photography and social sharing full-time. Having said that, he began working on the idea!

The Transformation From ‘Burbn to Instagram’…

In his spare time, he started working on an idea which was a mix of Foursquare and Flickr. It was an app that allowed location-based photo sharing. He called it Burbn.

Once the prototype was ready, he presented the same to Baseline Ventures and Andreessen Horowitz at a party in January 2010.

After this ‘hopefully’ successful first meeting, Kevin took the leap and quit his job at Nextstop.com. He primarily took this bold move to understand the possibilities of whether or not Burbn had the potential to become a company.

Luck played its part, and within just 2 weeks of quitting his job he received $500,000 as seed funding from both Baseline Ventures and Andreessen Horowitz.

Once that was done, he knew that just like all the successful start-ups, he too needed a cofounder/s as well. And he found that in his friend Mike Krieger (fellow Junior Stanford graduate).

kevin with mike

When Mike saw the prototype, he loved it and decided to leave the start-up idea that he was working on and joined him in March 2010.

Together, they built Burbn from HTML 5 check-in service, into a product that allowed users to do various things like check in to locations, make plans (future check-ins), earn points for hanging out with friends, post pictures, and a lot more.

Now because Burbn was very close to what Foursquare was, they although got a lot of hype in tech blogs but it wasn’t really going anywhere. However, the one thing that clicked was photo sharing!

He had understood that Burbn contained too many features and the users always want something simple. That is when they decided to focus on one specific feature; photo-sharing!

During that time, Kevin happened to go on a beach walk one day with his fiancée Nicole. She told him that she would not use his app simply because her pictures would never be as good as the ones a mutual friend took, and told him that even he should add filters to their app which would make the pictures look better. This was the last nail in the coffin.

They stripped the app completely and customized it for only the iPhone users at first. This was because iPhone 4 was just launched in the market. The phone had a high-quality built-in camera which transformed the pictures with Holga-inspired lenses (filters), that would make pictures look even better, hip and artsy.

The duo began working on the idea aggressively for eight weeks straight; tweaking code, refining the visual design, etc., and this development of Burbn led to creation of Instagram. The name “Instagram” is derived from the words “instant” and “telegram”.


And finally on the night of 6th of October 2010, they pushed the launch button!

The Overnight Growth...

Soon after the launch, they tweeted about the new app and Press coverage was followed right away. Although, most of it was from blogs that had written about Burbn, but it helped a lot.

Within just two hours from the time Instagram went live, its servers came falling down because of the rush of traffic. Out of the fear of instant failure, they went on to work like crazy all night to get the servers back up and then to keep them online and running.

Word has it that more than 25,000 people had signed up on Instagram in the first 24 hours…

People just loved the way the app allowed them to make their photographs unique, without having to give out personal information or a list of friends, interests and it was just about following others and sharing pictures, that’s all. They loved the entire presentation of Instagram!

Within nine months, Instagram had a record-breaking 7 million users, which also included some of highly-influential tech-loving celebrities like Justin Bieber and Ryan Seacrest.

“To Instagram” was the next famous word in the tech world lingo!

Instagram was now being valued at around $25 million which went on to increase to a whooping $500 million by April 2012.

In September 2011, they released their Version 2.0 which included high resolution photographs, new and live filters, optional borders, instant tilt–shift, one click rotation, and an updated icon.

This was followed by the release of their Android Version in 2012, which was downloaded more than one million times in less than one day and went on to get rated more than one million times on Google Play in the next three months as well. Instagram was the fifth app to ever reach one million ratings on Google Play and was rated roughly around four million times.

The Acquisition by Facebook…

The majority of the people who come on to Instagram thinking they’re going to just make cool photos, eventually end up trading likes, comments, and becoming a whole new social graph.

This is what forced Mark Zuckerberg to take notice of this rising app. He realised that a lot their users had stopped using Facebook to post photos, and instead were sharing them via their Instagram feed.

And since photo uploading had been one of the key elements of Facebook’s own initial rise in popularity, it was indeed a matter of concern to Mark. That is when he thought, why not they both be one company, and proposed the same to Kevin as well.

Now Kevin was no stranger to Mark, they go way back to their college days. They often met each other at various gatherings at Stanford when Kevin Systrom was a student there, and after Instagram’s launch, Mark also used to hold Dinner sessions with him at his house. Mark was like a mentor to Kevin.

During the same time, Kevin was invited to the tony conference run by an investment bank called Allen & Co. in Arizona. After talking for a while in front of a campfire over drinks one night, Jack Dorsey (now CEO of Twitter) and Ali Rowghani (then CFO of Twitter), proposed to Kevin to buy Instagram for around $500-million. To add to that, Kevin was also being offered a great amount of funds from Sequoia Capital as well.

Putting an end to all the suspense, Kevin decided to go with the investment from Sequoia and remain an independent company.

Kevin also contacted Mark to let him know about his decision, but unlike Twitter, he doesn’t take no for an answer. He texted Kevin and asked him to meet up to discuss his decision in detail.

After deep and healthy discussions, Mark finally floated an offer that was double of what Twitter had floated and what the Venture Capitalists had valued the company at. And it was a deal.

Instagram along with it 13 employees was acquired by Facebook for approximately $1 Billion in cash and stock in April 2012. Even after the acquisition, Instagram would remain an independently managed company.

Post Acquisition Developments…

Since then, the company has gone to add a range of developments to its present business model, but the look-&-feel still remains the same.

In 2013, Instagram began adding advertising to its platform in the form of video advertisement, which later received a clientele of big companies such as Disney, Activision, Lancome, Banana Republic, CW, etc., in 2014.

By the end of 2014, Instagram had more than 300 million active users accessing the site per month which further crossed 400 million users in 2015. The total number of photographs uploaded on the app has far off exceeded one billion.

More recently, Instagram has also launched Boomerang. It is an app where you can shoot a one-second burst of five photos, which are then turned into a silent video that plays forwards.

The company has now expanded its employee base from just 13 to 200 members who now housed at Facebook’s main campus in Menlo Park, California. Instagram today boasts a worth of more than $37 billion.

Instagram is often known to be a haven for all the celebrities. Some of these include big names like – Taylor Swift, Kim Kardashian, Nicki Minaj, Justin Beiber, etc.

In their whole journey, the company has only made one acquisition of Luma.io in 2013 for an undisclosed amount.

Before their acquisition; the company had raised a total of $57 million in two rounds of funding from Sequoia Capital and Baseline Ventures, apart from their seed round.

And lastly, Kevin has personally also made a total of 3 personal investments since 2012. These include Blue Bottle Coffee, Sparks and Even.


“A businessman by blood, but a business writer out of passion”! As a Business Writer; Karan’s forte lies in writing some really interesting Case Studies about Companies/Eminent Personalities covering aspects which certainly, would not bore you to death!

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