Kevin Systrom

Thanks to a recent deal with Facebook's Mark Zuckerburg, Explo alum Kevin Systrom's mobile app Instagram has reached new heights.

Congratulations to five year Explo alumnus Kevin Systrom, whose mobile photo sharing company Instagram was recently bought by Facebook (in the largest acquisition to date) for a billion dollars in cash and stock. News of the deal has been covered by every major media outlet and the story has landed the front page of The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, and The Boston Globe, and has been a lead business topic worldwide.

Systrom’s company, launched in October of 2010, had about 35 million users worldwide at the time the deal was struck. Systrom, by all accounts a brilliant and incredibly likable guy, still has a “grand vision” for Instragram. The company, though now owned by Facebook, will maintain its current identity and continue to operate as a distinct application on both iPhone and Android platforms.

Reportedly, Systrom and Facebook’s founder and CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, brokered the deal essentially on their own at Zuckerberg’s Palo Alto, CA estate. Once Instragram announced that the app was “Android ready,” Zuckerberg seemed eager to make the acquisition, and at quite a price. The purchase came on the heels of a recent round of fundraising by the photo sharing company; they were about to receive $50 Million from a range of venture capital investors who valued the company $500 Million.

Within days of closing the fundraising round, Zuckerberg doubled that valuation and catapulted Instagram, along with its founders and employees, into a different stratosphere.

What is Instagram?
Quite simply, Instagram allows you to make better photos. It is simple yet revolutionary in the world of social media, because Instagram truly can cross language and cultural barriers. The language of the application is exclusively photos and imagery, which wasn’t the case with Twitter, and wasn’t the case with Facebook.

“That really said something to us,” Systrom recalls. “This thing can function well and connect people even without language. Anyone anywhere in the world can use it.”

Using Instagram, you can easily alter your photos with its custom set of filters and borders, and then share your creations within Instagram’s own’s social network. You can also post these images to external social network sites, like Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr.

Despite new ownership, Instagram is expected to operate in the same way its users know and love, creating a worldwide community of beautiful, entertaining, interesting imagery.

Solve problems that already exist. Try not to create news ones.

About Kevin Systrom
An Explo student in the mid-to-late 90s, Systrom grew up in Holliston, Massachusetts, about twenty miles west of Boston. He attended Middlesex, an independent boarding school in Concord, Massachusetts, before heading west to Stanford, graduating, and then settling in Silicon Valley for what has been a series of very impressive career moves in a very short time.

As an undergrad at Stanford, where Systrom majored in management science and engineering and was a Mayfield Fellow — a group of twelve exceptional Stanford students studying entrepreneurship — he landed an internship with Odeo, which later became Twitter. Also wooed by Facebook prior to graduating from Stanford, Systrom opted to finish school, and then fielded an offer from Microsoft, which he demurred in favor of a position at Google.

Reluctant to leave “the valley,” Systrom spent about a year at Google before making a go at his own startup. Together with a partner, he founded Burbn, which aimed to compete with the location-based mobile application Four Square.

In a matter of months, Systrom changed his focus to what he felt people really were really looking for and the market really needed — a quality photography application that incorporated social media — and Instagram was born. The application gained popularity quickly, fueled by its ease of use and the ability to share photos on Facebook and Twitter feeds.

On Internships
The Instagram CEO speaks highly of his opportunity to intern with technology startup company Odeo (which later became Twitter) and encourages aspiring entrepreneurs to embrace any chance to learn in this hands-on way. Systrom landed his internship through a bit of skill and a lot of persistence.

He recalls studying abroad in Florence while still an undergraduate, where Wi-Fi was scarce. Spotting Odeo on the cover of The New York Times, Systrom thought the company would be a good place to work for the summer. He managed to hack his way to the email address of the Odeo’s CEO, and followed up several times before finally scoring a face-to-face meeting. Systrom strongly believes in an internship as the ultimate learning experience. “You’re likely not worried about your livelihood,” he says, “Or about getting a job that impresses your parents. All the stress is gone — it’s a three-month date with a startup.

Systrom’s advice on interning? He encourages people to emphasize that they will be useful and not a liability. “Tell them to give you something to work on, that you’ll make their life easier.” Do anything you can do to help out. “It’s the best startup education there is. Most of what I do isn’t glamorous. But it’s important.”

Thoughts and Tips
“Solve problems that already exist. Try not to create news ones.”

“Put your ideas out there. Sometimes your first idea isn’t your best, but you can learn from it. It turns out you want it to fail if it's going to. Put it out there, and listen to the feedback.”

“You make your own luck through lots of hard work.”