A company valued at more than $100 billion.
Isn’t that the goal every entrepreneur chases?
However, only a few businesses have the resources, ideas, and pinch of luck that enables startup success. And they are the bottomless sources of inspiration.
Today, we’re going to tell you how legendary startup founders Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger launched the Instagram photo sharing app. Although Instagram was acquired and is now supported by Facebook, it began from a simple idea. Continuous development, hard work, and huge financial investments made it go far.
We’ll take a closer look at the improvements that brought the best results to Instagram, analyze its functionality, discuss its weaknesses, and tell you how to make an app like Instagram and contribute to the digital life of your local community, college, or university with a high-quality app.
Follow our lead and get ready to launch an Instagram-level startup.
How Instagram changed our world
Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger met at Stanford and created one of the greatest apps of our time. Let’s find out how they did it and get inspiration from their success.
After two years at Google, Kevin Systrom joined a location recommendation startup and came up with his own idea for a similar project. What if he combined a check-in app with an online social game? Together with Mike Krieger, Systrom launched a prototype of a Foursquare-like app called Burbn and reached out to the first investors.
Lesson for your business: Even the most successful entrepreneurs take inspiration from others’ products. A background in product development and management combined with a vision for a new location-based product gave Systrom an idea for his startup. With a simple prototype, he got the chance to talk to potential investors. Don’t hesitate to look for inspiration in existing products and start slowly. Build a prototype to present your idea to others and use their feedback to improve your product.
Pivot and investments
On a summer vacation in 2010, Systrom realized his girlfriend didn’t want to post photos on social media because they didn’t look good enough. This is how the idea of photo editing and filters was born. The Burbn founders changed their focus and decided to launch a photo sharing and editing app. This is how the Instagram product itself was born. The improved prototype brought them $500,000 in investments during a seed round.
Lesson for your business: Routinely collect new ideas. Discover unsatisfied demands and wishes of potential users as you go about your daily life to find a viable niche. Enhance a simple prototype with new features to increase user satisfaction and convince investors.
In 2010 and 2011, after the first impressive round of investments, the Instagram development team started growing. So did the app itself. During this time, location tagging appeared. Then came the Series A funding. This time, the team raised $7 million for further app development. Series B brought another $50 million.
Lesson for your business: If you do everything right at the very beginning, the results can be impressive. A great idea supported by initial investments may cause an avalanche effect:
the better your idea, the more investments you collect, the more employees you hire, the better functionality you build, the more funds you raise.
With more funds, you can extend your team and deliver even better functionality to your users. This cycle had laid the foundation for most successful startups — not only Instagram.
Acquisition by Facebook
Instagram started as an iOS app. But successful market expansion required Instagram to attract Android users as well. In 2012, Instagram for Android rolled out. In just one day, the app was downloaded more than a million times.
A few days later, Facebook acquired Instagram for $1 billion.
Lesson for your business: Independent startups have a chance to succeed. A startup backed by a giant like Facebook has a much greater chance. Even if previous stages may be hard for you in terms of profitability, a high-quality app with useful functionality may be noticed by someone powerful: Facebook, Amazon, Twitter, or even a local company. This recognition may be of huge importance. With a powerful partner, you can get enough resources to grow, hire employees, undertake engineering and marketing strategies, etc.
The age of glory
Having been acquired by Facebook, Instagram was still independently managed. The team grew rapidly between 2012 and 2020. Numerous amazing features were added, and the number of users sharply increased. Several redesigns, A/B testing, Instagram stories, IGTV, and improved news feed algorithms strengthened the app’s market position.
Lesson for your business: Even after a successful acquisition, when it seems like all is going well, you should work on growing your app. Customers’ demands change and dozens of amazing apps are launched every day. You should follow mobile and web development trends, collect user feedback, and keep delivering better services.
Instagram during lockdown
In 2020, coronavirus-related social distancing and lockdowns pushed people to spend more time on social media. SocialMediaToday says that people have been spending 20% more time in apps since April 2020.
