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Kevin worked at Google for a couple of years and Mike went on to work
at Meebo before they decided to get together and start their company.
They do have wonderful things to tell us about their experience,
and I won't get in the way and let them start.
So welcome back to Stanford. Thank you so much. Thank you, Tina.
Thanks so much for having us, Tina, and Stanford.
It's great to be back here. I remember...
how many years ago now, four or five...
sitting in this exact room and watching people stand up and
give advice about entrepreneurship and their experience,
and it's a little surreal to be standing up and giving back.
But it's a really exciting opportunity because,
I think in the past year or so since
we started what would become Instagram, we've learned a lot.
And today what we want to do is go through a series
of myths that we think we had learned along the way,
or thought were true along the way.
And as we did Instagram and as we went through
the process of founding this company,
we learned that not all of them were necessarily true.
So the big caveat here today is,
although we're saying all this stuff, experience is what matters.
And going through your own experience in a startup is
really what helps you debunk these myths as well.
So this is our chance to share some learning with you guys.
My background, obviously, I went to Stanford. Mike went to Stanford.
I studied MS&E, Mike, you studied... SymSys. ... SymSys here.
And that was the beginning of our entrepreneurship
experience in the Mayfield Fellows program.
Like Tina said, we both had really amazing internships
then that got us to get interested in entrepreneurship
and get excited about doing it when we got out.
And both of us after a year or so of working in a
larger company decided we wanted to do something.
And hopefully today, through that experience,
we can shed a little light on what we learned.
What we're doing today, Instagram,
is kind of interesting because it came out of
something we were doing before that didn't quite work.
How many people here have actually heard of Instagram/use it? OK.
Awesome. Most of the room.
How many people have heard of Burbn/use it? Used it.
Yeah, like three people. That's awesome.
So that's why we started working on Instagram because
that's basically the number of hands that went up
in the room when we were working on it.
Burbn was this check-in app that lets
you check into different places,
and while you were doing that allowed you to share
pictures or videos of what you were doing.
Long story short, we worked on that for a little while
and then realized it wasn't really going anywhere.
But the thing people loved the most about it was
actually sharing images of what they were doing.
So today, Instagram has about a little less than four million
users all sharing images of what they're doing out in the
real world through their iPhones on a daily basis.
How many mobile photos do we upload per day about now? It's like...
Jesus, six a second, more or less. So whatever that times...
Yeah, it's a lot. And this is pretty awesome to be in this position
only six or seven months after having launched.
But the myths we're going to talk about today,
I think, really helped us get to the next level and start Instagram
by learning that those myths weren't necessarily true.
So to start, I think Mike's going to
bring you through the first myth.
So the first one, when you're just starting out and
you're dealing with the bucket of uncertainty that
is being an entrepreneur and getting started,
you want to latch on to things that you've seen before.
We really quickly learned that you just cannot
really learn to be an entrepreneur from a book,
a blog or a talk, and it turns out that a day on the job was worth a
year of experience and what happens is the collection of experiences
and knowledge you can get from those sources are super important.
And I'm not dismissing them entirely as
something that you should just ignore,
but that first day when you're starting to make those decisions
where the data isn't really there and there hasn't been
a blog post posted to Hacker News that was like,
'Deciding what to do on the first day of startup'
or 'Making this really tough decision',
it turns out a lot of it is very specific to your
situation and all you can really learn to do beforehand
is try to deal with that uncertainty.
So making snap decisions or quick decisions
in the face of a lot of uncertainty.
We'll hit up on situations early on where we weren't sure
if we were going to take Instagram a follow model,
for example like Twitter, or more friendship like Facebook.
And there is just no blog,
book or talk that we could've ever really seen beforehand
that would have taught us to do either of those things,
since that was about sitting down and saying,
'Well, what do we know beforehand? What does our gut tell us?'
And trusting your gut, I think, is a theme of this talk.
And so developing a better gut is the
work you can invest in beforehand,
and then saying, 'All right, let's invest in this.
Let's stay the course for a while and really see it through,'
rather than wavering for months at a time being,
'Oh, why don't we build both?
Then we'll switch off,'
maybe make it a preference like 'worst mistake ever,'
give up on making that decision and instead make it a preference,
and so and so forth where you're having these micro decisions
that in the end sum up to what becomes your product basically.
And we really rapidly found that,
as tempting as it is to go search off for
prior accounts of something similar,
that's not decision is what makes a difference.
