Systrom in 2018
|Born||December 30, 1983|
Holliston, Massachusetts, U.S.
|Alma mater||Stanford University|
|Occupation||Former CEO of Instagram, entrepreneur|
|Known for||Co-founding Instagram|
|Net worth||US$1.8 billion (as of January, 2021)|
|Board member of||Walmart (September 2014 – May 2018)|
Systrom was included on the list of America's Richest Entrepreneurs Under 40 2016. Under Systrom as CEO, Instagram became a fast growing app, with 800 million monthly users as of September 2017. He resigned as CEO of Instagram on September 24, 2018.
Early life and education
Systrom was born in 1983 in Holliston, Massachusetts. He is the son of Diane (Pels), a marketing executive at Zipcar, who also worked at Monster and Swapit during the first dotcom bubble, and Douglas Systrom, Vice President in Human Resources at TJX Companies.
Systrom attended Stanford University and graduated in 2006 with a bachelor's degree in management science and engineering. At Stanford, he was a member of the Sigma Nu fraternity. He turned down a recruitment offer from Mark Zuckerberg and instead spent the winter term of his third year in Florence, where he studied photography.
He got his first taste of the startup world when he was chosen as one of twelve students to participate in the Mayfield Fellows Program at Stanford University. The fellowship led to his internship at Odeo, the company that eventually gave rise to Twitter.
After graduating Stanford, he joined Google working on Gmail, Google Calendar, Docs, Spreadsheets and other products. He spent two years at Google as a product marketer; Systrom left Google out of frustration of not being moved into the Associate Product Manager program.
After leaving Google to join Nextstop, a location recommendation startup founded by ex-Googlers that was acquired by Facebook in 2010, Systrom thought of combining location check-ins and popular social games. He made the prototype of what later became Burbn and pitched it to Baseline Ventures and Andreessen Horowitz at a party. He came up with the idea while on a vacation in Mexico when his girlfriend was unwilling to post her photos because they did not look good enough when taken by the iPhone 4 camera. The solution to the problem was to use filters, effectively hiding the qualitative inferiority of the photographs. Subsequently, Systrom developed the X-Pro II filter that is still in use on Instagram today.
After the first meeting, he decided to quit his job in order to explore whether or not Burbn could become a company. Within 2 weeks of quitting his job, he received US$500,000 seed funding round from both Baseline Ventures and Andreessen Horowitz. While in San Francisco, Systrom and Mike Krieger built Burbn, an HTML 5 check-in service, into a product that allowed users to do many things: check into locations, make plans (future check-ins), earn points for hanging out with friends, post pictures, and much more. However, recalling their studies in Mayfield Fellows Program, Krieger and Systrom identified that Burbn contained too many features and the users did not want a complicated product. They decided to focus on one specific feature, photo-sharing. The development of Burbn led to creation of Instagram. A month after launching, Instagram had grown to 1 million users. A year later, Instagram hit more than 10 million users.
In April 2012, Instagram, along with 13 employees, was sold to Facebook for US$1 billion in cash and stock. According to multiple reports, the deal netted Systrom US$400 million based on his ownership stake in the business. One of the key contributions to the acquisition was that Mark Zuckerberg stated Facebook was "committed to building and growing Instagram independently", allowing Systrom to continue to lead Instagram. Systrom stated in an interview with Bloomberg that the pros of becoming a part of Facebook were that "we got to pair up with a juggernaut of a company that understands how to grow, understands how to build a business, has one of the best, if not the best, management team in tech and we got to use them as our resource".
In an interview with Forbes, he stated that "Instagram is a new form of communication that's an ideal fit with the always-with-you iPhone in today's social media world. Instagram's a social network built around photos, where people can quickly comment on or 'like' photos and share them on Twitter or Facebook." Systrom identified Instagram as a media company, which explains the roll-out of video advertisement by big companies such as Disney, Activision, Lancome, Banana Republic and CW in late 2014.
Under Systrom's leadership, Instagram developed key features like the Explore tab, filters, and video. Over time, Instagram rolled out features allowing users to upload and filter photographs and short videos, follow other users' feeds, geotag images, name location, and comment on other users' photographs and short videos. Instagram allowed the development of web profiles in 2012, connecting accounts to Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and Flickr in 2013, an Explore tab in mid-2012, and Video in June 2013. Instagram offered 19 photographic filters; Normal, 1977, Amaro, Branna, Earlybird, Hefe, Hudson, Inkwell, Kelvin, Lo-fi, Mayfair, Nashville, Rise, Sierra, Sutro, Toaster, Valencia, Willow, X-Pro II.
As of October 2015, 40 billion pictures had been shared on Instagram.
As of June 2016, Instagram had over 500 million active users.
Also in 2016, CNN quoted a study according to which Snapchat was the most important social network among teenagers aged 14 to 19, the first time in two years that Instagram did not feature at the top.
Instagram as of early 2017 employed around 450 people. The app was used by 600 million people per month and 300 million per day. Its competitors Snapchat and Twitter employed more people for a smaller user base, with Twitter having 3,500 employees for 317 million monthly users, and Snapchat employing 1,500 people for half of Instagram's daily user base.
According to Quartz and the New York Times, Systrom and Krieger implemented a system to overcome bottlenecks and slow decision-making in the company by scheduling meetings in which only decisions are taken. This approach was informed by Systrom's interest in academic business theories, in particular Clayton M. Christensen's concept of The Innovator's Dilemma.
Views on copying ideas in the industry
Instagram has been accused on multiple occasions for copying various new functions from its closest competitor Snapchat. Regarding the issue, Systrom argued that all new services launched by tech companies nowadays are "remixes" of existing products, and that "all of these ideas are original when you remix them and bring your own flavour". Systrom also argued that 'you can trace the roots of every feature anyone has in their app, somewhere in the history of technology' and that this was simply 'just the way Silicon Valley works.'
On October 31, 2016, Systrom married Nicole Systrom (née Schuetz), founder and CEO of clean-energy investment firm Sutro Energy Group, in Napa, California. The two met at Stanford and were engaged in 2014.
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