Instagram's Founder On Why Hearing "No" Can Mean You're On The Verge Of Brilliance

We speak with Instagram founder Mike Krieger who, yes, was even told Instagram would never succeed. And look at him now.

The photo app: that's been done before.

That's exactly the reception that Instagram founders Mike Krieger and Kevin Systrom received when they tried to sell their new idea for social photo app Instagram. The industry was already crowded with photography apps and it didn't help that the pair were first-time entrepreneurs.

Mike Krieger

Of course, the critics were wrong (really, really, wrong): Instagram now dominates world of mobile photography. More importantly, Krieger and Systrom were vindicated.

"We showed it to some investors and they were like 'Ah, we're not interested. You know photos, that's kind of been done before. You're going to fail,'" says Krieger. "It was really satisfying, and great to launch and actually have this community response of people being like, 'No, no, this is good. And it actually fills a need that I really had in my life.'"

"Hearing 'no' a lot of times usually tells you either you're crazy or you're on the right track and you don't know which one it is until you finally launch."

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  • Nicole Kim Phillips

    Agreed! Hearing indefinitely does not mean it's over or that you should throw in the towel. IN FACT, no should be what drives you. If you truly believe in what you create, then you only listen to the voices in your own head. Those will be the ones necessary to get you to new levels of success.

  • Anthony Reardon

    Aside from the popularity and exit can you really say Instagram is a success?

  • George Mathew

    Popularity is a measure of value delivered to customers, about the best measure of success.

  • Nicole Kim Phillips

    Popularity is really not a good measure of success. Anyone who is on a true walk toward greatness has realized that people will try to shut you out, even when you are good.

  • Anthony Reardon

    At face value I can agree. But in the case of companies like Instagram, end-users are not the customers.

    They're going to make money by selling ads or selling out. So while you could say it is a success because a lot of people like it, popularity as a proposed value in itself doesn't necessarily mean the business is successful.

    You could have millions and millions of users that don't like or respond to the ads. Just because investors and advertisers are speculating on the potential for success, doesn't necessarily imply it's going to pan out to the value they are paying for.

    Popularity, investment, and advertising sales are certainly part of it, but if it doesn't end up translating into a corresponding return on sales to advertisers, then I would actually argue you can't really call it a success.

  • Anthony Reardon

    If you disagree with what I say qualify it, don't just say "that's stupid" or "you're stupid", because that's the definition of what a moron would say.

    Another definition of "moron" might be someone who believes everything they read. Tech and venture capital companies put out a lot of propaganda about their success & popularity, and it's not always for the sake of inspiring journalism. Sometimes, it's because they know they really don't have a viable company or product, so all they can do is try to pump up perception and see how many morons they can get to keep betting on them.

    You could say the notable utilization, getting bought by Facebook, and media buzz about Instagram make it a success- especially from the founder's perspective, or you could say it's just inflating a tech industry bubble that is unsustainable. You might call someone a moron for questioning why Fortune named Enron "America's Most Innovative Company" for six years in a row, or why banks were doing so well with subprime loans and credit defaults- they were popular and bringing in a lot of investment too- but the fact was that was all they had...the underlying business models to justify the investment simply weren't there.

    So go ahead and call me a moron if that's the best you got. Let me put it to you: aside from the popularity and exit can you really say Instagram is a success? Show me something if you got it, otherwise you've got nothing

  • George Mathew

    We are discussing definitions here - is success having reached the full destination (I agree with your points) or being in the right direction of high user adoption. Especially for early investors and founders the latter is a better guide of success. The former is something you can read about, the latter something you can participate in!

  • critical of acclaim

    this doesn't actually say anything...."you could be crazy or you could be right" - isn't that a Bill Joel extract? simply, these flounders, excuse me founders, prove that even a blind dog can find a bone.