But what you can be doing is doing quick projects,
side projects during school,
even when you're outside when you're doing a job.
And most of what we learned and applied into our startup
were things that we were doing on the weekends which,
depending on the companies,
either something encouraged or discouraged.
But usually if you're excited enough about something
you will find the time to work in it.
The other thing is, once you do start a startup,
it's super tempting to get caught up
in the meta part of doing a startup,
so going to entrepreneurship events and being,
'Yes, I want to talk about being an entrepreneur.'
We were incubated at Dogpatch Labs, which was a great experience.
We were surrounded by 30 startups, a rotating cast.
We were there for probably longer than anybody else. Too long.
We saw three or four different classes of startups go through that.
And the successful ones were the ones that were in it 9 am
and left at 10 or 11 pm and were just putting in the work,
and not the ones that showed up at 10, hung around, left at 6,
who in my opinion were doing a startup as a lifestyle
choice because they didn't want a boss.
That's not really a good enough reason to do a startup.
It should be that you wake up and you're obsessed
with this idea and you want to make it happen,
and you're not there to hang around in this
club or have this fun chat with people.
And that distinction wasn't that apparent to
me Day 1 because everybody's doing a startup, this should be a thing.
And then one month in people were like, "You guys work really hard."
We kept hearing that comment at Dogpatch, and we were.
We were working the hours that we felt we wanted
to throw into the startup.
And I guess it's a gut check if you're finding yourself getting drawn
into the meta part of the startup of being an entrepreneur,
of being really excited about...
Somebody said to us earlier, the phrase was like,
"You can't call yourself an entrepreneur. Somebody
has to call you an entrepreneur in a way."
And it's true. It's very tempting to get caught up in that.
And I would encourage you to step back a little bit and find out
the only thing that ships products and the only thing ultimately
end users care about is the product you deliver to them,
not how will they talk about you in TechCrunch or exactly
who your investors were or which events you attended.
Another myth that we encountered as we started our company...
we talked to our friends who were holding
back from starting companies...
is that startups only come from Computer Science students.
Neither Kevin nor I studied Computer Science.
And that's something that we're actively proud of,
not because Computer Science is a bad degree by any means but
because it means you can get the technical chops you need to get
things off the ground to get things prototyped and shipped.
We built all of the initial version of Instagram ourselves
from things we mostly just were self-taught in.
The early Twitter employees, none of them even went to college,
and our first engineering hire didn't go to college, either.
I think with Twitter, maybe they didn't finish college.
Maybe they went to it. But it turns out there's things you can
do in school that I think are valuable,
and when you're trying to pick courses and
figure out where to focus your time,
the classes I look back to now and think,
'Wow, these are the ones that helped me deal with that uncertainty
day to day' are the ones where Day 1 of the quarter they tell you,
'We don't know what you're going to be
doing for the rest of the quarter. You'll get this at the d.school
a lot and all of the entrepreneurship classes.
It's your job to ask the question,
figure out the question that you're going to tackle,
and then answer it for the rest of the quarter.'
And that's just a very different experience from,
well, 'These are the 10 problems that you're going
to tackle and then we'll deliver them at the end.'
And, of course, going through those
motions is really important as well,
but having that ability to ask the question...
and Kevin will talk a little bit more about this in the next one...
but also just work through the rest of that quarter.
And the rest of it is, the engineering we end up doing we call
'Sink or Swim School of Engineering'.
So we launched on this little machine server in Los Angeles.
We had no idea what we were doing.
We were like, 'Well, maybe some people would sign up.'
Within 24 hours, we had so much demand on that one machine that all of
a sudden we had to scale out to what we now have, millions of users.
None of us had touched Amazon's cloud
platform at all before launching;
we'd kind of heard of it but shied away from it.
And it turns out that there's no motivation stronger than
a bunch of people knocking at your door saying,
"I want to use your product. Fix your thing." We'd put in a lot of...
I don't really remember the first two months
of our startup because we didn't sleep,
and I think short-term memory goes out of the way.
I'm told we put in a lot of late nights that were all about saying,
'What do we need to do to get our products
to a place where people can keep using it,
get excited about it, scale to the challenge?'
And you'll learn those things because you're bright and intelligent,
you started a company because you trust yourself.
So having that faith and not shying away
from a big challenge because you're,
'Well, what if we're successful? We won't know how to scale...'
I barely really knew how to use a lot of the Linux
Sysadmin stuff and now we know it really well,
and if we did it again we'd have a totally different approach.
