Instagram founders offer stories, advice on campus

Carli Baker/Staff
Instagram founders Kevin Systrom, left, and Mike Krieger sit in front of an audience of students in Dwinelle Hall. The two answered questions posed on Facebook and in person.

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Nearly three years and 150 million users later, Instagram founders Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger have a lot to celebrate.

The duo rose to fame with their launch of the photo-sharing social media app, which allows users to take, edit and post pictures and videos from their phones. On Monday evening, Systrom and Krieger visited the UC Berkeley campus for a special question-and-answer session with excited students, who packed into Dwinelle Hall for the event.

The event was organized by Facebook’s university recruiters, who plan events to help students learn more about technology jobs at Facebook and other technology firms.

Alice Zheng, a sophomore intending to major in business administration, said she was interested in hearing about how the founders started the company.

“It was a privilege that they chose UC Berkeley to come to,” Zheng said. “It gave me a lot more interest in entrepreneurship and how small companies are built.”

During the session, Systrom and Krieger answered questions that were submitted through Facebook and asked directly by the audience about their background, the development of their product and the company’s future.

Krieger said the idea for Instagram was born after a social network that Systrom had been building, Burbn, failed to catch on with the public. The two decided to develop one of the most popular aspects of that effort — photo sharing — into its own app. Systrom developed the first filter for Instagram and posted the first photo while on vacation in Mexico with his girlfriend.

In October 2010, Instagram launched in Apple’s App Store. In April 2012, the social network Facebook acquired the company, providing the pair with a broader talent network and more resources to work with, according to Krieger.

“The company has really stayed together in that we’re still organized as a unit where we’re basically a startup within a larger company,” Krieger said. “And so day to day, the biggest thing that’s different is that we’re down in Menlo Park instead of being down in San Francisco.”

Still, Instagram has suffered growing pains along with its success. In December, users became concerned that changes in the company’s terms of service would give advertisers greater access to their photos. Systrom, however, said privacy is a top priority at both Facebook and Instagram.

“Users own their photos,” said Systrom. “They always have and always will. We don’t. Trust and privacy are the two things that you need to have, because you’re making effectively a deal with the consumer that they’ll use your product: You build the product, and they will only keep doing that if they trust you.”

Systrom and Krieger also offered advice to students working on their own startups, including to find a mentor and get involved in the startup scene early.

“People don’t realize when you start a startup, you’re not just starting a product — you’re starting a company,” Systrom said. “And companies are people, and people are the hardest part of the startup, meaning finding the right ones, retaining the great ones.”

Krieger added that future entrepreneurs need to have passion and be motivated by their ideas.

“We’ve seen a fair amount of people who kind of jump into it just because it’s the trendy thing to do,” said Krieger. “Make sure you’re doing it for the right reason.”

Contact Mitchell Handler at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @mitchellhandler.