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An unfiltered look at how Instagram found its focus

This month marks five years since Instagram started snapping up users in a flash
Unfiltered look at Instagram's global phenomenon 07:27

This month marks five years since Instagram started snapping up users in a flash. More than 40 billion photos later, the social media phenomenon keeps finding new ways to capture hearts and eyes.

In Silicon Valley, Kevin Systrom has proven a picture is worth more than a thousand words, reports "CBS This Morning" co-host Gayle King.

In October 2010, Systrom and co-founder Mike Kreiger launched Instagram, a photo sharing app now used by 400 million people around the world.

"We pressed the button a little bit after midnight to launch it to the Apple App Store," Systrom said. "And immediately, people just started flowing in, all these email addresses signing up. The first day, we had 25,000 people sign up. And, you know, both of us kind of looked at each other and--"

"Said, 'Whoa,'" King said.

"Yeah," Systrom responded.

Before developing Instagram, Systrom called on Krieger, a software engineer, to work on a location sharing app called "Burbn."

"So he went to it said a new way of communicating and sharing in the real world, and I was excited about being able to help people tell their stories when they're out and about. Not when they're at their computers at home, you know, downloading 100 photos from their last weekend, but that instant right then and there," Krieger said.

"What did you see, Kevin?" King asked.

"A hope and a dream and not much reality," Systrom responded. "So we just had to go after the idea that we could create an app that let people take advantage of the phone in their pocket. ...We sat down in a room together one of those first days, and we listed out the things that people loved the most about Burbn. At the very top was photography. And we just circled it and I remember we crossed everything off. And then from that point forward, we worked on Instagram."

Today Systrom and Krieger are joined by a team of 250 employees. Instagram's headquarters, shared with other tech businesses like their parent company Facebook, has the community feel of a college campus. Inside there are conference rooms named after popular hashtags, including #TBT and #SELFIE, where employees strategize to create new ideas.

The name Instagram came from a "very long brainstorming exercise," Krieger said.

"It's also helpful having a co-founder, because we knew the kind of things we had to get done before launch. We also knew we needed a name," he added.

Among the names rejected were "Gather" and "Instalux."

"It's funny, I distinctly remember the exact moment when we saw Instagram. And we were both kinda like, 'Yeah. That could work,'" Systrom said.

The photo platform has helped give rise to the selfie, and even some who thought they'd never take them find themselves snapping one.

"If you look at art throughout history, a dominant subject is pictures of people. So portraits are not a new thing. It just means that now instead of paying someone to paint your portrait, you can tap a button and you have an instant portrait. And it's kind of cool to think of an entire generation of people get to record their lives and look back on them," Systrom said.

When King observed there were ads on Instagram these days, Krieger said, "someone's gotta pay the bills."

"Instagram is not cheap to run. And we wanna make sure we can invest for the future," Systrom said.

An average of 80 million photos are shared on Instagram each day. Giving people a platform to share their view of the world is what Systrom is most proud of.

"There were, you know, riots in Baltimore. And Devin Allen, a photographer on the ground, was taking photos as a photojournalist, but really as an Instagram user. And one of the photos he posted to Instagram became the cover of Time," Systrom said. "When snowstorm Juno hit in this past winter, the front cover of The New York Times the next morning was a series of Instagram images by normal people just using Instagram. And I think it speaks volumes to the power of citizen journalism and citizen participation and photography being out in the world."

Instagram was only two years old when Facebook took notice of its "cool" factor. In 2012 Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerburg signed a $1 billion deal with Instagram to purchase the app.

"It's one of those things where there's clear pros and cons," Krieger said.

"It's our baby. ...There are so many things still to this day that we think of that we'd like to do with it," Systrom said. "So it was, you know, is this gonna mean we don't get to do what we love, will it get away from us? You know, he's talking about it being independent. But will it really play out that way, what are we giving up?"

"Is there a little, teeny, teeny, tiny part of you all that just thinks, 'God, we shoulda just kept it 'cause all of it would be ours?'" King asked.

"I would say that if we were in a bad spot right now," Systrom said. "If we weren't growing as quickly as we are, if monetization didn't look as promising as it does. I'd worry about it, but frankly, at the end of the day, an entrepreneur measures their impact they have on the world."

As for Zuckerberg, he will have opinions about how Instagram does things, Krieger said.

"You can tell it took maybe a year actually for him to fully settle into how he works with us, because with other product groups, he's like, 'You guys are doing this. This is why.'" he added.

"There are numerous times where I've said, 'No, we're not gonna do that.' And [Zuckerberg's] like, 'Are you sure? Because I really would do it the other way.' And like, 'Yeah, we're gonna do it this way.' And much to his credit, he's allowed us to run this thing very independently," Systrom said. "And I know there are times where we don't necessarily agree. Sometimes I'm wrong. Sometimes he's right. Basically, we find that it's 50-50. And I think that's part of the fun part of learning."

"And now I look at Instagram and I can't imagine the world without Instagram," King said. "Such a good name, too, Instagram, such a great name."

"We could've called it anything, and as long as people loved it. But the good news is, we didn't call it Gather," Systrom said, laughing.

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