But it's a little bit of zen beginner's mind:
you focus on the simple, important stuff first if you're not
worried about scaling ahead of time.
It's really good to have friends that are Computer Science students.
Absolutely. It's all the building that network. Week 1...
I had worked at Meebo beforehand and
I was doing mostly frontend development,
so I wasn't doing a lot of hardcore scaling stuff...
and I remember 8 am in the morning I'd be waking up
my friends who led more normal jobs and be like,
'I have no idea what this means.
How do I do this?' They'd come in, we'd buy them beer.
And you build that network and they'll help you out
because they're excited about what you're doing,
and it becomes less about feeling like you're
the entire source of knowledge for yourself. Right.
And I think what I'd add to the original point of going to events or
talks is that it turns out what you get from those things aren't necessarily
the takeaway is that we're going to put up here on the board,
but it's the people sitting next to you,
it's the people you meet before the event, after the event.
The people that you're sitting next to chatting
with them about the stuff that you're doing,
they'll end up being the most valuable part of your
entrepreneurship experience going down the line.
The fact that I remember being at a party...
I think it was maybe sophomore year in college
when Facebook had just moved out,
and I ran into Adam D'Angelo who was the
CTO at that time at this little party.
And we kind of kept in touch since.
And on the day we went down that first day we launched,
we had all these problems.
I was like, 'Who's the smartest person I know who I can call up?'
And Adam spent 30 minutes on the phone with us just walking
us through the basic things we needed to do to get back up.
Those little events are the things that matter.
So as much as you're paying attention to the stuff on the slides,
make sure you spend some time after the talk
getting to know the people around you. Absolutely.
I think Myth Number 3 that I'd like to talk about,
this is something I had no clue about.
It was that finding the solution to the problem is the hardest part.
I always thought like,
you're faced with these problems that people have,
you assume that you know exactly what you're going to tackle,
and the hard part is finding that algorithm.
The hard part is scaling that solution. It turns out...
thank you, Mike...
that the hard part is actually finding the problem to solve.
Solutions actually come pretty easily for the majority of problems.
Not for every problem, but for the majority of problems.
And in our case, what we did is when we sat down
and we were deciding to work on Instagram,
what we did was we wrote down the top five problems
people have with mobile photos because we wanted
to build a product that solved problems.
We didn't want to just build a cool app
to look for a problem that people had.
We wanted to do it the other way around.
So what we did was we listed out these five problems.
And I remember the top three that we circled.
Number 1 was that mobile photos don't look so great.
We've all had that experience...
you're seeing the sunset, you take a snapshot,
and it looks washed out, you can barely see the sun, etcetera.
And we were like, 'That's the major problem we want to solve.'
Number 2 was that uploads on mobile phones take a really long time.
So we were like, 'What could we do around that?'
Well, maybe if we started the upload way before
you're done even editing the photo's caption,
and what if we sized down the photo just to fit
perfectly on the screen but nothing else?
And that's the small little problem and solution that it turns out really
delights people because they press 'done' entering their caption,
it's already been uploaded.
The third problem was that we really wanted to allow
you to share out to multiple services at once.
We felt like, should you have to make the decision
of taking a photo with a Facebook app,
the Twitter app, so on and so on,
or should you just take it in one place and
distribute it to many places at once?
Those top three problems allowed us to really
hone in on what solution we wanted to build.
And that's really what Instagram became.
I also wanted to say that once you have those
top problems that you want to solve,
you need to verify that they're actually the ones that people have.
And really the way to do that is get your product in front
of people very quickly and test that hypothesis.
I think too many people wait a long time...
and I'm going to talk about this a little later.
Too many people wait a long time to see whether or not what they're
working on is actually the problem people are having.
And the last point is that, really, you should not be afraid to have
simple solutions to simple problems.
Like I said early on, I think too many people believe you have to
solve things in a really complicated way.
And at the end of the day,
if you delight people even a little bit with a simple solution,
it turns out it goes very far.
That first day when we had something like
20,000 new users, I was like,
'Clearly there was a need for this that hadn't been done before,'
and I'm so glad we tackled those simple problems.
There's something about...
in the tech community, you always want to feel like you're working
on the hardest problem in the world.
It turns out that simple problem becomes very hard at scale.
And that's what's really exciting. In a way, we often...
in our entrepreneurship classes we hear
about the Big Hairy Audacious Goal,
like, 'What's the huge chunk you're trying to bite off and tackle?'
