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Full transcript: Instagram CEO Kevin Systrom on Recode Decode

Instagram is doing just fine under the Facebook umbrella.

The Inaugural Girlboss Rally Vivien Killilea/Getty Images for Girlboss

On this episode of Recode Decode, hosted by Kara Swisher, Instagram’s co-founder and CEO Kevin Systrom stopped by the studio to talk about how his app is thriving inside Facebook, what he thinks about innovation and copying, and why Instagram isn’t as much of a cesspool as the rest of the internet.

You can read some of the highlights from the interview at that link, or listen to it in the audio player below. We’ve also provided a lightly edited complete transcript of their conversation.

If you like this, be sure to subscribe to Recode Decode on Apple Podcasts, Google Play Music, TuneIn or Stitcher.


Kara Swisher: Hi, I’m Kara Swisher, executive editor of Recode. Today in the red chair is Kevin Systrom, the CEO of Instagram. The little app you might have heard of. He co-founded the company in 2010 with Mike Krieger. And in April 2012, they sold it to Facebook for $1 billion. In April, Instagram announced it had more than 700 million active users. I know Kevin pretty well. I’ve written profiles on him. I’ve known him since the beginning of Instagram. Welcome to Recode Decode.

Kevin Systrom: Thanks for having me.

No problem.

Yeah.

So it’s amazing how large Instagram has gotten. So talk a little bit about that journey, because when we met, you had just sold to Facebook, I think, and you had just sort of started off on your journey there.

Right.

Let’s review for people that don’t know. We have a wider listener base about what you were thinking when you founded it. It was, as I recall, it moved from thing to thing to thing before it finally hit on what it became.

I started this app called Bourbon. It wasn’t even an app, actually. It was a website that worked ... It was optimized for the mobile phones. So the dirty secret of Instagram is that I didn’t know how to make an app so I just made a website instead and I went around marketing it to VCs as like, “Hey, HTML5 is the future. Forget about apps, this works on Android and IOS.” But the dirty secret was I didn’t know how to make an app.

Right.

So it turns out that a couple people believed me, Andreessen Horowitz and Baseline Ventures. And they were like, this is great but find a co-founder to go work on this because you got to learn how to make an app. And I ran into Mike Krieger who was a classmate of mine at Stanford and he was one of the original beta users of this app called Bourbon. And the original idea was that you would check in at a place. This is like the old idea of check in — so you’re at a bar, you’re at a concert. You check in and you tell all your friends where you’re at. So it was popular with all of a 100 people.

So Foursquare?

It was basically Foursquare, Gowalla, but it had a couple really interesting features. So No. 1 ...

God, I forgot about Gowalla. Go ahead.

Remember? Yeah. Like all the rage around check-ins. So the first feature was plans. So you could say hey, I’m planning on being at this place, this time, anyone want to join me? It was a way of socializing and gathering people together at a location in the future. So that was like a unique angle.

It was. There was one in Japan called ImaHima, I think i told you about.

Oh, really?

Yeah, in 2002 I remember meeting with the founder. It was that, “I’m here having a beer.”

I’m having a beer or I’m gonna have a beer. And I thought that was pretty innovative but it wasn’t innovative enough to really garner attention, because we would give this app to people and they’d be like, “Okay, first of all, it’s not an app. It’s a website. Learn how to make an app.” And the second thing is like this plan thing is cool but like it’s not cool enough to use versus Foursquare or Gowalla.

But the one feature we had that I think really set it apart was being able to post a photo. And people would go to a bar, post a photo of the beer they were drinking or whatever they were eating or they were at a park. And it was a really cool way to see what all your friends were up to.

Sure, visual. You weren’t thinking the visual internet, were you?

No, no. At the time ... I had an iPhone 3G, like the old school one, not even the 3GS. And the camera’s pretty crummy, no offense to the folks that worked on that camera but listen, it was crummy back in the day. And as we saw people posting photos on this check-in app, we started realizing hey, there’s like a thing there. And Mike and I had this soul-searching moment where we sat down in this room. We had just met with someone from Andreessen Horowitz who looked at us with a blank stare when they heard we were doing a check-in app. And we were like, this isn’t going to work. We need to differentiate somehow.

Right.

And we wrote down the things people loved about Bourbon. It was plans, it was some of the gamification stuff, and then it was the photos. And we crossed the first two off cause we were like, I don’t know, plans seems niche. The gamification stuff seems ... I don’t know, it’s everywhere. And then the last one was photos. And we were like, you know what, there’s some people working on photos on the mobile phone. There was Treehouse at the time. I don’t know if you remember that? There was Pic Please, there were a bunch of these apps that were all trying to do photos.

I looked at Mike and I was like, “Mike, I think there’s something around photos because these cameras are getting better, not worse. I think there will be an inflection point where people don’t carry around point-and-shoots anymore, they’re just gonna carry around these phones.” And I think an inflection point happened literally like two months into basically having that discussion. The iPhone 4 launched.

Yeah, thank you, Apple.

And that was like the first mobile camera that actually competed with the point-and-shoot. So at that moment, we pivoted and we focused solely on photos and that was basically the beginning of Instagram.

That was the key part. You had done photography in high school though. You were a photographer, correct?

Yeah.

I remember talking to your photo teacher from high school.

Yeah, I’m not sure I was a good photographer. I’m not sure I’m a good photographer now either, by the way. My employees are always like, “Your photos are okay.” But listen, running a company and being a good photographer are two different skill sets. I’m not saying I’m good at either but listen, one of them’s working.

Jack Dorsey is really good at it.

I would say that I was an okay photographer in high school. I took classes. I really loved messing around with photos, but the one thing I really loved was taking a photo and you could actually add these chemicals to the developing bath or whatever ...

Silver.

Yeah. Like I think it was selenium toning that I used. And my photo teacher at the time ...

It makes it old, like olden days.

Well that was like sepia and there’s selenium and there are all these things. Anyway, you can like mix the chemicals and cross process. I was like these look really cool and I was using a square-format camera, and all of that kinda came back to me as we were working on Instagram. I think that really resonated with people initially because you took a kind of crummy camera and you made it retro on purpose.

Right.

And it took advantage of the crumminess rather than trying to build around it.

Which is what you did with filters, which was the big insight I think you did before other people did.

I would say on that, I’m not sure many people realize this, but Instagram wasn’t the first company to do filters either. There was Hipstamatic, there was Camera Bag. The value is basically built on looking around at all the different ingredients in the world and saying how can I combine this into like a new dish.

Right.

And I mean filters plus social plus basically a Twitter feed of photos, it became like a thing overnight. People actually initially downloaded it thinking it was a filter app. And that’s why they downloaded it. They wanted to make their stuff look cool.

They didn’t realize it was a social media plan.

They had no idea.

Interesting.

And what happened was they started getting likes, and before you knew it, it was like oh, there’s an actual network here. And it started to take off.

