Happy Birthday Kevin Systrom: The Born Entrepreneur With Midas Touch


Focusing on one thing and doing it really, really well can get you very far.

A decade ago, a term called ‘photo addiction’ never existed. The era of smartphones with better camera opened the gates for this new idea. Seizing the opportunity of the new found market Mike Krieger and Kevin Systrom launched Instagram on October 6th, 2010. Within hours of the launch Instagram was flooded with 10000 new users in a matter of hours and within a month, a network of 1 million users was reached.  Today Instagram comprises of 400 million monthly active users, 80 million photos are shared daily.

#instagood, #selfies, #followme, #picoftheday and many new hashtags became the order of the day. Instagram became the social mirror and harnessed the creativity of a common man. Instagram proved to be the Cristiano Ronaldo of Silicon Valley; eventually, Facebook proved to be the Real Madrid and bought this photo sharing Giant for a whopping $1 billion. A number of celebrities ranging from sports stars to politicians are Insta’s active users.

Kevin Systrom, a 6.5 feet hunk, is a perfect example of luck combined with an effort. Being a practical guy, he pursued the lucrative Bachelor of Science degree in Management Science and Engineering from the ‘Stanford University’. Being from a tech background, he always dreamt of pursuing impossible jobs, his mother had worked in monster.com and sawpit.com and younger sister, Kate is the marketing manager of e-tailer. Lover of photography, he had a hunger of fame and he always wanted to lead the league.

Birth Date: December 30, 1983. Holliston, New York.

Net Worth: $280 million

This billionaire honcho has everything: the mind of a nerd, looks of a model and the most importantly the ‘Midas Touch’. Let’s dig deeper into his fascinating life:

  • The pursuit began from ‘Doom II’ “I’ll credit Doom II for everything” were his words, at the tender age of 12 when the others love playing the game, Kevin loved editing the levels of the game. This marked the starting of his computer fascination.
  • When he was in High- School, as expected, he chose computer science instead of biology. His first moment in entrepreneurship was hailed from the renowned ‘Mayfield Fellows Program’ which harnessed the entrepreneurship skills.
  • A fame hungry man: Once an Italian professor showed him a Holga (cheap camera) which was popular in China and then developed a cult following including Kevin who adored its retro-style photo. He also loved to DJ and adored electronic music as it pulled the crowd and he was also the captain of the lacrosse team during his junior years.
  • The mother of ironies: He interned at Odeo for Evan Williams and his co-founder, Noah Glass. Odeo helped in the development of the social networking site ‘Twitter(NASDAQ:TWTR). Twitter later showed interest in purchasing Instagram. While at Odeo, Kevin shared the desk with Jack Dorsey (co-founder of Twitter) for three months.
  • In 2006, Mark Zuckerberg showed interest in Kevin and even asked him to drop out of college and work with him on the photo service for Facebook, to the surprise Kevin turned down the offer.
  • His brilliance and nascent internships entitled Kevin with astounding job opportunities that also included Microsoft. Akin to the blooming entrepreneurs, Kevin also chose Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) and was designated as the ‘associate product marketing manager’ and managed the functions of Gmail, Spreadsheets, Docs etc. He joined the ‘Corporate Development Team’ of Google, the following year.
  • Next-stop was ‘Nextstop: Nextstop is a travel App that recommends exotic places to its users and was acquired by Facebook Inc. (NASDAQ:FB) September 25, 2010. Kevin left Google and worked in this new startup founded by his fellow googlers Adrian Graham, Charles Lin and Carl Sjogreen.
  • Realizing his dreams: In an interview, Kevin disclosed “The story starts when I worked at Nextstop. While I was there working in marketing, I started doing more and more engineering at night on simple ideas that helped me learn how to program (I don’t have any formal CS degree or training)”.
  • Garnering the required knowledge, Kevin stepped into entrepreneurship with his first venture ‘Burbn’ with Mark Krieger. Within two weeks of leaving Nextstop, Kevin received his first funding of $500,000 from Baseline Ventures and Andreessen Horowitz who liked his path-breaking idea.
  • Failure of Burbn: ‘too many cooks spoil the broth’, the same happened to Burbn, it had many features ranging from sharing locations, posting pictures, to future check-ins. The creators soon realized that in spite of having the variety of features, user friendliness lacked in Burbn.
  • The ‘aha’ moment: Once while on vacation Kevin and his fiancée – Nicole Schuetz (fellow Stanford Graduate and founder of ‘Sutro Energy group’) were walking along the beach and discussing prospects that will make his company(Burbn) stand out. Nicole suggested him to apply some filters as her friend Greg also uses filters to enhance her image while her (Nicole) normal pic doesn’t look good.
  • X-Pro II was the first filter on Instagram and the first ever photo that was posted on Instagram was of Nicole’s foot – a stray dog and a taco in Mexico.
  • The beginning: Kevin and Krieger took most of the code from Burbn and worked for 8 weeks to develop it and later they gave it to their friends for testing and bug-fixing before launching it on October 6th.
  • Instagram-‘Instant’ and ‘telegram’: After realizing their mistakes in their first venture Kevin and Krieger decided to focus on only one feature- the photos. In an interview, Kevin said “Instagram is a form of communication which is an ideal mode of sharing photos, status and updates with other people. It also keeps you to get connected with other social websites like twitter, Facebook etc.”

            Great Products sell themselves.

  • Billion dollar deal: On April 12th, 2012 Facebook bought Instagram for $1 billion, Systrom stake stayed at 40% or $400 million. On the day of the deal, Instagram was mere 22 months old and had only 14 employees. Kevin also holds the office and is ‘CEO’ of the company while Krieger is the Technical Head.
  • Rivalry?: Jack Dorsey- Founder of Twitter was keen on buying Instagram but offered half the price of what Facebook was paying. Eventually, Instagram was sold to Facebook since then Dorsey hasn’t posted anything on Instagram.
  • Awards and Recognition: ‘Founder of the year’ was awarded to Kevin in 2012 at the ‘6th Annual Crunchies Awards’, also received ‘CFDA Social Media Award’ in 2015, Shared ‘Webby Breakout Award’ with ‘Mike Krieger’.
  • In an interview Kevin told us what he expects from Instagram- he said, “One of the things I love about Instagram’s photos is they are there, they stick around. It means historians are going to be able to look back at humanity at this point in time and engage, and understand what has happened and what people were seeing”.
  • He has also invested around $130 million in companies that include: Blue Bottle Coffee, Even, and Sparks.

If you’ve got and idea, start today. There’s no better time than now to get going.

The post is a part of a B’day Series where we celebrate the birthday of renowned personalities from Tech Industry, very frequently. The series includes Entrepreneurs, C-level Executives, innovators or a renewed leaders who moved the industry with his exponential skill set and vision. The intent is to highlight the person’s achievements and touch base the little known, but interesting, part of his life. You can see the list of all earlier celebrated tech personalities, including Mark Zuckerberg, Marissa Mayor, Sean Parker, Andy Rubin, Julian Assange, Sir Richard Branson, Sergey Brin by following this link or subscribe to your daily newsletter.

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