And one thing that really struck me was that that
Big Hairy Audacious Goal could be bringing that simple
solution to something delightful to the masses.
Yeah. And that, in itself, is a huge challenge. Yeah.
And it's something we deal with on a daily basis.
Mike has to wake up at 4 am everyday to reset servers and stuff.
I wake up with him, but I don't actually do anything.
I just say, "OK, Mike, I'm here with you." Myth Number 4...
This is what I was talking about before...
working for months to build a robust product in secrecy,
and then launch to the world.
How many people have heard of stealth startup,
started a stealth startup,
feel like they would go into entrepreneurship
and keep their ideas to themselves?
I'm going to assume that everyone's going to raise their hand,
because we've all heard of the stealth startup, how cool it sounds.
The problem with stealth startups is that you don't
get the feedback you need quickly enough.
In order to test whether you're working on the right thing or not,
you need to put it in front of people.
And I think there are certain verticals...
I'm really talking about consumer internet here specifically...
I think there are certain verticals outside of
consumer internet where stealth might make sense
if you're doing pharmaceutical or something.
But for us, getting it in front of users
was the most eye-opening experience.
I remember putting Burbn in front of people
we didn't know and they were just,
'What is this thing? What are you doing?'
We would be in a busy bar and trying to explain to them
on our mobile phones and they just wouldn't get it.
And that happened enough in front of people outside of our friend group
that it was really clear we had to work on something different.
Or at least refine the idea.
And I think that's something to keep in mind
as you're going about starting a startup.
Building the minimum viable product is super useful.
Don't build past what you need to build to answer the questions.
I think Eric Ries talks about this all the time.
He says he was at his job and he was building this 3D chat client...
the idea was you could basically link your Yahoo Messenger,
your MSN Messenger, all these different
messengers to this one 3D client...
and he spent eight weeks doing it. And then they launched it.
And no one used it.
And he said to himself, 'Couldn't I have just done one of those
platforms to prove that no one used it?'
So ask yourself, how much work do you need to do to actually
prove whether or not this thing's going to sink or swim?
The 'Sink or Swim School of Engineering'.
We should just write this book, right? It's really true, though.
Everything we do at Instagram,
we start by saying, what's the V1 of this feature?
What's the V1 of this thing that we're going to put out
in two days and test whether or not it's going to work?
I think that's super important to remember.
The last point here is failing early and failing often.
It's totally OK to fail in an organization.
You need to fail in order to find the right solution.
Often, the first thing you start off with
is not the thing you end up with.
And you should assume from the start,
your first idea is not going to be your last.
And your job is to fail your way to success.
And I think what's we did in Burbn pretty well.
We failed all the time.
And finally we woke up one morning and we were like,
'We're failing too much. We need to move a little bit to the right.'
And even in Instagram,
we failed a bunch with different features and things.
But the idea is you're constantly refining this original idea.
It's not this 'wake up one morning and have
the brilliant idea and go implement it'.
You're constantly iterating on it.
This one's kind of interesting because I feel
like in all the books I read in college,
people are like, what you want to do is you want to build this
beautiful SlideDeck with graphs going up into the right,
and you want to go up and down Sand Hill Road and tell everyone that,
'Yeah, Kleiner's in on the deal.
Are you in on the deal?' You play everyone off of each other.
When we were going to raise money, I said to Mike,
"I don't want to meet with all these people.
What I want to do is I want to seek out"...
and if we can actually show the reality...
"I want to seek out the people we really want to work with."
I think instead of optimizing for things like valuation,
you should consider optimizing for people.
There are a lot of venture capitalists
out there with a lot of knowledge, and I guarantee you,
your idea matches really well with a select group of those folks.
In a way, you have to think about bringing on venture
capital as you're hiring part of your team,
and who are the people you want to hire.
And I think far too many people you talk to, even at an angel stage,
are like, 'We need to optimize for getting some
ridiculous evaluation right out of the door.'
And then they end up with some VC firm they don't have
a lot in common with and they don't get along,
and bad things happen. It's all about the people.
And I think that's what you have to remember
when you're going out to raise money.
Find the people that believe in what you're doing,
that are going to give you the capital to achieve your goals.
The other point here is you can go off
and raise $40 million in a Series A,
but it turns out you don't need a lot of
money to get off the ground these days.
We spent like 60K to launch our first version of Instagram.
Sixty K. We had raised 500 and we were kicking
ourselves the second day after...
not after we raised, but after things started taking off.
