What The Instagram Sale Teaches Us About Success


When I read about the Instragram sale to Facebook for $1 billion, I Googled the CEO, Kevin Systrom with the question, “Who IS this guy” in my head.

What I saw was this About Us page on Instragram.  Rather unassuming. About 25% of what a strong LinkedIn profile would say. But what does it have to say about how a guy who graduated in 2006 made the headlines of every paper yesterday.

O.K. so he went to Stanford. But just having just finished the book Imagine by Jonah Lehrer, it seems there is something to that.  Lehrer points out that breakthrough work grows up in an environment where collaboration is likely to happen.  Innovation occurs in an environment that is friendly to it and where a lot of people with similar ideas are living in close range to each other.  It is the easy exchange of ideas and the ability to see related concepts by happenstance—because you’re around it all—that makes a difference.  Silicon Valley became a hotbed for innovative technology because there are so many people with fresh ideas about technology and how to use the internet, living and working in close proximity to each other.  This theory explains the Elizabethan period that spawned Shakespeare and the Renaissance that produced so many great artists from a small population.

Systrom worked at various tech giants including Google and actually knew Mark Zucherberg so the proximity certainly helped mold his destiny.

Then the other clue to Systrom’s success is that he took a childhood fascination and a lifelong (relatively brief life that it is so far!) passion for photography and turned it into a “job.”  All the talk you hear about following your passion seems to prove out when you see the most successful people and how their passion played out in their work.  This may be an obvious concept today but from the days of The Graduate, where advice to college grads was to go into the most lucrative profession, to recent times, that was considered the opposite of sound advice.

The About Us page of Instagram gives very little detail about Systrom but what it does reveal, in retrospect, certainly made him a great candidate for success.

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