Instagram CEO Kevin Systrom on winning the story war

The service that Systrom was working on at the time, however, was not Instagram. It was called Photobox. “I saw this problem: In college, tons of people took photos and they’d send out these huge Zip files over the Stanford email network,” Systrom said. “That didn’t really make sense: What we should do is have one place where everyone puts their photos and can come together and basically download sets of photos if they want.”

“Everyone has their Facebook story, so I won’t say that’s necessarily unique,” Systrom said. “What I mean is that everyone has their story about how they had the chance to work at X, Y, or Z. But being at Stanford, I was given the opportunity to be in the middle of a ton of innovation and meet some of the smartest people doing the coolest stuff in the world.”

Five times as many people now use Instagram as did in 2013. But despite that strong growth, Instagram has seen a worrisome trend. Between 2013 and 2015, the number of photos shared on average by each Instagram user fell, said two people briefed on the app’s internal data.


Systrom says that even as his own attention moves toward IGTV and other, newer initiatives, the company has big plans for ephemeral posts. (He declined to share any specifics.) “I don’t think we’ve seen nearly the end of innovation on Stories,” He said. “For the first year or so, it was just about us getting it working on Instagram — just the basics,” he said. “After that year elapsed, it was, ‘What can we do with this format that’s unique?’ And only in the last six to nine months have we really stepped on the gas in terms of these unique features.”

According to THE VERGE Instagram’s success to date has been notable. But the challenges facing it are multiplying. It has to avoid the mistakes of its parent company, even as its parent company puts more former Facebook executives in key roles. It must continue its breakneck growth pace while maximizing the number of ads its users see. And it must keep stoking the fires of novelty in Instagram Stories, the feature that has defined its recent history.

Systrom said his team’s plans are solid. “It’s just up to us to invent things,” he says.