Bloomberg Technology Reporter Ms Sarah Frier’s debut book No Filter: The Inside Story of Instagram which was named the 2020 Financial Times and McKinsey Business Book of the Year, tells the story of the growth of Instagram under a Silicon Valley aesthete, the jealousy that ensued on its unprecedented billion-dollar acquisition by Facebook and how the app transformed business, celebrity and culture.
From it, we draw lessons on what it takes to start and grow a business in an ever changing tech industry.
Find your co-founder
Precious about perfecting, it was important for Mr Systrom ‘to do things the best way’, which sharply contrasted Mr Zuckerberg’s philosophy of ‘doing things better than anyone else’.
This core difference in viewpoints saw the duo constantly at loggerheads over decision-making, contributing to the Instagram founders’ increasing frustration, eventually leading to their resignation six years after Instagram’s acquisition by Facebook.
Further contributing to Mr Systrom’s frustration was Zuckerberg’s ego which came to play every time he was challenged.
This is evident in the titles he gave his employees. For instance, at the departure of Systrom from Instagram, Mosseri, who took over, got the title Head of Instagram, because “at Facebook Inc, there was room for only one CEO.”
Mr Kreiger and Systrom always joked that their partnership was so harmonious because none of them coveted the other’s job.
Play to your strengths
Instagram aimed to do just one thing – photography – really well. Instead of trying to get everyone to use their app, they invited only people they thought would be likely to spread the word to their followers elsewhere, establishing their market in the process.
The book, Playing To Win by Proctor& Gamble CEO A G Lafley which Systrom was deep into resonated with the founder where Lafley wrote; “No company can be all things to all people and still win.”
Adopt Kaizen philosophy
Kaizen is a Japanese business philosophy that translates to “change for the better” or “continuous improvement.” When Michel Krieger, Instagram’s co-founder, launched the app, he felt it could have had hardier infrastructure or a more robust set of features.
But he also knew that it was better to start and then let priorities reveal themselves as users ran into trouble. Solving a problem in the simplest form possible became part of their leadership philosophy.
Learn from your competitors
Instead of inventing something new and bold, meaning they start from scratch, they improved on what they’d seen other apps do. For instance, displaying ‘Followers’ and ‘Following’ at the top of the app the way Twitter did, made it just competitive enough that people would need to come back to the app and check their progress.
Gain employment experience
From the outside Silicon Valley looked like it was run by geniuses. From the inside, everyone was vulnerable, just figuring it out as they went along. By age 25 Systrom had gotten a crash course in Silicon valley logic, having been introduced to how growth-driven Facebook was, how scrappy Twitter was attracting anarchists and misfits and how procedural and academic Google was after working in the said companies.
At Google, he worked writing marketing copy for Gmail and PowerPoint presentations analysing targets and marketing opportunities and looked at courted and then acquired smaller companies, something that would come in handy later.