Right. So there was a back and forth then. I’m not gonna go into detail about whether Twitter would buy. You had talked to the Twitter people rather seriously. Jack Dorsey is one of your fist major users that sort of got you kind of hip.

I worked with him at Odeo.

You worked with him at Odeo.

Yeah.

And then you ended up selling to Facebook. I’m not gonna get into the details of that, but why sell? Why did you think about selling? Cause now, you sort of could be your own thing. I mean, we talked about this. I always said you sold for cheap. I just tried to make you feel bad. But ...

Hindsight is 20/20, right?

Yes it is. It is. But was the thinking behind it because a lot of people feel like Mark got a very valuable company for a relatively small amount of money, considering now.

So let’s rewind back to 2012. We are not a company of 700 people, we don’t have 700 million people around the world.

You don’t have access to that audience, do you?

No. Let’s zoom all the way back to 2012 in a world where we’re sitting around a little table right now. Every single one of our employees would have fit around this table. We were about eight or nine when the deal happened and then I think by the time we actually closed the deal, we were something like 13. But we were like eight people keeping the service alive that was growing like wild fire.

What was the number? How many people were using it at the time?

I want to say it was something like 20 million.

20 million, I remember that.

Which is a good number but you can point out a bunch of apps today that have 20 million monthly active users that are growing and they’re fine but who knows if they’ll be the next whatever Instagram, Facebook, you name it. So at the time, we had eight people, we were struggling to keep the site up and we were raising money. Every VC looked at us like we were crazy when we asked for a $500 million evaluation, which sounds funny now because like every company goes out and if you’re like doing Airbnb for dogs, you get a 500 million ...

500 million.

Yeah, it’s like the default term sheet.

Sure.

But at the time, I literally got a phone call back-channel from a VC being like, you’re crazy and it’s offensive that you’re asking for this valuation. And I was ... I feel like we’re actually doing a good thing ...

Were your feelings hurt?

No, in retrospect, I realize that phone call was just angling to get a better deal.

Yeah.

But at the time, listen, I had been running a company for a year. We were struggling to keep the setup, $500 million valuation, and then Mark came along and was like hey, how about I double that and you get to keep working on what you love and you get all the expertise of Facebook and you get to work with me, Sheryl, Schrep, etc. It sounded like a really good deal, and if you look in retrospect, I think it was a great deal. Think about all the things we’ve accomplished being part of Facebook. All the things we have plugged into — whether it’s hiring, spam fighting, the ad system. We have thousands of salespeople who are basically selling ads for Instagram and we snapped our fingers to access them. So a lot of really great ...

Do you actually snap your fingers?

Yes, I snap my fingers.

Yeah.

Yeah. I guess my point is like ...

No, I get it. It’s like, which would have happened without the other kind of thing. If not for this, then that.

I think we would have been successful as an independent company as well but ... I don’t know.

Well, you look at Snapchat, they’re struggling because they’re smaller.

Well, I don’t know if Snapchat is a good example. But think about all the amazing companies that got to 15, 20 million users and it was like the hot startup, all the headlines ...

So many.

You and others wrote.

We don’t write hot headlines.

And then guess what? They’re gone in a year. It could have gone either way but in retrospect, what I’m glad is I’m working with my co-founder still on the coolest company ever with some of the most amazing coaches in Mark and others.

What’s interesting is that you’re still there. A lot of founders leave. It’s really kind of ... I’m always like ... I call you every now and then I hear you’re leaving and I think people have approached you and some things have been interesting for you.

Interesting, I’d love to hear which ones.

I don’t know which ones.

Maybe I don’t know about the deals.

I know you’ve been approached. What keeps you there? What is the things? A lot of founders leave, they absolutely do when they’re a division of a bigger company, and Facebook has only gotten more enormous since you got there.

Mike and I often have this conversation, which is like why do all these entrepreneurs leave on Day One? Peter Thiel, I think, left PayPal on Day One and then, I don’t know, it was like a blazing glory of whatever on the first day. Elon I think did as well. You can name all these entrepreneurs who just left.

I was talking with an entrepreneur who will not be named. His point was like yeah, I just don’t know what I’d do with you because I’ve never had a good relationship with my acquirer. It seems like you really do. And I was like yeah, Mike and I talk about this all day. It’s like Schrep, who’s the CTO.

Mike Schroepfer, yeah.

And then you have Mark and Sheryl. They have kept to their commitment not only to keep us independent, allow us to thrive.

Right.

But they’ve also provided resources for us to be able to do that. And why do anything else if you have your baby — which is this company, is thriving, making a bunch of money, you’re launching new products that people really love that are successful. To do what? Go sit on a beach? That sounds ...

That’s interesting, because everybody does do it. You’re an outlier, like a unicorn. Nobody stays in the company. They don’t grow with the company, they don’t remain.

But usually they’re successful, meaning the acquired company kind of floats, it goes sideways. I think ...

Instagram has had a couple of those too.

Yeah, but I think Instagram has done the opposite. If Instagram I think were down and we weren’t able to control our destiny and a bunch of bad things were happening, I wouldn’t be there. I don’t think many people would want to work there.

Right.

But I think Mike and I are an example of investing in a company for the long term and waking up every day and being really excited about growing.

And you know, people would want to try and understand what is the key thing they do. Do they pet you? What is the key? I was there the other day doing a podcast with Sheryl and I was like, where is Instagram? And you’re over somewhere else. You have another building, right? Is that correct?

Yeah. I mean, we’re on the campus. Own slash lease like a big swath of land and we didn’t on purpose go far away, it’s just like that was the building that was available.

How many people do you have now?

It’s like between 600 and 700. It’s hard to nail down an exact number because some people work half their time on Instagram and then of course you have people that contribute, and finance, and sales, and a bunch of others.

Sure.

Effectively, if this company were like ... If we just like took all the resources that we had and spun it out, it would probably be in the thousands. But anyway, I think the thing that made it work was actually not what they did, it’s what they didn’t do. I see Mark practice a tremendous amount of restraint in giving us the freedom to run, but the reason why I think he gives us the freedom to run is because when we run, it typically works.

Now, if we had launched live stories, video on Instagram and all those things that cratered, I don’t think we’d have that long of a runway. You earn it. You earn it over time, and that’s actually what they don’t do that ends up helping. It’s like they’re not modeling in the product necessarily. And I actually take that and I think about all the great entrepreneurs that we have at Instagram. The people running the products. And I’ve learned that lesson as well, if you give people a runway ...

Not to meddle.

Not to meddle if things are going really well. You leave it alone. And I think that’s happened in a bunch of areas at Instagram.

So what do you do day to day then?

Podcast.

Podcast. Conferences.

No, so what do I do day to day?

Yeah.