The impact on Instagram has been impressive:
- Instagram became the fifth most downloaded app in October 2020.
- The Instagram founders reported 40% growth in app usage at the start of the pandemic compared to before the pandemic.
- During the first week of lockdownItaly, the number of Instagram content views doubled.
Lesson for your business: Powerful apps learn how to adapt to crises. By rolling out even more handy features, promoting entertaining content, and listening to users’ wishes, Instagram used the coronavirus situation in the best way possible. Once you launch your app, be flexible. And always be ready to change your priorities and plans if the market requires it.
Instagram app: 4 components of a powerful product
Although Instagram is usually considered a photo sharing app, it’s actually more complicated. You might see it as four different apps merged into one: an app for photo sharing, an app for photo editing, a messenger app, and an eCommerce portal. To help you define your objectives for your own app, let’s take a closer look at each of these sets of functionality.
- Instagram the photo sharing app
When building an app like Instagram, you can limit its functionality to photo sharing features. Instagram started like this. You can start by launching an MVP of a photo sharing app and launch other functionality in the future.
Must-have photo sharing features:
- User profiles
- Add and delete photos
- Geolocation features
- User tagging
- Integration with other social media apps
- Instagram the photo editing app
Adding photo editing features may be the next stage of your app’s evolution. Editing features will evoke users’ creativity and help users upload more attractive, catchier content. In turn, better content will help you grow your user base.
Must-have photo editing features:
- User profiles
- Cropping, resizing, filters, and other editing tools
- Ability to add text, frames, stickers, and other extras.
- Instagram the messenger app
To make users spend more time in your app and invite their friends, let them communicate on your platform like Instagram does. Convenient and secure chat functionality will be a handy tool for reaching your goals.
Must-have messenger features:
- User profiles
- Text and audio chats
- Disappearing content
- Ability to block and report users for inappropriate behavior
- Instagram the eCommerce platform
Instagram went above and beyond a simple photo sharing app. Today, there are more than 25 million business accounts on Instagram, and ad-generated revenue on the platform exceeded $20 billion in 2019.
eCommerce businesses can post, promote and advertise products, sell, and collaborate on Instagram. Discover Instagram business account functionality and come up with a plan for how to make your product more suitable for business needs.
Must-have eCommerce features:
- Customizable profiles
- Product listings
- Paid posts
- Targeted promotions and advertising
- Analytics tools to track metrics (profile views, post views, post shares, etc.)
An Instagram-like app for eCommerce may be organized like a peer-to-peer (P2P) marketplace, where each user can be both a seller and a buyer. Learn more about the P2P marketplace model on our blog.
Instagram technology stack
What about the tools that make Instagram tick? Let’s take a look at critical components of the Instagram technology stack:
- Python/Django on the server side
- React Native for the iOS and Android mobile apps
- PostgreSQL database
- Amazon S3 and some other Amazon products for cloud computing services
- Webpack for DevOps tasks
Based on our experience, we can offer you several more options for developing an Instagram-like app that are more affordable in terms of the development cost and allow you to build high-quality products. You can consider this technology stack for developing your MVP:
- Node.js or PHP for server-side development
- Angular or Vue.js as an alternative to React.js
- React Native or Ionic for mobile apps
- MongoDB or another database
The options are many. The only way to make the right choice for your product is to compare your requirements to the capabilities of each particular tool.
Now let’s answer the core question of this article: How can you build an app similar to Instagram? What steps should you take and what features should you implement?
In the next section, we’ll give you the answers.
Making your plans a reality: Steps to launch a viable MVP
Learn how to launch a striking MVP and attract initial investments.
Add color to your ideas
No, there’s no need to grab a canvas and a palette. What you do need to do is make sure you see your idea clearly at the beginning of your MVP development process. Try to add some significant details to transform your vision from
“I want to build an app like Instagram”
“I want to build an app like Instagram for students at a local college.”
and, finally, to
“I want to build an app like Instagram for students at a local college who are keen on graphical design, appreciate minimalism, and may be interested in feedback from other users who share their interests.”