We were like, 'We have all this money left over and we got this far.'
It turns out you can bootstrap yourself with Amazon Web services.
You need two engineers these days to do things well.
And it turns out that you can get a lot done on a shoestring budget,
especially with all these incubators and
things that are happening these days. It's something to remember.
So the main takeaway here is, optimize for people,
don't optimize for valuation.
Because if you have a great idea,
it's going to get a great valuation, you're going to do well.
But those people are what make the difference.
The second point on this slide I just want to make very
quickly is that bringing a prototype into a pitch meeting
is so much more powerful than a bunch of graphs that say
you're going to make lots of money in the future.
Prototypes are tangible.
Prototypes are things that people can sink their teeth
into and use and react to and ask questions about.
We have yet to create a pitch deck for Instagram.
We don't have a pitch deck anywhere.
It was always a prototype that we brought in and we showed.
I think that while you should probably create a pitch deck,
and that's probably not a lesson to learn from us,
what's more important is that I think people
really attach themselves to prototypes.
So that's how I think about the whole financing of startups.
And I think that while you go off to the world to start a startup,
just keep these lessons in mind.
Another myth is that starting a company is building a product.
I remember getting so excited when we were starting
Burbn that we had all these feature ideas,
we had all these product ideas to work on.
But it turns out that starting a company is 50% building
your product and 50% a lot of other stuff: bank accounts,
insurance, taxes that you didn't know existed,
filing for things in the City of San Francisco and
forms in the basement of City Hall to make sure that
your founder from Brazil can get a job with you.
There's all these other stuff that isn't about having
brilliant product ideas that takes a lot of work.
And I think when people decide on whether or not
they're going to go into entrepreneurship,
you need to remember that building a product is great,
but there is a lot of legwork involved
in getting a team off the ground,
I think specifically in recruiting a team.
Team-building is one of the most important
things when you get off the ground.
It's not just about having a great idea.
It's finding the people to bring in to make that idea happen
and supporting them by shielding them from the press and the
checking accounts that you have to set up, etcetera...
especially raising capital. That can be a huge time sink.
And you don't realize that until you get into the flow of
things that building a company is not building a product.
At the same time, it's supremely important to know that
you have to be good at building a product and that you're
going to be willing to do the legwork to do the rest.
As we wind down for the last two myths,
you might be sitting there going, 'OK, so what's next?
When will I know I'm ready?
How do I know that it's time to go and start a startup?
And what's it going to be like for the next few years?'
And it turns out, it's not the idea that's going to hit you
while you're walking down the street or in the shower.
Like Kev mentioned, I'm from Brazil originally,
and I'll do all these interviews back home where entrepreneurship
is still like a building process and it's not as much
in the culture as it is here in the Valley.
And they always ask me, "When did you have your idea?"
"What a great idea you guys have? What struck you guys?"
There was no one moment where we were like,
'Oh, yeah, photos with filters!'
Ideas really are the result of a lot of these iteration
steps that we've talked about earlier,
and your job is just to explore the solution space until
you figure out where in that solution space you fit.
And it turns out people are always,
'Well, does my idea need to be the most unique thing in the world?'
Nowadays, especially in the social space,
ideas are combinatorial. That childhood exercise where you take different
parts of the animals and you make a new animal out of it?
That's a lot of what startups are like.
You're saying like, well,
there's things about Twitter we really like,
but it frustrates us that we don't have an emotional connection
with the content that we're receiving because it's not visual.
And there's things we like about things like Hipstamatic
with these cool ways of making your photos look better,
but the photos get caught on the phone and you don't
really get to connect with your friends through them.
So these combinatorial ideas are really
where you end up having these 'Aha!' moments
later after you've explored the solution space
rather than the shower idea that ends up killing them.
And as we've mentioned before, in the sharing and discussing process
is where those ideas get refined.
So getting that consumer validation, going through those bar exams...
we call them 'bar exams'.
Like you're in the bar,
can you explain your idea and show it off to your friend
in a way that they're not going to be like...
Well, it's really loud and people are drinking and...
They have the other 50 things they want to do.
And one thing I really want to emphasize is that
careers are very much like a series of themes that
you go through and explore in your career.
If you look at Dennis Crowley at Foursquare,
he's been working on that drive,
on that idea around location and unlocking your city,
for almost 10 years or more. He's probably been thinking about it...
maybe sketching it as a kindergarten, I don't know.
And we've made photo... just like kindergarten, right?