My main job is to make sure that one, the company is pointed in the right direction, so strategy. What areas are we focusing on? Okay, we’re gonna focus on live, we’re gonna focus on stories, we’re gonna focus on messaging, we’re gonna focus on content production, whatever. What are the areas that we focus on and then making sure that we actually execute against them. Usually that means coaching the team or getting the team in place. So hiring senior people and working with those senior people to make sure that they have the resources that they need. I do spend maybe 25 percent of my time in the pixels of the product. I think that’s something as a founder that I hold dear that a lot of CO’s I know just abstract themselves. I think much to Instagram, sometimes our designers I get into the details. Listen ...

That was always your interest.

It’s my interest and I guess when you founded the company, you’re allowed to dabble.

Yeah. Steve Jobs. Always dabbling in something.

Yeah, but that’s what I say is my job description. Point it in the right direction, the right people and then there’s a certain percentage of dabbling.

So let’s talk about the growth a little bit. In the next little bit I want to talk a little bit about other competitors and things like that, because people sort of slag you a lot for borrowing some ideas from others. But you mentioned at the top of this, but we’ll get to that later.

What do you attribute the growth to? I’m trying think of my own kid and I’ll give you two observations, another one late. He doesn’t use Facebook at all but he loves Instagram. It’s fascinating. And I’m like, why don’t you just use Facebook and he’s like no, it’s not cool. And I was like, Instagram’s cool? And he’s like, yeah, Instagram’s cool. It’s a really interesting ... He’s right in your area. He does use Snapchat heavily also but he’s using Instagram a lot more. And it’s a really interesting ... This is just an anecdotal thing, but I’ve heard it again and again among younger people. Instagram seems to be something they like, and so do old people, so do all kinds of people. So can you talk about the growth? Because I think that’s one of the more important things that you’ve managed to have everybody on it and yet not be hopelessly uncool for the people that you want to come on it.

Thank you. We’re not hopelessly uncool. I’m gonna get a t-shirt that says that and wear it around the office.

Not hopelessly uncool.

Like Kevin, not hopelessly uncool.

Not that Facebook is, but I cannot get my kid to use Facebook, it’s really interesting. I’ve told this to Mark and Sheryl before.

There are a couple of things going on here. One is a question about young people in the U.S. When you zoom out and you say how many people are there in the world, billions. Teens or whatever in the U.S. represent a very small fraction of the overall population. It’s possible to be very very big and have areas that you want to go work on. And I think that teens in the U.S. are particularly interesting to everyone in tech because they tend to adopt products way before everyone else. If you’ve ever seen a teen use a phone, their fingers move at a million miles per hour and you’re just like I didn’t even know there was that shortcut. They just understand in a way that you and I don’t. I didn’t grow up with a phone in my hand; they are. And I think that it’s interesting to watch what they use because I think it’s a signal of where technology is going.

Sure.

It’s always been the case. Facebook started with college kids. Instagram interestingly didn’t start with youth, it actually started more with I’d say the like 20, 30 something hipster in San Francisco, self proclaimed.

Yeah, absolutely.

And I think spread out from there. But the growth has really come from that large population overseas. So Instagram from Day One was a universal network. Images are the one thing that you can look at, not speak the other person’s language and connect with them. We had the universal “Like” button, which is like a universal sign of appreciation. You saw the photo, it doesn’t matter what other language that person speaks. So now over 80 percent of our community is overseas, outside the U.S.

Right. 80 percent?

Over 80 percent.

Where particularly?

You name it, we’re there. I’m sure we have ...

I assume U.S. is your biggest market but maybe not.

It probably is, yeah.

No. 2, or right near there.

We have a bunch of countries right at the top and the good news is ... I’ll give you some broad categories. Brazil is very very large for us. India is growing quickly. Europe in general is very strong. We see a lot of strength in developed countries. I’d say it’s the less developed countries with less developed mobile networks like older phones that don’t support higher-end media where I think that’s the future of where we need to go and how we need to sell our product. And a lot of our growth in the next year is gonna come from that. And that requires a shift internally, not only for us to appreciate the problems that folks have with lower-end phones and lower-end networks, connectivity issues. but it also requires us to think hard about how we have to deliver media over the wire to these phones and display it because that’s Instagram.

Right.

We can’t convert Instagram to text and then it just works. Like a big reason why WhatsApp has done so well especially in overseas markets is its focus on performance and it’s mostly texts. Now they’ve optimized the hell outta that app. I’ve learned a lot from watching Jan and what they do. Performance is the key for the next chapter of growth. But you asked where growth comes from?

They’ve added in photos, they’ve added in stickers. It’s a lot more stickers than text. You don’t do photos.

I guess what I’m saying is, most of our growth is gonna come from overseas because there are a lot more people outside the U.S. than there are inside the US. That being said, the US continues to be a very interesting market for us where we have to grow, and most of our ad business is based in the U.S., like most companies.

Right. All right, we’re gonna talk about that more when we get back, especially video because I think that’s a big push by Instagram in recent months.

[ad]

We’re here with Kevin Systrom, the CEO of Instagram, who is still an employee of Facebook. I was with Jeff Weiner onstage after LinkedIn got bought by Microsoft and he refused to say he was a Microsoft employee. It was very funny. And he kept saying, “I’m the CEO of LinkedIn.” I’d go, “Comma, a division of Microsoft.” You feel good about being part of the bigger picture, but you do have a separate identity. It’s an unusual situation where people don’t necessarily know that Facebook owns Instagram or WhatsApp or things like that. It’s sort of a constellation of products.

As an entrepreneur, if you had to choose to be part of one tech company, Facebook is a pretty good one. Like it’s done very very well. It’s reaching mass heights of users all over the world, it has great technologies who live there, it’s working on super cool leading-edge technology products. I am happy to proclaim that I’m an employee there. At the same time, running the company Instagram is a very different job and it feels very different. We have a distinct but compatible culture.

What would you say the culture is?

Of Instagram?

Yeah.

I’d say it’s defined by two very distinct things. No. 1 is simplicity. I think if you walk into Instagram, it’s a very very simple aesthetic. Everywhere you walk, we focus on removing complexity at every single step. I think people care deeply about simplicity. The second, I’d say, is craft. And I’m actually gonna name three things. I remembered a third thing. Craft is the second thing. We’ve got a Blue Bottle Coffee in the lobby. It’s something Mike and I care really deeply about.

Yeah, you have coffee investments, right?

Yeah. And we love coffee.

You really are the San Franciscan, aren’t you?

We ...

You have your craft Bourbon.

It’s about craft. We care about ...

I can’t believe you don’t have a handlebar mustache right now, but go ahead.

Well, listen, I didn’t have a beard when we first met so I’m getting there.

That’s true.

And I’m kinda ... I’m not wearing plaid.

You have to get the Lincoln beard if you really want to go the full hog.

