How Instagram Made its Billion

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Mobile Apps Signal Shift Away from Web

Being bought by Facebook for $1 billion, Instagram made the world sit up and take notice of this app that was, until Facebook got involved, used by around 30 million people.  They had managed to get that many users in only 551 days, impressive by anyone’s standards, so how did they do it?

First off, they kept their overheads low, employing only 13 people, and kept their headquarters low key rather than splashing out on fancy offices.  This allowed the company to focus on growing and improving the app.   Next, they managed to get their timing perfect to cash in on the mobile explosion.  Starting out on iPhone they moved to Android once that had reached a 50% mobile market share.  They spent more time on their app, pretty much ignoring their website and the expense and time it would take to keep that running effectively.

Perhaps one of the keys was how they kept the interface of Instagram junk-free.  Attention was paid to the aesthetics, filling it more with emotion than buttons, allowing the image to be the star of the app.  While they were at that, they did not try to force users to post their pictures to social networking sites.

Finally, they created a new data set.  Every time an Instagram user takes a photo, they record not only the image but also the date, time and location, which was perhaps one of the biggest draws for Facebook who will now be able to quantify what people are taking photographs off.


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