Then hone your vision with precise answers to these questions:
- What are your potential users interested in? What is their passion?
- Why do they need your app? To get to know their classmates better? To share their hobbies or ideas? To promote their creative products?
Each of your answers will take you closer to a profitable product.
Establishing a clear vision and a clear goal is your first step to success.
Proceed with market research
Now it’s time to make sure there’s a real demand on the market. During your market research, you can discover even more ways to attract users to your app. Or you can refocus, just like the Instagram founders did, and come up with a more viable product idea.
Shortlist your requirements
At the initial stage of your marketplace growth, you may have a bunch of ideas and a long list of critical features. But let’s remember how Facebook started: as a website with an extremely minimalist design and shockingly poor functionality. Then look at what it is now.
The point is to follow the principle of iterations. At the beginning, you need to develop basic features and show them to potential investors and your first users. With their feedback, you can prove your concept is viable and has potential. Later, with more resources, you can invest in developing further functionality. Repeat the process as long as you want your app wants to remain alive.
Shortlist the features for your MVP. For example, start with these:
- Sign-up and sign-in
Allow users to sign up for and sign in to your app via existing social media accounts (such as Facebook accounts).
- Content uploading
Make uploading content fast and seamless, and add a text form under photos so users can create engaging posts.
- Photo editing
Simple crop functionality or a couple of filters will work for your MVP
- Likes and comments
Help users interact with each other on your platform.
- Search bar
Keyword-based search will help users find interesting people and photos with hashtags and locations.
- Location-based functionality
Integrating your app with Google Maps or the Facebook Places API can improve the user experience and make your app competitive.
- News feed
Show users content published by their contacts.
- Messaging functionality
Depending on the purpose of your app, messaging may be optional. However, by looking at the example of Instagram, we can assume this feature may be valuable for acquiring and engaging users.
- Push notifications
Send users instant notifications when someone likes or comments on their posts or sends a private message.
Proceed with engineering tasks
Think about how your target audience will use your app to decide how to organize the development process.
- Start by launching a web app so users can access it in a browser on either a mobile device or desktop.
- Start by launching a mobile app so users can download the app on their smartphones. Additionally, create a website landing page to promote your product.
Mobile app development is an extremely hot topic. Generation Z and Millenials prefer using their smartphones to interact with a variety of software products. There are two different approaches to mobile app development:
- Build separate native mobile applications for iOS and Android.
- Go with cross-platform development and roll out a single app for various platforms.
Developing a native app requires more time and dedication. You’ll need deep expertise in Swift for iOS development and Java or Kotlin for Android development. Since you’ll be building two different apps that only share a name and design, it takes more time and money to launch native mobile apps compared to a cross-platform app.
The other option is the cross-platform approach. With cross-platform development, software engineers create a single codebase for multiple platforms. Tools like Ionic and React Native play the main role here. With their help, you can save time, as there’s no need to build two different apps. With React Native and similar tools, you can launch an app fast and for multiple platforms.
As some of the most successful companies demonstrate, you don’t need to sacrifice quality when you choose cross-platform development. React Native is an important component of the Instagram technology stack. The Instagram founders first launched a native iOS app, then proceeded with a native Android app. Later, in 2015, they integrated React Native to increase development velocity. The results have been awesome!
React Native isn’t just about saving time and money. This tool is used by world-class companies and allow developers to simultaneously integrate exceptional features into both iOS and Android apps.
But who can deliver a cross-platform app for you?
With a solid technical background, you can start developing a cross-platform app yourself. However, get ready to invest an impressive amount of time in coding. Building an app all by yourself may take too much time and provide your potential competitors with an opportunity to become pioneers in your niche within the local market. At the same time, the development process may be exhausting and even depressing.