I am. But craft is a big part of our culture. The final one that I’d say is that we focus on solving problems. I have this problem-centric culture where you can’t come into a product review and just say hey, here’s a cool feature we want to build. That doesn’t fly at Instagram. What does fly is, coming in and saying here’s the problem we want to solve for this person. Here’s how we know it’s a problem. Here’s the data that back that up or the antidotes.

Give me an example.

Sure. Let’s talk about Stories. We looked at sharing on Instagram and every time we talked to someone, we would say, “Hey, so why do you share across services? It’s like you share on Snapchat, you share on Facebook, you share on Twitter, you share on Instagram. Why do you share across services?” And interestingly what we found was the biggest problem they have with Instagram is feeling the pressure of sharing really amazing photos.

So you hear antidotes all the time. You might hear it from your kids: “I didn’t get enough likes so I deleted the photo.” “I don’t know if that’s good enough to put on Instagram.” “I can only put one on Instagram per day cause I gotta show off this thing and then it’s gonna live on my profile which is awesome because it represents me.” But at the same time, it’s kinda like hanging a photo in a photo gallery. And it turns out every photo you want to take, you want to hang in a photo gallery but is important to ...

Instagram is a fancier place.

There you go. So now our values of craft and simplicity reinforce that, but the problem is that people want to actually share a lot more but they don’t want it to hang on the gallery wall. So Stories came in as a solution. The idea was not hey, there’s another company that’s doing Stories, let’s just do that. It was, okay, we have identified a problem in the community, which is people really want to share more but the constraints of Instagram are that it has to be really good, you have to be willing to hang it on the gallery wall. And what if we allowed you to also share really informally the things that are thrown away but really valuable for a certain amount of time.

That flip side of the sharing coin was a problem that we identified along the way, seeing consumer trends. And when the team walked in, they were like, what problem we’re solving is not competition. The problem we’re solving is sharing and here’s the data that backs that up. And that’s why now that we’ve launched the product, now over 200 million people use Stories every day. It’s clearly working and it clearly solves a problem for people, whereas coming in and pitching a cool idea — Hey, what if we did X, Y or Z because it’s cool and it’s a hard technical problem — that doesn’t fly at Instagram because you have to be solving a problem.

We’re gonna get to Snapchat in a minute, but you were also competing with Facebook too in terms of people’s attention and use because they have photos and videos and Live and things like that. What is that? Is there a tension there between that? They also are trying to get people to do precisely what you do.

Companies are not single individuals. Companies are complex organizations with lots of different people. So I’m sure if you talk to specific people inside of Facebook whose goal is X, Y or Z, they feel like oh, I don’t know, Instagram or WhatsApp or maybe even Oculus trades off against it. But that’s true at any company, right? If you have a couple of reporters who are both covering similar things, they’re competing, right? Like whose story goes out first? But that’s okay, and I think that’s relatively healthy. I think the interesting thing is sharing photos is not sharing photos across every service. People do it for reasons. On Facebook, you find a lot of hey, I want to memorialize this vacation or this wedding or this amazing thing that happened and I want to share it with my friends and family, co-workers, etc. And it’s an album, it’s rich, etc. I think that’s great.

Instagram tends to be more about hey, is this photo crafted, composed correctly? Is the light right? Am I using the right filter? That just scratches a different itch. But they’re both photos and videos.

That’s a Facebook thing.

Yeah. I think that’s totally fine. I talk a lot about this job’s hypothesis. Have you ever heard about what job did you hire this thing for? The Clay Christensen thing?

No.

It’s amazing and I use it all the time in the company, which is ... What job are you hiring this product for, and they asked people when they walked in. I think it was like at McDonald’s or something. What job are you hiring that milkshake for? People looked at them crazy, like you’re looking at me crazy right now. But he would explain: What problem does it solve in your life? And they figured out there were two distinct consumer groups. One was, it solves a breakfast problem. So when I’m on the way to work, I order this milkshake cause it’s easy. It’s like a protein shake in the morning. And then there’s another segment of customers in the afternoon who basically buy it to keep their kids happy before they actually make dinner. And now whenever people come into the room to talk about products, we talk about what job are you hiring that product for? So you talk about photo sharing. You can hire different products for different jobs and it happens to be that they’re all photo-sharing products.

Very similar, right.

Yeah. Different audiences, different creative tools, different jobs. And as soon as you look at the world through that lens, you realize why it makes sense that all these products exist. They might compete with each other on the margin but in general, they have very distinct jobs.

So I’m gonna talk about some of your competitors. Twitter, my greatest dangers, I cannot share my Instagram. I have to double post them. If you want the best quality, you have to double post them. When is that ever gonna get fixed, or never? Is that just never happening?

I haven’t thought about that subject in a really long time.

There’s probably a lot of people who use both.

That being said, there are ways of doing it. You can use ... there are reposing apps like ...

They never look right.

Oh, well.

They used to be great. You could just post one on Instagram and it would go on Twitter looking beautiful.

Yeah, there was basically a time where we had integrated with a bunch of their stuff and then they cut off access.

They cut it off. They were mad at you.

I was just like, companies are companies and they have deals and that deal fell through. I’m not against ...

How do you look at the things they’re doing? Cause they were doing Vine and other things that are similar to Facebook and you. Do you consider them a competitor or not?

Which one, Twitter or Vine?

Twitter. They’re in the moment. I think they’re more in-the-moment news kind of thing.

Once you get to a certain size ... Okay, so actually I want to answer this a different way, which is the thing that I learned being at Facebook that I would not have considered otherwise, is the focus on time. Time is this indivisible unit, it’s very hard.

You only have a certain amount.

You only have a certain amount of time. It is the indivisible, mutually exclusive unit of your life that you’re either watching TV, you’re either reading the newspaper or using a social network, right? And sure, you can shift around time on a given day, but time is the thing you’re competing for. By that measure, yeah. Like Reed Hastings at Netflix, you know what he calls his biggest competitor?

What?

Sleep.

Sleep.

It’s super interesting, right?

He would say that.

Right. But I took that from him and I was like, sleep’s a competitor, maybe reading’s a competitor. Yes, once you get to a certain size I guess you’re competing for time and attention, and the question is, is your use case looking at photos the most compelling one?

Right.

But I don’t know. I don’t wake up every day thinking about competition and like hey, what features are they working on and what features should we be working on. I think the question is, do we have a singular mission for the company? Are we going after it? Are we solving the real problems that our community has on every given day?

So talk about your focus on video because it’s really been in Stories and the idea of what you’re doing. And then I do want to get into talking about Snapchat, for you to talk about how you feel about what people say about borrowing their things. Talk about why video. What’s the shift? Instagram has been a photo service. It still is largely a photo service, or is it not? Is it not?

Depends how you define it.

Video or photos?

Okay. Put it differently. Every passing day, video becomes more and more of a percentage that gets shared, but definitely more and more of a percentage of how much time people spend on Instagram. So if you just look at like, okay, the 20-something minutes per day that people spend on Instagram, what percentage of that is watching video? It goes up over time. Today is probably the highest day of history and it’s probably the lowest day of the future.