We've been excited about photography and about
communicating the real world for years.
And probably whatever we do for the next 30 years,
we'll have some hint of that forever.
So very much so, your startup and your career is an expression
of you and your co-founders in a way that expresses what are
the themes that are going to recur throughout your careers.
And you'll know when you hit upon that for yourself because you'll
wake up every morning and you can't think of anything else.
You're in the shower and you're like,
'Oh, we can do this different thing!'
And that's when you know you've hit the great idea.
It's not necessarily the idea. It's the theme. It's the drive.
It's the problem you want to solve out in the real world.
What question are you answering?
And the good/bad news is that even once you have that
drive is that it's not going to happen overnight.
And one of my favorite quotes is from Biz Stone.
He wrote, "Twitter was an overnight success
that took five or six or seven years." And it's just absolutely true.
Things seem very obvious in retrospect and you're like,
'Well, of course, photos. Why not? That makes total sense.'
People are like, 'Oh, that idea was just waiting around forever.'
But it's the relationships you've built along the way.
It's the fact that Kevin and I knew each other through the
Mayfield Fellows program and so we had connected before,
and when he was starting to think about a co-founder,
it was someone we could connect to.
It's the fact that on the weekends back when I was working
at Meebo I really wanted to learn iPhone programming,
so I took the San Francisco crime database and I made this silly
augmented reality like 'crimes around your application'.
And then so I had a little bit of iPhone experience.
And the friends I could call at five in the morning when it's like,
'I don't know what this message means. Please help.'
And again, it's the themes that you've built up throughout your
career and the line that you're weaving throughout your life
in a way that informs your startup and makes it happen.
And it never gets easier, is what we found. Definitely.
And that's OK. And you adjust to that reality after a
few months and you stop telling people, 'Oh, when I get less busy.'
You're not going to get less busy, and that's OK.
And once you accept that and love it,
then I think your life is a lot happier as a startup founder.
But it is a long slog, and I think that's what people don't realize,
and I certainly didn't before.
You think these startups happen in the course of a year,
but it's a lifetime commitment in some ways.
I'm prepared to do this for many,
many years going forward because I feel
like we're at the tip of the iceberg. And I can see it.
We have four people in our office and
we only have four-ish million users.
I can see this becoming much, much larger.
And what excites me is that challenge.
And I think part of entrepreneurship is realizing different things
along the way are going to excite you in different ways.
And the people that grow best in companies are the people that realize
that and get really amped about the different challenges,
the different stages of the company.
And this metaphor for us, I was talking to my friend who biked from
Seattle down here to San Francisco,
and he said the biggest difference on that ride versus all
his other rides was after the first day and your legs are
sore and you can't believe if you got up again the second
day is you stop thinking about the destination and you start
thinking about the next few hills in the end of the day.
And you're saying, "Wow, all of a sudden I don't think,
'One more hill and my legs will give out. I can't go any further."
You're like, "Well, I know I've got to
go to San Francisco because if I stop,
I'm in the middle of Oregon and I have
a bike. What am I going to do?"
Day in and day out. And that mindset changed. Something clicked.
I think for me and for you as well.
All of a sudden you're like, 'All right, let's get to the next hill.
Let's keep fighting.
Let's find other people to bring on our crazy bike ride.
And who knows where San Francisco is.
It might be 10 years out, and that's fine because biking is awesome.'
And I think, really, there's no better time to start than now.
Whether you want to join a startup or whether
you want to do something yourself,
I think the best thing you can do is to start. I remember...
and I'll tell this story just because
we're at Stanford and Tina's here.
I remember studying abroad and applying
for the Mayfield Fellows program.
And I was so amped about learning how to make websites
that I made this thing called the 'Tree List' which was
a terrible knockoff of Craig's List for Stanford.
And I was studying abroad in this little room and I was making
the website in that room with no internet connectivity.
But in order to push code out, I had to go in the snow...
it was snowing in Florence at the time...
across to the library that just eked out free
WiFi out of their window and push the code. And it went up.
And I still remember people started using it at Stanford,
and I was over there in Italy and there
was this awesome connection with people.
And what I realized then was just the hunger to build
stuff and put it in front of people is really valuable
as you get moving in entrepreneurship.
And there's no reason you can't start.
If you're studying abroad, there's no reason you can't start.
there's no reason you can't pick up a book.
If you're doing something outside of consumer internet,
there's no reason you can't start thinking about the
idea and interviewing people and meeting the people
that are going to help that happen over time.
