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Lessons from how Instagram played it, by Bob Lefsetz

Stashed in: Founders, Startups, Zuck!, Practice, Overnight Success, Startup Lessons

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Kevin Systrom wrote his first photo sharing application in 2004.

In case you're math-challenged, that's eight years ago.

Think of it this way... How much better would Justin Bieber be if he didn't emerge into public consciousness until he was 22 instead of 14?

Bieber's already been eclipsed by One Direction and the Wanted. And if you don't know that, you're probably lining up for the Bobby Sherman show.

Paying your dues is never overrated.


Zuckerberg tried to get Systrom to work on photo-sharing for Facebook back in 2004. But Systrom decided to stay at Stanford.

Life is long. Sure, dropping out of college works for a few, like Zuckerberg and Jobs, but not most. I don't think college is a requirement for success, but if you're bothering to attend, stay in. What you learn in the classroom is only part of it. Your horizons are broadened, you interface with new people, you learn about yourself and ideas. Without a foundation, you're living on your wits, you're one false move from failure.


Photobox was in 2004. Then came Burbn. And then Instagram.

Why do you expect to be successful the first time out?

Pros stay at it, amateurs give up.


Instagram was a stripped-down Burbn. You always think you need more, but usually you become successful with less. Less on the track. Fewer cuts.

Send a label three certified smash tracks with your voice and talent way up in the mix and they'll be salivating to sign you.

Send a label twelve mediocre cuts with bad production and you won't even get a response.

It's less about money, less about production, less about slick than letting your talent shine.


Attach yourself to a hot product.

Play Coachella, Bonnaroo and Lollapalooza. You don't have to reach everybody, just the vocal minority who testify.

Despite the inroads of Android, you'd think the world is run by iPhones...MAYBE IT IS!


It took eight weeks to build Instagram. Great work is done upon a burst of inspiration, quickly. Get an idea and act upon it. Don't overthink it, get it done before you have time to reconsider.


They started out with four, two of them founders. Upon sale to Facebook, there were only thirteen.

Don't watch too much television, a posse is irrelevant.

More just cocks up the works. Which is why Apple is nimble and Microsoft is a frostbitten behemoth.


Burbn had hundreds of users, Instagram had 25,000 in twenty four hours, 200,000 in seven days and a million in ninety days.

If your idea is not taking off, maybe you need to tweak it.

You'll know when you have something the reaction!


Labels are cash-starved. When entities have tons of cash to throw around, we'll know the music business is healthy once again.

Facebook needed Instagram. Does the person you're selling to need your music?


Tech is littered with companies that are sold to someone else for a high price and then abandoned. Can you say Palm? Never mind Geocities? Getting paid is not the be all and end all in music. If you're into cashing out, you're in the wrong industry.


Instagram's fans are up in arms over the sale to Facebook. In a world where MySpace was killed by Facebook and Tumblr is hotter than Facebook, you don't want to piss off your fans. The amount of ill will towards Facebook is staggering. The company rips off your information and despite constantly apologizing, does it over and over again. Facebook is close to a monopoly. No musical act has this status. Play to your loyal fans first.

Fans are members of a club. If you're playing to everybody, you're playing to nobody.


Instagram has none.

Then again, Stanford graduates tend to be smarter than musicians.

You've got to play for the long money. Once everybody had Instagram, it could fetch a high price from Facebook. Worry about becoming ubiquitous, indispensable, not rich. If everybody needs and wants you, there's money to be made.


Systrom said no to Facebook more than once. He didn't sell until he owned the sphere, had launched for Android and was beginning to be threatened by competitors.

Timing is everything.

Make your deal when you've got leverage.

Love this:

Worry about becoming ubiquitous, indispensable, not rich. If everybody needs and wants you, there's money to be made.

Never heard of the Lefsetz Letter. Just started reading through his archives, amazing stuff! Definitely subscribing, thanks for posting this!

You're very welcome, Chris.

Lefsetz has a unique voice and often has an interesting take on things.

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