And that’s because I think video has become more ... It wouldn’t be accepted. It’s more possible because you have higher data speeds. You have more unlimited plans or I guess in certain countries you have more limited plans. But people are consuming more and more video because I think the devices are getting better. People are learning to produce video better. Stories is actually largely video. So if you actually watch your stories as a part of Instagram, you’re gonna see a lot of video. It’s not necessarily the 16x9 beautifully produced trailer that people are watching, it’s actually video, fullscreen, 9x16, vertical video on both Stories and Live. People are spending a lot of time on those and watching those.

It’s just a shift in behavior. I think people are getting past the fact that a single frame represents a moment and they’re realizing that you can actually consume life through video and that’s going to continue to happen in the future.

Is that a good thing? Because it’s not really craft, is it? It’s really not. They get messier and they get less curated.

I think you can have craft in messiness. Look at a Jackson Pollack. You both describe that as messy and ...

I’m not seeing a lot of Jackson Pollack videos on your service.

Yeah, but I’m just saying there’s precedence for messy, beautiful.

Right.

So I don’t think craft is necessarily neat.

Does it change this idea around simplicity around your service? Cause it does ... It’s noisier. It’s much noisier. It’s a different product, really — or not. I don’t know.

So okay. Initially, I think our mission when we first started was something like “capture and share the world’s photos” or something, right? And I think we changed it to “moments” when video came along. But now we talk about strengthening relationships. And if you think about strengthening relationships, you can do that through different types of media. It can be a photo, it can be a boomerang, it can be a time lapse. You can capture a moment in all sorts of different ways. It can be a live video. And we’re going to adopt any format that allows you to strengthen your relationship with other people through that shared experience. So if I can see what you’re doing on the weekend, you can see my bike ride. I can see my friend, the book they’re reading. I’m getting closer to them through that shared experience. We’re gonna have all that. It’s not about photos.

Tell me about what it is, meaning the format.

Yeah, a baby’s first steps. You want to see a photo of that, like no. Now does Boomerang work? Sure. Do I want a video? Probably. But if you’re watching a live concert, you probably want live video. There’s just all sorts of use cases to grow closer with others through different formats. I hate it when I read articles that name Instagram the photo-sharing app.

Right.

It’s like the first thing I said when I got to Facebook actually, I did an all hands in front of the entire company. And I said, “Just so you know, we are not a photo-sharing app.”

Even though you just paid a billion dollars for a photo-sharing app.

We are not a photo-sharing app. And everyone looked at me like I was crazy. I remember Mark came after and he was like, “Why did you say that? I don’t get it.” I explained. I think we’re much more than that. We’re about people knowing each other or sharing their moments in their lives. It’s gonna be more than just photos in the future — of course video, but other formats too. And that tends to resonate with people once you understand it and I think our history shows that we’ve gone after that.

So video is now increasing, do you ever imagine a time where photos is a very tiny part of your business?

I’m gonna get specific here. So video I think will be a large part of what’s consumed. I think photos will be a large part of what people take. I don’t imagine a world where ... I could be like a foot in my mouth about this, but I don’t imagine a world where videos are just the primary way people share because photos are so easy. But you can sort of define it in different ways. When you say a part of your business, it’s like which one monetizes better?

Right. Which one does monetize better?

That’s a good question. I think it depends on the service and ...

Difficult on your service.

No, videos actually are pretty good and advertisers see them as premium. Depends on the producer.

Right, not inserting them in other people’s feeds but in terms of doing their own thing.

Yeah, but you look at Stories. Is story video the same as feed video? So it gets complex. Is live video the same as feed video? That’s why I think we can’t call these things just photos or videos, it’s like it totally depends on the exact format.

How do you differentiate between the live and the story? How do you look at it?

Well, right now, live is a film roll. You and I can go live right now. We’ll have a bunch of viewers and then the second we click done, it’s gone.

Right.

And that actually unlocks a bunch of sharing because I feel more comfortable sharing and I’m not worried it’s gonna get discovered later and I’m gonna look silly, whatever. Turns out teens really love it for that use case as well. They hang out after school with their friends on live. And that’s very different from, say, editing a beautiful trailer in 16x9 to show off a new movie.

Sure.

Well, it’s definitely a video, there are two very different experiences. I think it shows the depth of one format that it can be many things.

Right. So let’s get to Snapchat. My son also is an avid user of both things. You met him, you remember?

Yeah.

He says, “Tell that tall guy I’m really pissed at him because he stole Snapchat. He stole what they’re doing. And I’m mad because I don’t want to do that on Instagram and that’s what I do on Snapchat.” Fast-forward recently, he does it on Instagram. He shifted over. He still uses Snapchat quite heavily and the language he speaks is, “I’m doing snaps.” He doesn’t say, “I’m doing Instagrams.” But he’s definitely annoyed that you ... He goes, “That’s not what I use Instagram for.” He was sort of mad at a brand. When something becomes something else, I think someone who’s an avid user gets annoyed by the shift. Talk a bit about the criticism of you, of essentially Snapchat coming up with something and you all copying it.

Yeah. Let’s take Instagram Day One. Instagram was a combination of basically Hipstamatic, Twitter, some stuff from Facebook like the “Like” button. In fact, the “Like” button came from FriendFeed. You can trace the roots of every feature anyone has in their app somewhere in the history of technology. Apple designed a cellphone. Sure, it looked different, it was fullscreen, glass screen. First one without a keyboard. But it wasn’t the first cellphone, right? Tesla, super innovative, definitely not the first car. It’s got wheels, it’s got air conditioning, right? But you know it’s powered differently so that’s unique. I don’t think you can find a single thing in Silicon Valley that hasn’t been built on the amazing work that technologists throughout history have done.

We decided we wanted to have the slide show format, which we also called Stories and that also makes the copying narrative a little easier. But it’s a slide show. It turns out people really like it and if we just copied, I don’t think people would just use it because going back to the jobs being hired for, that job is being fulfilled by someone else really well. So what we had to do is say are we fulfilling an actual need that people have and are we gonna do it in a unique and useful way? I think the answer is yes because now, over 200 million people use it every single day. I think that’s an awesome testament to doing it well.

But originality is an interesting concept in Silicon Valley because I think we look around and I think we focus so much on who had what idea first but ... Twitter, Facebook. The first time anyone adopts something that someone else did, I think there can be this criticism. Can you imagine LinkedIn without a news feed? Can you imagine Twitter without effectively a news feed? Ranked Feed, now Twitter’s doing it, LinkedIn does it, we all do it. I think these innovations that happen and then they spread throughout technology. I know we live in a society based on capitalism but competition is good for consumers. And it would be crazy if we saw something that worked with consumers that was in our domain and we didn’t decide to compete on it. I understand ...