Cooperating with a software development team is your chance to win more time for business development and app promotion. While your engineers are busy making your app better with each sprint, you can reach out to investors and make plans for how to make your product profitable. Consider software development outsourcing as a method to hire an entire team at once, save money, and build a reliable long-term business relationship.
A typical app development team includes these professionals:
- 1 UI/UX designer
- 1–2 mobile developers
- 1–2 backend developers
- 1 QA engineer
- 1 project manager
You can either start a recruitment and hiring campaign in your local market and bring the entire team together in your office, or you can opt for outsourcing software development. Since remote work has turned from a trend to a necessity in 2020, software development outsourcing has earned even more favor. Outsourcing development helps you save money, which is crucial in the initial stages of startup development and allows you to find a dependable development partner with proficiency in a specific niche.
While your engineering team is busy turning your requirements into software, you can focus on significant business development tasks. Attracting investors tops the list.
Ten years ago, the Instagram team was lucky to meet representatives of Baseline Ventures and Andreessen Horowitz at a party. In Silicon Valley, such miracles are possible. But what about in the rest of the world?
Meeting and establishing relationships with investors can be time-consuming and challenging. Among the tried and tested ways to raise funds for a startup are:
- Joining a startup accelerator
- Government grants
We’ve prepared a detailed overview of more methods of fundraising for a startup, so check it out to find more ideas.
In addition to raising funding, consider adding another monetization strategy to your business plan. Once your app turns into a full-featured product used by many students from your local college, you can make your app a white-label product and sell it to other institutions.
Measure your results and keep growing
As a startup founder, you’re going to deal with many tasks and obligations. One of them is analytics. Keep an eye on the number of your app’s users, their engagement and feedback, the size of your team, the success of your colleagues, the situation on the market, and much more.
While implementing improvements one by one, make sure to measure the impact of each new feature on your business. Demonstrate this impact to your potential investors using infographics to win their trust and sympathy. Work on your blossoming brand and make your business grow.
Is there enough room in the market for your app like Instagram?
Sure there is. Instagram has unintentionally created a widening gap in the market for a new solution. There are several key critiques of and user concerns about Instagram:
- Security issues
In 2017, after a massive data breach, hackers claimed to have scraped the personal data from 6 million Instagram accounts.
- Content ownership
There’s a huge problem with content rights on Instagram. Fake accounts and stolen texts, photos, and entire personalities are a serious issue. As of now, the Instagram community can only fight this by reporting suspicious or fake accounts. Still, it takes a long time for the Instagram support team to consider these reports.
- Newsfeed algorithms
Instagram influencers and businesses suffer from “shadowbanning” algorithms. Instagram users can no longer see posts in their news feeds in chronological order. The Instagram algorithm analyzes a user’s likes and activity to show only “potentially interesting” content.
- Annoying ads
Instagram has launched algorithms to organize photos in the news feed, but at the same time, their advertising algorithms fail to provide users with relevant ads. Moreover, the increasing volume of advertising posts is annoying users.
With all this in mind, you can develop a strategy for how to make your app more user-friendly than Instagram.
Online businesses have a real chance to explode in the following decade. With the rising popularity of smartphones, the reality of social distancing, and our remote-everything way of living, every software product has a chance to succeed.
There are three key factors that can bring you closer to success:
- A unique idea or a well-established idea spiced up with brand-new features
- Deep market research and confidence in your concept’s viability
- A reliable engineering partner to convert your thoughts into code
- Initial funds for MVP development
Typically, it takes four to six months to build a basic MVP of a photo-sharing app. The precise duration depends completely on your project requirements, so does the cost. At the initial stage of your product's growth, be ready to invest around $20,000 in a simple web application. Once your MVP will bring you first revenue and investments, you'll get an opportunity to develop it to a full-feature app.
Do you have lingering questions about developing a photo and video sharing app? Wondering what the perfect tech stack may look like or what methods to employ to reach the best results? Contact us and get one step closer to being a unicorn.