Four Product Principles that Drove Instagram's Success
Every product team should have a list of principles that guide their decision making
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You can learn a lot about building products by following Instagram's evolution.
In this post, I cover Instagram's core product principles, which Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger shared on my favorite episode of Patrick O'Shaughnessy's podcast:
Do the simple thing first
Do fewer things better
Ride the wave
1. Community first
"The only reason your product should exist is to solve someone's problem." - Kevin
When Instagram launched in 2010, sharing mobile photos was difficult. Kevin and Mike wanted to make it easier to share photos by helping people do three jobs:
I want to take high-quality photos: Early mobile phones took blurry and low-resolution photos. Instagram added filters to make these photos look good.
I want to share photos with my friends: Sharing photos on Facebook, Twitter, and other platforms separately was a pain. With Instagram, people could share photos to all platforms at once.
I want to share photos quickly: Uploading photos took forever due to slow connection speeds. Instagram started uploading a photo when the user was still writing a description, which made the upload feel instant.
As the app scaled, Kevin and Mike continued to apply "Jobs to Be Done" to serve their community. They encouraged product teams to:
Ask: "Does this product help the community or the company?"
Your community can tell what your company's true intentions are, so be authentic and talk to them as real people.
For example, in 2012, Instagram's community of iPhone photo enthusiasts were not happy that an Android app was in the works. Instead of ignoring user feedback, Kevin and Mike spent a lot of time talking to their community. They built trust with users by explaining why Android was needed to help Instagram become a platform where many communities can thrive.
Observe how people are hacking your product to do a job
People will often hire your product to do jobs adjacent to the job that you had in mind. Observing how people are hacking your product to meet an unfulfilled need is one of the best ways to determine what to build next.
For example, in 2013, Instagram's algorithm flagged an account for fraud because it kept uploading and deleting thousands of photos. After a manual review, the team discovered that this account was a store. The store would upload photos of items for sale and delete the photos when the same items sold out. This behavior was an early example of commerce, which is now a big bet for the platform.