So filters, same thing?

Filter is the same thing.

What have they borrowed from you? I think that’s an interesting question.

I think Snapchat is a great company. I think they’re gonna continue to do well. But when you look back, they didn’t have filters initially, they adopted filters because I think Instagram had filters and I know a lot of others were trying to adopt filters as well. Facebook adopted filters and you could have said the same thing at the time. We’re copying each other but I don’t know, that’s just the way Silicon Valley works. The question is, who executes the best? And execution is everything. We are doing our best to provide a service to users that people clearly want that scratches an itch, which is: I don’t want to just share the highlights of my day, I also want to share the ongoing moments throughout the day. And it just solves it really well.

So then the question is, on a level playing field between companies, now you have stories in Facebook, you have it in My Day on Messenger, you’ve got in on WhatsApp, and you’re gonna see it other places too. Who does it the best and who executes on creative tools, on the next-generation features, like who does it the best? And that is going to be, I think, the determination of who wins in the long run. And honestly, it’s not gonna be one winner. You’re gonna have many winners and you’re gonna have people competing, you’re gonna have different subsegments of users who are adopting a certain thing because they love it. Facebook is not the only social network in the world, it may be the largest, but I think that’s okay. And that’s what makes Silicon Valley work is that competition and looking around and adopting the best-of-breed things to make your service better.

So do you ... When people use those criticisms, what do you feel like?

It’s fair for people to criticize, but just imagine the only car in the world was the Model T right now. Like someone invents the car, it’s really cool. Horseless carriage they called it, right? But do you blame other companies for also building cars that have wheels and a steering wheel and AC and windows?

It’s a little closer. Some of this stuff feels a little closer to what they’re doing. I know it feels like it to them. It feels ...

It’s always gonna feel that way to the first car producer. Oh, you have windows too. Oh, you have a steering wheel. Oh, you have AC. Do you have a radio? Right? The question is what unique stuff do you build on top of it. When we adopted it, we decided that one of the really annoying things about the format that it just kept going and you can pause it to look at something, you can rewind and we did all that. Like we actually implemented that.

You’re a much easier version, no question.

My point is, if you think about the car analogy. Different cars have different functionality and different utility values depending on the features, and our job is not just to look at another car company and copy the shape of their car and all the unique characteristics but instead make it our own. Same with newsfeed between Facebook and all these others. It’s one thing to have a newsfeed but you gotta make it your own over time. And I think that is our job and I think we’re doing pretty well at it.

All right. We’re here with Kevin Systrom from Instagram. We are gonna talk more about innovation and how you innovate. I want to hear about some original innovation from Instagram to come.

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We’re here with Kevin Systrom, the CEO of Instagram. We’ve been talking about a lot of things, about Snapchat, about Twitter, about stories, innovation, how to do things. I want to talk about innovation and where it’s going, because one of the things, I do understand iteration of companies upon companies, but some people feel that maybe true innovation is harder, to be the originator of an idea. Instagram, you’re right. There were lots of photo-sharing services but you were unique in terms of what you offered. Do you feel that you’ve lost innovation? Or how do you keep innovation at a company? And things that you truly introduced that are wow, that just come from you.

Yeah. I don’t think that we’ve lost that spirit internally. Again, true innovation is like looking around at the world and putting the ingredients together and figuring out how to execute on it, market it, scale it. The amount of work that goes into making these things work at scale, at 700 million users around the world, that’s where the magic is every single day. Making it work in different countries, on different networks. The reason why we’re seeing the growth we have ...

Because you do it well in lots of places.

Yeah. I’d say 90 percent of our effort on a given day is figuring out how to scale the service. Not just technically but like all the nooks and crannies of the product that need to work for people. I think one of the areas that I’m most proud about our innovation actually is around this area called well being. About six months ago, I decided that we were in a particular position with our scale and the people that worked at our company and the characteristics of them that we could actually be one of the first companies — if not the first company — online to really set a precedent about caring about our users and our community. We’ve always been really community focused. But you might ask, “Okay, Kevin, what does that mean?” You talk to teenagers today about their experience online and bullying is a thing. You talk to any parent, I’m sure you feel this way. Bullying is one of the biggest problems that teenagers have online.

Twitter is a hellscape.

Well, you can talk about anyone at any age. I totally agree. I am picking teenagers as a specific example of a population that is most vulnerable. And what I decided six months ago or so is that we are gonna have an entire group of people that literally work on making the internet a safer place. Not just Instagram, but other services as well. We’re gonna build technology, processes, etc., to basically make the experience on Instagram a safer place. So comment moderation, we have machine learning, teams that basically try to figure out when somebody’s getting bullied to help them. Suicides are a topic that are very current right now online, especially with Live. How do we get in front of people so that we can save those people before they harm themselves? That takes a lot of hard work and that is not what stickers or face masks are we launching, it’s actually real technology that keeps people safe.

Why do you imagine Facebook’s been drawn into that? Interestingly, before it was launched, I did say to some of your executives, someone’s gonna kill themselves, and they said I was negative. It was an interesting thing. What I want to get to is why don’t these technologists think of this before they’re starting to create their ... And then they’re like, we made it, we didn’t know. And I’m like, you kind of could have anticipated some of these behaviors. And it’s interesting that it doesn’t happen on Instagram. Maybe it’s just not the platform of choice for murdering, but why is that? What do you think? Because people don’t think of it that way or?

A couple characteristics. One, the internet is a really big place.

Sure.

No one person can control what happens on the internet or what people choose to do or broadcast. That can mean really good things, which is ... Social media allows for democratic voice.

There’s things they can control on Facebook.

Well, you can be an unheard person with an issue and then be heard. It gives you a platform.

Sure.

People with eating disorders, people with psychological issues, mental health issues, it can be a really healing place for a lot of people to connect. That’s the pro side. The con side is there are a lot of people in the world and some people choose to do very bad things. That is not a new thing. That happens in the world ...

Of course not.

Right. It’s always happened. The question is now that people have a platform to broadcast that ...

Now, you’re running the platform so it’s your job. That’s my feeling, is that a lot of these platforms, will act like they’re agnostic. Like it’s just a platform. It’s just benign. I’m like, it’s not benign and you have ... Same thing.

I would never claim that. And in fact ...

Same thing around fake news, for example.

What I was just saying to you about well being is that I actually ... Instagram has signed up to be a leader in this space and say no, this is our responsibility as a large platform. We’re never gonna get it perfect. It’s a really big place. We’re never gonna get it perfect but we are gonna try.

I want to get to why technologists don’t think like that. What is it? Is it a chip missing? They don’t understand ... There is a real feeling that I feel that they abrogate their responsibility that they clearly have at this point. I was having an argument in Facebook, you know, about ... I was like, the New York Times has to get it right, and they do. They take it as a solemn responsibility. Why don’t you have to get it right? Why are you suddenly become a platform of no ability to control it when you have every means of control or you have a lot of means. Nobody was expecting perfection from the New York Times or anybody else but not thinking about it was really ... like what happens in technology where you just make something and don’t think about the consequences? I guess that’s what I want to talk about, consequences.

