Instagram co-founders share success story

Nov. 13, 2013, 2:29 a.m.

Co-founders of Instagram, Kevin Systrom ’06 and Mike Krieger ’08 M.S. ’09, discussed how life at Stanford prepared them for entrepreneurship and their work at Instagram to an audience of 250 at Cemex Auditorium Tuesday evening.

The event was co-sponsored by Facebook and Jay Borenstein ’93 M.S. ’94, lecturer of CS210: Software Project Experience with Corporate Partners.

Systrom and Krieger began the night’s question-and-answer session by discussing their academic experiences at Stanford.


“The moment I got here, I heard about this thing called Symbolic Systems (SymSys) and realized that it was a really good mix of computers and design and cognitive science,” Krieger said. “So I ended up doing SymSys, took basically every human-interaction class designed here, then I stayed on for Mayfield Fellows.”

It was through Stanford’s Mayfield Fellows program that Krieger met Systrom, a Management Science and Engineering major. The two came together after going through the entrepreneurship-focused program and wanted to start a company.

Krieger noticed through his work on a check-in app that people enjoyed sharing photos. The idea for Instagram’s illustrious filters generated from Systrom’s vacation in Mexico during which his girlfriend suggested including filters to allow user’s photos to look as unique as those taken by professional photographers.

The two entrepreneurs combined their ideas and began to work on a photo-sharing application, which they later founded as Instagram.

Since then, Instagram has grown into an application that has over 100 million users and about 16 billion photos across two mobile application platforms. Facebook acquired Instagram in 2012 for $1 billion.

When asked about hindsight advice for Stanford students, Systrom said that people matter more than academics.

“People are the connections that end up building your life,” Systrom said. “They were really what helped us found Instagram. While you’re sitting here with the most intelligent people in the world all around you, take advantage of that.”

The moderated question-and-answer session ended with questions from attending students.

The founders touched on Instagram’s product changes along the way, including moving their product to the Google Play platform and adding videos. They also mentioned their goal of one day reaching one billion users and making advertising on Instagram more efficient.

“Hearing from the Instagram founders gave me a way better understanding of entrepreneurship,” said Allen Yu ’17. “Both of the founders were at one point just like us, and their story was real and not simply a fairy tale of how one idea just magically turned into something big.

“They realistically and candidly discussed how Instagram wasn’t built upon success but on a lot of failures that later developed into a successful product that millions of people use every day,” Yu added.

Contact Elizabeth Davis at elizabethdavis ‘at’

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