Instagram or the myth of the “genius idea”, The community

One can hardly find an idea that has made its inventor richer in less time than Instagram. The initial development of the photo-sharing app took just eight weeks. Since its launch in October 2010, Instagram has been a hit: 100,000 users in one week, then 1 million in less than three months. Less than eighteen months after its launch, the company was acquired by Facebook for 1 billion dollars.

The two founders Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger pocket 400 million and 100 million respectively.

Imagine earning hundreds of millions in a year and a half of work! This kind of anecdote nourishes the hope that a simple idea can change our lives. Instagram was indeed a genius idea. But where did she really come from?

Before founding Instagram, Kevin Systrom created an application called Burbn. Burbn was not a particularly original idea: this application made it possible to mark your presence in a place, for example a bar or a restaurant. There were already many apps with this feature, the best known being Foursquare but the idea was in tune with the times and Systrom had even managed to raise 500,000 dollars from investors to finance the development. First lesson : a good idea is rarely 100% original. It’s often best to start by adapting a proven concept to your sauce.

But copying what already works is not enough. Just three months after launching Burbn, Systrom realized his startup wasn’t going to take off. Lesson Two: The only way to know if your idea will work is to launch it and see the result.

Have the idea evaluated by users

Fortunately, the time spent working on this failure was not totally wasted. In an interview on the Tim Ferriss Show, Systrom explained that “it turns out that people thought the check-ins were pretty lame because it was already seen elsewhere, but they loved to show off what they would accomplish. They loved to take a picture of the bar or restaurant where they were. We decided to keep it simple: we removed all of Burbn’s features to keep only one: photo sharing.

Third lesson: your initial idea will probably not be perfect, but it will not be completely to throw either. See if you can use the reactions of the first users to have it evaluated.

According to Systrom, Instagram would never have worked without filters, which made it possible to make a photo prettier before the poster… but filters weren’t originally planned! He describes a seaside stroll with his wife, where she explains to him that she won’t be using his new app when she’s out. Why ? She feels her photos aren’t good enough to share – especially compared to those posted by Systrom’s friends. He then explains that his friends use filters to enhance their photos. To which his wife responds, “Well maybe you need to add some filters. As soon as he returns from the ride, Systrom rushes to his computer and programs the very first filter in his application.

Without filters, Instagram would have been reserved for the minority of people who know how to take great photos. With filters, Systrom removes the main barrier to mass adoption of its product. And yet, the founders didn’t come up with this idea while brainstorming in front of a whiteboard. It happened during a couple’s conversation by the sea. Fourth lesson: unexpected doors open to you when you are immersed in a project. (…)

Instagram history shows us that what looks (from the outside) like a stroke of genius is often (seen from the inside) an opportunity that emerges while you are working on something else. The right idea isn’t going to come to you while you’re eating a ham and cheese sandwich, but it can appear in the middle of a sales call gone wrong, when your caller says, “Hey listen, what you’re trying to sell myself there, I’m not interested. What I really need is…” – and he hands you the opportunity you’ve been looking for on a plate.

“Your empire in a backpack”, Stan Leloup’s book published by Editions Eyrolles in January 2020.
– Photo RD

The author:

Stan Leloup is the creator of Marketing Mania. At 22, he discovered how to make money on the Internet, left his studies in a major business school and moved to Asia. Today, he is France’s best-known marketing trainer with 300,000 subscribers and over 13 million views on YouTube. This text is taken from his book “Your empire in a backpack”, published by Editions Eyrolles in January 2020, 256 pages, 19.90 euros.

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