Well, I can’t diagnose the specific individuals you’re talking about because I don’t know the specific cases. What I can tell you is that I feel differently. And now, do I feel personal responsible for making the world a safer place online? Yeah. Am I gonna get it perfect? No. But the intention is there. And I realize that the products we build have real impact on people. They have impact on their mental health, they have impact on their social networks in the real world, their relationships with their friends, and that at its best that can be such an amazing thing. At its worst, it’s really scary and no one has the answers on Day One. Why? It’s because it’s absolutely unprecedented that you have companies operating at the scale that we are. Name another company that operates in the billions of people on a given day.

I get that.

And that’s not a defense, it’s simply it’s unprecedented. So I think what you’re seeing is we’re all learning along the way.

I know, but to me, an adult knows consequences. That’s the difference between a teenager and an adult, that they do understand the impact of what they’re doing. It was interesting for Mark to come from “fake news, we had nothing to do with it” to “oh, okay, maybe we should work on community, maybe we should police this stuff, maybe we should.” But it was a fast journey because he got so much pressure.

You have an equally large platform. What do you think your responsibilities are in doing that? Now Instagram, to be fair, is one of the nicer places on the internet. You don’t see a lot of ugly comments. They’re shut down really quickly. It’s astonishing, actually. I never have a repulsive experience on Instagram and I have it every day on every other service and increasingly on Facebook, all the time on Twitter. And at some point, it’s the responsibility of the platform. What do you do ... I’m paying you a compliment, it’s not a repulsive place — that shouldn’t be on a t-shirt either. Why do you think that is? Is it because of the tools you use or the people that use it? Because it seems like 700 million people, you’re gonna get some bad apples all over the place.

Our rule Day One of Instagram, it actually came ... You’re gonna laugh. There was this video and I could find it somewhere. The founder of LOLCats.

I know that guy.

Right.

Yeah.

Did this whole speech about community building. And he said you have to prune the trolls. And my wife ... I was watching this video to learn about community building and she likes to poke fun at me and she says are you pruning the trolls. And it became a thing in the household, but now actually at Day One of Instagram, we had this motto, which is, “Prune the trolls.” And me, Mike, our first hire was a community manager. Not an engineer, not a designer.

Listen, in retrospect do I wish we had more engineers to scale the service? Sure. But the first thing we did was we made sure to prune the trolls. I was deactivating accounts. Mike was deactivating accounts. We didn’t really have clear policies at the outset but it set a tone that if you’re not gonna be a good player, if you’re not gonna play by the rules, you’re outta here. It wasn’t about “oh, they copied my photo.” There was some of that. It was like, if you’re here to cause trouble, you don’t belong. And I think that set a tone in the community.

Now, I think that scaled, but listen, at 700 million people it’s not perfect. And as much as you have a great experience, a lot of people don’t, but it is our job to make sure that we do everything possible to staff against great projects that innovate on keeping safe. So whether that’s machine learning and using artificial intelligence to identify comments that are bullying and get rid of them immediately, identifying accounts that are bad actors before they act, figuring out how to keep people safe online is ... Two years, three years, no, no, no, 10 years down the road, I’m not gonna remember the funny stickers that we built or the face masks. The bunny’s cute but put that aside. That’s not our legacy, our legacy is are we keeping people safe online.

And well after all of us are gone, did Instagram leave its mark on the world by developing technologies and tools that other social networks can adopt. You asked about copying. The one thing I hope every single company copies from Instagram, my hope is our effort on keeping people safe.

One of the things that people worry about, though, is it is not going that way. That social media has become weaponized. Look, we have a president who uses Twitter as a cudgel. That has not been proven and they cannot prove it because he doesn’t cross the line. How do you change that shift? Because it looks a little bit like it’s going in a very bad direction no matter how many people are trying to pull it back.

It is hard.

Or do you not think of that.

No, I’m acknowledging the problem and I don’t have perfect answers but I think No. 1, you model the behavior you want to see. So I think our company spends an inordinate amount of time on modeling great behavior. Whether it is the programs we do to understand the impact on mental health ...

Anthropologists.

We spend a ton of time on modeling great behavior that I think we want other social networks to model as well. And again, like when Elon gave up the patents to Tesla, he’s like, “Please copy this because the world gets better if people do this.” I feel the same way about the technology we’re building around keeping people safe. The way I look at it, though, is it’s our responsibility to innovate and we’re not always gonna get it right. And I think it’s really hard. I don’t have the answers, I wish I was smarter to figure this out but we have a lot of smart people at Instagram who are working actively on it. I don’t have a clear answer for you because there is no clear answer.

Okay, that’s fair. Not much longer, two more things. The business model and then what are you worried about. Let’s start with the first. Right now, you’re advertising the number. Do you have a number that you’ve released?

Which one?

Advertising sales.

No, we don’t release advertising sales. I think we released active advertisers recently, one million active advertisers, I think was the number. And it’s grown a lot because how long it’s been.

And they’re most putting up pictures or videos or whatever.

It’s all putting up photos and videos. And in fact ...

But not inserting into other people’s feeds or things like that.

Sorry, I guess the way to think about it is ...

I mean, they’re in the feeds but they’re doing their own creatives.

Yes. Exactly. They’re doing their own creatives. And we’re seeing a bunch of great antidotes from advertisers about how they love the performance on the platform, they reach unique audiences. But at the scale of 700 million, if you’re an advertiser and you want to reach a 32-year-old female in Alaska who really loves salmon fishing, you can find that person.

You can find that easily.

And that’s what’s unprecedented. I was just at a conference with a bunch of COs and for more traditional companies. I looked around and I said, “How many of you guys and gals feel like you’re being told to do social media and you don’t know what to do?” And all of them raised their hands. And then I said, “The one thing you can get from social media,” and I raised my hand and I said, “Disclaimer, I work for this company and I benefit from you buying ads, but you can reach the consumers you want to reach and that’s unprecedented because you buy TV, you buy print, you buy all these things and you spend a bunch of money and you’re never gonna fire anyone for buying TV. When you start to realize you can reach the exact consumers you want to reach and know if they convert, that’s unprecedented in the history of advertising. That’s why technology companies are doing well.”

What do you see on Instagram so people will convert? What is the ... People looking at, say, a Burberry in the feed, which they can do on their own and not work with you necessarily. I just haven’t seen anything that innovative in the advertising space that’s not just like banner ads.

You know, the strangest thing about advertising is the one part of technology where your goal is actually not to innovate Day One. Because if you want to sell advertising at scale, if you go to advertisers and you say we have this crazy new format, you gotta produce this crazy new thing and think about a completely differently than how you think about TV and print and all that stuff, it falls flat.

