When KAS and NEET have occupied a majority of minds, there is a person who followed his passion to become extraordinary. Today, I am talking about Kevin Systrom. He is an American programmer and entrepreneur. He is the co-founder of Instagram, the social media platform that has over 1 billion users. He sold Instagram to Facebook in 2012, and continued to work with the company for six years before quitting in September 2018.
Systrom was born in Holliston, Massachusetts on December 30, 1983 to Douglas and Diane. His father was a Human Resources executive while his mother worked as an executive in tech companies such as Monster and Swapit during the dot-com boom in the U.S.
He studied at Middlesex School in Concord, Massachusetts, where he was introduced to computer programming. His interest in programming grew from playing Doom 2, the video game, where he created his own levels. Systrom also created programs that would prank his friends by appearing to hack their AOL Instant Messenger accounts.
Systrom applied early decision to Stanford University for a course in Computer Science. However, since he found that the classes were more theoretical than practical, he switched to Stanford’s management science and engineering programme.
A PASSION FOR PHOTOGRAPHY
While studying in Stanford, Systrom built web programs in his free time. One such program was a photo site that he and his friends had set up to share pictures internally. This fuelled his fondness for photography.
During his junior year abroad in Florence, an Italian professor showed him a cheap camera called Holga, which developed a cult following due to its rendering of low-fi, retro style photos. Systrom took an instant liking for the aesthetic images clicked by the camera.
THE ROAD TO INSTAGRAM
Upon returning to Stanford, he interned with Odeo, a podcast startup founded by Evan Williams. There, he became friends with Jack Dorsey ( co-founder of Twitter), who was working at Odeo. Together, they would tweak apps for the company.
In his senior year, Systrom received a number of opportunities from tech companies. However, he chose to take up a marketing job at Google. He was handling marketing projects for Gmail and Calendar. Later, he moved to the Mergers and Acquisitions division of the company and learnt about big tech deals and the money involved.
In time, Systrom grew restless because he wasn’t coding or working on new products. He realized he wanted to move back to the social space and joined Nextstop, a startup that offered travel recommendations. Here, he was coding and creating app style programs for the site, including games revolving around photos.
This rekindled his love for photography and he decided to start something that would fuse his interests of photography and social sharing. In his spare time, he started working on an idea called Burbn, an app that allowed for location-based photo sharing. In January 2010, he met and impressed Steve Anderson, a Bay Area venture capitalist, who agreed to invest in Burbn. In the same round of venture capital funding, he managed to get investments from March Andressen and Ben Horowitz, whose venture capital firm is one of the best-known in Silicon Valley. He quit his job at Nextstop and asked his friend and junior Mike Krieger to come onboard as the co-founder. They started working on Burbn and decided to eliminate many of its features and stick to photo sharing. A walk on the beach with his wife,which said her photos shared online weren’t as good as Systrom’s co-workers’, gave him the idea that would revolutionized the app: filters. Since the idea of sharing photos with filters reminded him of instant telegram, Systrom decided to change the name of the product to Instagram. After working day and night for over eight weeks, Systrom and Krieger finally released Instagram on October 6, 2010. As soon as it was launched, Instagram was downloaded by nearly 25,000 people, leading the servers to crash. The team worked tirelessly to bring it back up and succeeded. Over the years, Instagram’s users have grown in numbers. In July 2018, it hit a billion users. In 2012, the company was brought by Facebook. Systrom and Kreiger continued to work with Instagram under Facebook till September 2018, when they both decided to call it quits.
WHAT MAKES HIM SPECIAL?
Systrom was determined to start something which combined his interests and worked towards it. He gave up his job in Google, rediscovered his love for photography and coding at Nextstop and finally started Instagram.
Yes, this is the exact meaning of life. A person should do whatever he or she is interested in. Imitation doesn’t work. Knowing yourself and working accordingly can do miracles.