If you care about startups or how hit products are made, watch the video above, which is Part II of Chris Dixon's Founder Stories conversation with Instagram CEO Kevin Systrom. Instagram is of course the hot social photo app that just raised $7 million this week. Yesterday, in Part I, Systrom talked about why he decided to change the product entirely before it even launched and the stress of that launch day when the servers started to crumble.
In today’s video, he really goes into his Instagram’s approach to making a product. “I think the best products in the world start out as features,” he tells Dixon. Critics might say that Instagram is nothing more than a couple features (putting filters on photos and sharing them on social networks), he responds: “It is absolutely fair. Sure, those are features, but Twitter was just posting your status. Look at what happens when you are so specific that you can go really deep, and build a product around one feature.” He points out that “often features solve a specific problem.” And if you can solve a problem better than anyone else, you have the start of something that can continue to evolve. (You can jump to this part of the video here).
Instagram was trying to solve three problems
1. “The first problem we tried to solve was making your photo more interesting.”
2. “We wanted it to be fast to upload photos, so you can get back to hanging out with your friends.”
3. Make it easy to “send a picture to as many social networks as possible.”
About halfway through the conversation (jump to this spot in the video). Systrom also addresses the fact that there is a lot of competition among photo apps right now (PicPlz and Path, just to name two).: “Sure, money is being thrown at a lot of people right now. I don’t think of Instagram as an iPhone app company. Anyone can build filters, anyone can build a photo-sharing app. Anyone can figure out how to scale at launch better than we did. The hard part is the community.” That community of users is now posting 4 photos every second.
Instagram is a social app, but it is building a new interest graph on top of existing social graphs. One of the startling things about Instagram is that people who don’t speak the same language follow each other because the communication is all visual. The fact that Instagram transcends language is one reason it is taking off in Japan, Russia, and all over the world.
Towards the end of the interview (jump here in the video), Dixon and Systrom talk about how hard it is to be an entrepreneur in a big company. Systrom used to work at Google, but without a computer science degree he felt hampered. He says: “To be a product manger at Google they love you to have a CS degree, but people who start social products are not necessarily engineers. Being really successful at Google is not the same as being successful as a social entrepreneur.”
Dixon concurs: “Having a sense of ownership is why you stay up all night. I am not sure that stock options . . . can ever feel like ownership.”