Right.

So actually what you want to do is figure out how do you have a very basic format that works really well and performs well on the metrics that advertisers care about and they use a shared language between things like TV, print, radio and online media. And when you do that, it actually starts working really well.

So look at what Facebook’s business model was many years ago with social ads, etc., it was hard to sell that. But now that you have something really simple, that you basically measure against other comps like Google and TV, you can actually buy it really easily and it makes sense inside a buying program. I don’t think our goal is to be innovative necessarily in the product offering. I think our goal is to be innovative in the value we deliver. The fact that you know that that customer then converts and then you can say you’re a boss. I know I just spent, I don’t know, 10 grand on this ad campaign, we got 30 grand back. It was worth it, let’s do more.

Right, but do you see innovation in that?

Oh, for sure. We launched advertising on Stories recently, which is a different format. We do multi-product ads so you can swipe between different types of products. We just launched the save feature, which is super popular on Instagram right now, and a lot of the things people are saving are commercial posts. So you see a cool sweater from this brand, you save it.

The secret of commerce online is no one wants to convert in the moment on a $200 item. So if I see something really cool like a bike helmet I really want because I’m big into cycling, I’m not gonna convert on the spot but maybe I’ll save it, maybe I’ll come back to it. Maybe I’m choosing between three different models. That’s the type of experience I think we can innovate on Instagram. And I think we’re doing pretty well at that. It’s the early innings so the game is yet to finish. So we’ll see. It’s really cool.

You couldn’t escape without a sports metaphor. Last question. What do you worry about? I mean, I ask a lot of people I interview here, share a mistake they made. I don’t want the sort of the learning ...

Personally or for the company?

No, personal. I want a story about personally.

Personally. I’m really new at my job in the grand scheme of things. Like I told you, I was at the CO conference and I meet these amazing seasoned managers, the Jack Welch’s of the world, and I’ve been managing people, what, like four or five years now? I’m not bad at it, I don’t think. We should ask the people in the room. But learning to scale as an individual in a hyper-growth mode is something that I don’t think many people have to deal with because usually you take your job, you get promoted, you learn skills, you go to a seminars.

And the bar is low in Silicon Valley, let’s be honest.

No one ever really like drops you in the deep end managing a company that now touches twice as many people than live in the United States on a monthly basis. And that’s pressure, but in a good way. I love competition. I’m one of the more competitive people you’ll meet. I love waking up every morning and feeling like I don’t have it perfected. So running the company I think is something that I’ve grown a tremendous amount in the last few years and something that I look at and I know I’m not perfect at and I have a ton of growth ahead of me.

What do you think you do wrong? Or a mistake you’ve made?

Which one? At this conference ...

It’s only 40 percent of decisions are wrong, so you have to accept that.

Yeah. Warren Buffett was onstage and people are like, “What are the big ones you missed?” And he’s like, “Where do I start?”

The internet.

Yeah. Jeff Bezos has this line that people shouldn’t be judged based on their batting average but rather their slugging percentage. That’s effectively what he talks about. That’s again, getting back into sports. It’s not about like on average, the question is when you hit, are you hitting grand slams? And that’s something that I think we’ve transitioned to at Instagram, which is like, okay, we can take a lot of risks and fail. Does that matter if that product fails? No, not really. What matters is we have one every couple years that’s a grand slam.

Yeah.

And I think Stories falls into that bucket. I think we’ve had other ones, like the adoption of video falls into that bucket. And the question ...

What didn’t?

Well, the initial version of Direct was terrible.

Yeah.

Didn’t really take off. We had this weird thing where it put you and a bunch of friends into a thread. It was just silly and weird. We pivoted it to Via messaging service, that started working and that grew to be a sizable portion of the community using it on a monthly basis. And then, now adding film roll photos into that I think has accelerated that growth.

But I have had plenty of failures along the way. There was a film roll photo-sharing thing that we did called Bolt that fell flat, miserably. It was awful. Good news is that not many people remember it. We worked on advertising for a long time that was very curated. I approved ...

I remember. That was weird.

It was totally unsalable. There were a lot of reasons to doing it that probably don’t make sense to go into right now but ...

I think you can probably be a little fussy, that’s my impression.

Yeah. Listen, fussy is a good thing.

Especially with your liquor, like your bourbon.

I don’t drink that much anymore.

Yeah, I know but you had that ...

Yeah, we did have a bourbon cart.

I don’t mind that.

Could I be good at my job if I wasn’t fussy?

That’s true.

Now, honestly I think about this and I’m like, okay, so you can be fussy but you better be right or otherwise you’re fussy and wrong all the time and those people get kicked out pretty quickly.

Yeah.

Hopefully my slugging percentage is on the up and up. Maybe that’s the thing I worry about most. Are we keeping our slugging percentage up and taking in enough big bets?

I can’t believe I’m asking you this but it’s such a cliché question, but if you weren’t doing this, what would you do? Run for office? Have they asked you to do that yet? Everyone’s being asked to do that.

It’s so funny, because before the whole ...

Because if Mark’s running and petting cows and Sheryl’s running ...

Listen, I would not want to compete with Mark, he’s great.

Yeah.

And also, he stated that he’s not doing it.

I think people are dead wrong about that.

I would not run. I once brought up the idea cause our CO Marty worked in D.C. for a long time. And I was like maybe some day I’ll run for office and she looks at me and she’s like, “I don’t think you’d last a moment.” I like my solitary time. I like thinking and reading.

People grabbing you? No, I don’t see that.

Shaking a lot of hands, right.

Yeah, no.

Listen, I don’t know. That’s not something that’s on my list. What would I be doing otherwise? I would definitely just go back to starting another company. If you told me I couldn’t do Instagram tomorrow, I’d go back to starting another company. Honestly, I’m a pretty mission-driven person myself. I’d probably figure out the best way to bring people together and strengthening relationships that wasn’t Instagram. What that is probably involves media, it probably involves things like virtual reality. There are a bunch of exciting new chapters in technology coming ahead. I’d love to work on that stuff. But the good news is, I have this platform, it’s called Instagram and I get to do all that there.

Virtual reality Instagram, when is that coming?

That’s a good question. We’ll time it. But yeah, I’d probably be doing that. I’m an active person and I want to stay active, and building a company is one of those thrilling experiences in my life and I’m gonna keep doing it.

That’s good. I thought you would say, “Oh, I want to be an astronaut” or something.

No. I don’t think so.

Maybe a spy.

Listen, I’d probably bike a little bit more but listen, it’s a fine balance.

Absolutely. Anyway, thank you so much. We’ve been talking with a very thoughtful executive. He always has been and I think he always will be. Kevin Systrom from Instagram. Thank you for coming.

Thanks for having me.


This article originally appeared on Recode.net.

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