Because in the end, it is a long slog.
And what we've found is the thing that really has helped us along the
way are those little skills we picked up by hacking on the side.
So, if you're interested in working in Instagram,
please do email us: firstname.lastname@example.org.
We're looking for very talented people.
Thank you very much, everyone. That's amazing.
I'm so proud of you guys. This is so incredible to have you here.
We've got current Mayfield Fellows in the audience and I told them,
"Look ahead a few years, you guys are up next."
So I want to ask you: can you...
I'm going to open this up to the questions
from the audience in a second, but I want to start out with,
can you tell us a little bit about your working relationship?
Who does what? And has it always worked well?
Have there been tensions that have come up?
Tell us a little bit about how that works.
And then I'm going to let you moderate questions.
I think, of all the co-founders I know, we probably get along best.
I've definitely talked to co-founder
pairs that don't get along at all.
I think what you need to do in a co-founder relationship is
not necessarily decide who is good at what but realize that,
like any relationship, your goal is to figure out the other person
and figure out your relationship with them.
And through the last year or so,
we've really gotten into the groove of...
we own different parts of the day-to-day stuff,
but at the same time we use each other to bounce ideas off.
You do a lot of the iPhone clients stuff,
I do a lot of the CEO stuff of accounting,
etcetera, and do a lot of the backend coding as well.
But what happens is, because we both have our own specialties
but also overlap into each other's areas,
it really provides for this nice relationship where you can
bounce ideas off of other people or get that person to say,
"Are you sure you want to do it that way?"
And what has happened is it's that yin-yang relationship
that I really think has helped us succeed.
And it's hard to screen for ahead of time. We knew each other...
We barely knew each other. Yeah, barely knew each other.
We figured out that we can work together on a technical level
by just getting together over a bunch of weekends and saying,
'Let's build a little simple Facebook game.
It's going to take a few hours.
Let's build it together,' whatever, and you can get going.
But a lot of it ends up being, what's your gut feel?
Do your reference checks. They said nice things about you. Thank you.
So let's get going and let's see how it goes. Yeah.
It's hard because I think no matter who you work with,
you have to figure out...
And this is actually more even for employees.
Your relationship is going to be a long one,
and if you're in the entrepreneurship world,
your best ally is sitting next to you,
and you need to make sure to cherish that relationship
because that's what gets you to the next level.
The biggest source of strife I found is when there's
a disconnect between expectations as to what you're building
and how long you want to be building it for.
And it's important to both of us that are like,
'I can't imagine doing anything else in the world.
I love doing this and I want to be doing this for a really long time.
I love what I do. I love coming in.'
If people are, oh, six months to a year,
then cash out, that's going to be really difficult.
Unless you're both feeling that way,
then it's a different relationship.
But if you're in it for the long haul,
make sure that the people you know are in it as well.
It's a tough conversation and you might
lose a co-founder that way early on,
before you start, but it's much better,
I think, than going on and then six months later having that really,
really worned-down relationship.
I'm looking back... by the way, just to finish off the thought.
I can't imagine starting a company without a co-founder.
I said that to you today, Mike. Yeah.
It's such a hard job to get off the ground.
It's such a hard job to recruit people, to deal with...
whether it's investors or press.
Having someone across the way to be like,
"Man, this really bummed me out," or "How do you think about this?"
I actually think that's one of the things that has kept us going in
4 am or 5 am when we're fixing the servers or dealing with some issue.
It's been fantastic. Absolutely. Any questions from the audience?
Yeah, so, how did you find your first engineer, how did you get him?
The question was, how did we find our first engineer?
Do you want to tell this one? We were really lucky.
We were at Dogpatch Labs which is this incubator run by
Polaris Ventures up in San Francisco and we happened to
be sitting at the same table pod as this guy Shane,
who's an engineer but at the time was working with
a different startup and doing some freelance stuff.
He taught Kevin the initial steps of iPhone coding,
so we knew not only that he knew his stuff but also
he was very good at communicating information,
which is really important.
Our bar for hiring is, can they teach us a bunch of stuff,
because we were not trained in Computer Science.
We were not by any means totally knowledgeable
about everything we were building,
so who can build that can teach us.
So the fact that he had both of those assets was really important.
And it took probably three months after launch and we were
eight months into the startup process at that point.
Well, we built all of V1 ourselves.
You said you had a lot of users 24 hours after launch.
How did it happen? Where did they come from?
