The exciting life and rise of Instagram's CEO, the guy who shocked Facebook by quitting 6 years after selling his company to Mark Zuckerberg for $1 billion

Reuters Pictures/Lucas Jackson

After eight years, the founders of Instagram are leaving the company.

CEO Kevin Systrom and CTO Mike Krieger announced Monday that they are departing the mega-popular photo sharing social network , which was bought by Facebook for $US1 billion in 2012. The news came following months of turmoil and scandals for Facebook, and reportedly comes amid tension between the founders and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

Still, it’s something of a surprise that Systrom and Krieger would leave the app they built from scratch. Instagram grew out of Systrom’s love of photography, and has since become one of the most popular social media apps in the world – in fact, Instagram hit 1 billion active users earlier this year.

Here’s how Systrom got his start and built Instagram into what it is today.

Systrom was born in Holliston, Massachusetts, a wealthy suburb of Boston. His father worked as a human resources executive, while his mother worked in tech — first at Monster and Swapit, and later at Zipcar.


Source: The Guardian,Fortune

As a teenager, Systrom was obsessed with record collecting and deejaying. While still in high school, he used to have his friends sneak him into clubs in the Boston area to open for established DJs.


Source: Fortune

Systrom applied early decision to Stanford University. He had planned to study computer science, but once he arrived, decided to switch majors to management science and engineering.

Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

Source: Fortune

Systrom soon became interested in photography, and built a photo sharing site for his fraternity brothers in his spare time. During his junior year, he spent a semester in Florence to study photography.

It was in Florence that Systrom stumbled upon the aesthetic that would define Instagram in the early days: one of his professors showed him a cheap film camera called a Holga, which takes hip, vintage-looking photos.

Source: Fortune

Right before his senior year at Stanford, Systrom interned at a podcasting company called Odeo. Odeo was founded by Evan Williams, who went on to create Twitter. Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey was also working at Odeo at the time, and he and Systrom became good friends.

Andrew Burton/Getty ImagesJack Dorsey, left, and Evan Williams

Source: Fortune

After graduation, Systrom was offered a job at Google. For the first two years out of school, Systrom handled marketing for Gmail and Google Calendar. He later switched to Google’s M&A division.

Source: Fortune

After three years at Google, Systrom left to work at a social travel recommendation startup called Nextstop. The company was acquired by Facebook in July 2010.

Steve Jennings/Getty ImagesFacebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

Source: Fortune, Business Insider

Around the same time, Systrom began working on his own app, which he initially named Burbn after his favourite spirit. The app combined location-based social networking and photo sharing.

Marcio Jose SanchezKevin Systrom, at left, works alongside engineer Shayne Sweeney in San Francisco in April 2011.

Source: Fortune

Venture capitalist Steve Anderson of Baseline Ventures decided to invest $US250,000 in Burbn, even though it was still in its early stages. Marc Andreessen and Ben Horowitz contributed another $US250,000 in the same round.

Source: Fortune

Soon after, Systrom brought on Mike Krieger as a cofounder. Krieger also graduated from Stanford, just two years behind Systrom. Before joining Systrom, Krieger was working on his own app called Meebo.

Paul Zimmerman/Getty Images

Source: Fortune

Soon after Krieger joined, the pair decided to pivot Burbn, eliminating most of the features to focus solely on photo sharing. But the real “a-ha moment” came while Systrom was on the beach with his now-wife, Nicole.

Here’s how Systrom explained it to the Telegraph:

We were walking along the beach and I said that we needed something to help us [the company] stand out. Nicole then said, “Well, I don’t want to take photos, because my photos don’t look good. They’re not as good as your other friend Greg’s.”

He was also using the early product [Burbn]. I told her that was because Greg used filter apps. So she just said, “Well, you should probably have filters then.”

Systrom then sat down to make a filter. The first one, called X-Pro II, it still used in the app today.

Systrom and Krieger officially changed the name to Instagram in October 2010. The name is a combination of “instant” and “telegram.” When the app went live, more than 25,000 people downloaded it in the first 24 hours, crashing Instagram’s servers.

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Source: Fortune, Business Insider

A month after launching, Instagram had grown to 1 million users. Nine months later, that was up to 7 million.

Source: Business Insider, Fortune

In April 2012, Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook acquired Instagram for $US1 billion. Going into the deal, Systrom owned 40% of Instagram.


Source: Business Insider,Forbes

These days, Systrom is worth an estimated $US1.4 billion. He spends his time cycling, playing golf, and travelling, and he’s interested in fashion. He’s met and worked with several well-known designers, and he’s attended the Met Gala multiple times.

Source: Forbes, The Guardian,Business Insider

On the Halloween of 2015, Systrom married Nicole Schuetz, a fellow Stanford grad and the founder of clean energy investment firm Sutro Energy Group. The couple now has a daughter together, Freya.

Source: Vogue

The Systroms also share a golden retriever named Dolly. She has her own Instagram account, with more than 21,000 followers.

These days, Instagram is one of the most-used apps and services in the world. In June, the app hit 1 billion active users.

Reuters Pictures/Lucas Jackson

Source: Business Insider

Despite Instagram’s success, however, there have reportedly been growing tensions with Zuckerberg “over the direction of the product.” In September, Systrom and Krieger abruptly announced that they were stepping down as CEO and CTO, respectively.

Systrom said in a statement that they both plan “on taking some time off to explore our curiosity and creativity again.”

Source: Business Insider

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