4 Ways Instagram Hacked Early Growth

by adam on December 28, 2012

As an early user of instagram back in October of 2010, I have gotten to witness the fast rise of instagram from a nascent network of technology savvy photographers to a mass-consumer global phenomenon. What follows is my own personal take on the key product decisions that drove instagram’s early growth and helped catapult it to the number #1 mobile photo sharing app in record time.


1. Public by default – Instagram smartly chose very early on to have the default privacy state of user’s photos as public. This was a bold move at the time, considering that up until this point, most mobile photo apps did not surface photos to other users by default without explicitly asking for permission to do so. With this move, instagram allowed people to discover other people through their photos in the popular section, which was the main means of distribution and source of followers in the early days of the service.


2. Asymetric follow model – While they weren’t the first ones to use this model, and while it was obviously the right move in hindsight, modeling their follower model after twitter instead of after facebook was a key move by instagram to speed up the acceleration of growth of each users network, by allowing them to follow and be followed by people they might not know offline.


3. Using speed as a weapon – A key, but often overlooked driver of instagram’s early success and growth was in large part driven by the speed of the service, both real, and perceived. By using techniques like Loading Content Based On Importance, Not Order, Always ‘Pretending to work’ and Anticipating The User’s Every Move, Instagram was able to create a pleasurably quick experience around uploading and viewing photos that was far ahead of other competitors at the time.

Recently Instagram’s co-founder Mike Krieger lifted the curtain on three of their backend (and UI) tricks that give the Instagram user a feeling of responsiveness.


4. Cross-network posting – By deciding to play nice with other services like twitter and facebook, instagram was able to leverage the distribution of some very large existing platforms to help accelerate the growth of its service in the early days.


Perception vs Reality: How these 5 Startups are really growing

by adam on October 21, 2012

In many tech startups there often exist two different stories for how a company has gained it’s hard fought success. There is the story that gets told in the news media and distributed on sites like hackernews and techmeme, and then there is the un-told story that underlies the reality of how the company is actually growing.

Here are some examples of these two different stories:

Perception Reality
AirBNB kids-couch-surf-flickr-brandon-cripps

Collaborative consumption is driving new demand for previously un-used supply.

Land-lords are using airbnb as a channel to market their under-utilized or vacant rental properties. Source.
Twitter US-State-Department-Taps-Twitter-for-New-Age-Global-Relations

A democratizing force of good for the world where everyday people are given a global voice.

A navel-gazing wasteland of internet pundits and pseudo celebrities where fake accounts drive a large percentage of traffic. Source
YouSendit imgres

Yousendit is popularly known as file hosting business for all types of business’s to swap large files with each other.

What they don’t tell you in the press is that the service is used by pirates and pornographers to distribute illegal content.
Justin.tv, Ustream imgres-2

The popular myth behind startups Justin.tv and Ustream was that they were riding the wave of a new live broadcast revolution powered by UGC.

The reality was that both sites turned a blind eye early on to pirated content that was being live broadcast around the world, fueling growth in visitors seeking this content. Source.
Scribd scribd

Scribd launched publicly as a ‘youtube for documents’ and a way for author’s to self-publish their work, democratizing the publishing business.

The reality paints a different picture, of pirated content driving the lion’s share of pageviews, while other original content is left in the dust. Source.

5 Great Startups that Hacked Early Growth

by adam on August 5, 2012

1. Facebook


a fundamental understanding of your product – and specifically what the key reasons people use it are. its amazing to me how confused many people are about this and unable to really discern motivations and root causes from byproducts and outcomes. knowing true product value allows you to design the experiments necessary so that you can really isolate cause and effect. as an example, at facebook, one thing we were able to determine early on was a key link between the number of friends you had in a given time and likelihood to churn. knowing this allowed us to do a lot to get new users to their “a-ha” moment quickly. obviously, however, this required us to know what the “a-ha” moment was with a fair amount of certainty in the first place.

– Chamath Palihapitiya

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Why developers should learn how to sell

by adam on June 12, 2012

Much has been written about Why marketing and bd professionals should learn to code. As everyone knows by now, Growth Hacker is the new VP Marketing. If you aren’t learning to code, you are going to get left behind.

Not so fast.

On the other side of the argument there are those imploring you to “Please don’t learn to code”.


While the debate rages on without an end in sight, there is a much subtler point that is being overlooked in all of this.

Cue dramatic pause for effect.

Once basic coding skills become common place amongst traditionally non-technical disciplines, what are people who’s primary role is coding going to do?

Of course, there will always be a need for talented programmers, but those who got by on simply being a ‘coder’ and not having any other talent or skill are going to be left in the dust.

In fact, all hope is not lost for these coders. Look at the list of founder’s of large internet companies who like Instagrams CEO, who had no formal programming training, and the list is fairly short.

Contrast this with the ever-expanding list of coding luminaries like Mark Zuckerberg, Sergey Brin & Larry Page and Bill Gates, just to name a few. All of these formally trained engineers were forced to learn the nuances of product, sales, business development and marketing out of necessity and ended up being good enough at each of them.

So the next time that one of your non-coding friends in sales asks you wether or not they should learn to code, instead of encouraging them one way or the other, simply give tell them that you will help them learn to code, as long as they help you learn to sell.

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