So the question was, we said that 24 hours after we launched
we had a lot of users sign up.
Where did they come from? How did it happen?
We get asked this question a lot.
It is not clear that we have the exact answer,
but we have some hunches.
I think the biggest thing overall was that as we
were prototyping and testing the application,
we gave it to a few folks that we knew
had very large Twitter followings...
and not necessarily very large Twitter followings overall,
but very large followings in a certain community,
specifically the designer community like
the online Web designer community,
because we felt photography and the visual element of
what we were doing really resonated with those people.
And we gave it to those specific people that have lots of following.
I remember going down the list of the top
followed people and just emailing them,
and all of them were like, 'Yeah! We'll try it out!'
And because they shared to Twitter,
I think it created this tension of, 'When is this thing launching?
When do I get to play with it?'
And that's the day when we actually launched.
I think it had that springboard effect.
I don't think that works for every startup,
and I'm not sure that I would do it
that way if I did another startup.
But I think that certainly contributed to part of it.
The thing I think that above all else makes products
spread is when they're useful and they're usable.
It turns out when you make really nice stuff that people love,
they will spread it to their friends because they'll rave about it,
they'll tell people about it.
And that's what I think at the end of the day has allowed us to
grow very quickly is that people get really excited about sharing
photos and they really get excited about applying filters to them
and it's cool to show your friend that you do this thing.
That has caused, above all else, I think, us to spread very quickly.
And a big part, we had a lot of really great press on Day 1.
And a lot of that came from the fact that
we just took all the PR upon ourselves... Kev handled most of it...
which was not like going through a PR agency.
That becomes important as you scale out and
have more targeted things you need to do,
but two founders telling their story is
a really compelling pitch to a reporter.
They were so excited to actually talk
to a founder versus some agency.
They were like, "Really? You guys worked on this?"
And it was this freshness that I think allowed
them to get really excited about it. Totally. Yes.
In terms of staying lean and hiring and recruiting,
how do you balance... I'm sure you guys get a lot of people who
want to work with Instagram, right?
How do you balance basically really smart,
really talented people who fit in well with your team and hiring
and growing that team versus staying as small as possible?
What's the trade-offs there that you think about carefully? Right.
So the question is, what are the trade-offs between
growing the team and staying as small as possible?
I don't think we ever want to stay as small as possible.
I think there's a certain stage where...
or let me put it another way.
As you're growing your company,
there's this natural height for something that age.
It's just like humans.
There's a natural height for a three-year-old,
and you can be within a certain range.
I think the wrong thing to do is be six-feet-tall as a one-year-old.
Hire up 40 people and decide you're going to attack some
problem really quickly and you haven't even launched yet.
I think, at the same time,
when you are six months old and you have two people
and you're proving out an idea just to get traction,
that's great, because it turns out there's not a lot of disagreement.
We're sitting there, we can look across the table,
make split-second decisions, and move very, very quickly.
But at a certain point you have to start
refining your idea and scaling it out.
And at a certain point,
the fact that you only have four people becomes the bottleneck.
So I think what my answer would be is,
don't shoot for one or the other.
Shoot for the natural height of your company.
Shoot for where you are in the life cycle of your company.
Absolutely. Does that make sense? Yeah. I agree with that.
Anything else? In the back?
Question on how do you guys as entrepreneurs
think about work-life balance?
These are your best years and you're working all the time. Yeah.
That's a great question.
So the question was, how do we think about work-life balance?
I think we should have a two-part answer because I bet
we think about it similarly but also very differently.
We both have girlfriends,
which I think naturally means that we cannot work all the
time because they get very angry at us if we do that.
At the same time, it's great.
And I end up deciding that there is a way to work hard.
It doesn't mean you need to work long.
I think that you can burn yourself out really easily if every
single night you're up to 3 am and you sleep three hours.
I don't function if I don't sleep for eight hours,
which is terrible for an entrepreneur.
At the same time, when you do work,
not having TechCrunch open on the side,
not having IRC channels open on the side.
I make a really concerted effort for when I am working to
work on the most important things so that I can go home at
the end of the day and spend time with my girlfriend,
spend time with my friends on the weekend.
And I think that's helped us out,
which is that focus of working on the most important
stuff means that we create the work-life balance.
What happens is when you don't have that balance,
things start to go out of your life and I think that
that causes you to not work as well at work.
I think everyone has, again, their natural height,
they have their natural balance.
But it's never like a question of when
I'm working or when I'm playing.
Work is 24/7 for me,