At a gathering of the UK’s leading Instagram entrepreneurs, Business Advice heard from an expert panel of startup owners led by Instagram founder Mike Krieger.
Krieger took to the stage in Hackney’s Perseverance Works to celebrate the innovative marketing approach taken by the founders present, while also revealing a few secrets as to how he and his co-founder grew their company from a living room to the global app we know today.
Painting a picture of Instagram’s early days, Krieger said he and his co-founder soon moved into a co-working space with other startups. In this period, it was important to keep the company as lean as possible. He said the two entrepreneurs were “swooping like vultures” on the space’s free lunches at every possible moment.
Krieger went on to explain how the photo app expanded from an initial two-man operation.
“That first hire is so essential”, the Instagram founder told the audience. The criteria was more obvious – “who can we bring into the team that will add value to the business?”
For a promising tech startup, investment in the company’s development side would perhaps have been the obvious choice. Krieger’s first recruit was a community manager. But, as Krieger explained, “technology is not the reason people love Instagram – community is”.
“It was about building up the team to then build up the culture,” he added.
Krieger admitted he barely finds time now for development work at Instagram. However, his new role of growing the app and making business owners worldwide aware of its potential has been as much of a success.
His extra hours have seen the development of the Business Tools offering that caused a boom in Instagram’s community of small companies. Bespoke business profiles give owners analytics tools to assess how their marketing efforts have worked.
Reflecting on the app’s recent milestone of 700 million users, Krieger was reminded of being taken aback by how many people follow numerous brands. The Instagram founder cited “inspiration to action” as something unique offered by the app.
“When we talk to people, a huge number are taking action – 75 per cent have been inspired to interact or spend with a brand on Instagram,” he said.
Hugo Taylor, co-founder of the Italian-inspired Taylor Morris sunglasses brand and a former star of reality show Made in Chelsea, cited his own naivety as a driving factor for his business. He and his co-founder Charlie Morris kept their mission statement simple – “let’s become the next biggest eyewear label”.
“Instagram was a free way of getting your image out there, and to help drive campaigns,” Taylor explained, highlighting its value over expensive recurring ad slots in Vogue.
User generated content through Instagram was championed by Taylor as vital to the company’s early growth. A simple hashtag that invited users to share their own pictures helped the high-end sunglasses brand build a following from nothing to “10 to 15,000” almost overnight.
For a luxury brand like Taylor Morris, a careful balancing act was needed to engage with followers through Instagram but without drawing the curtains wide open. Instagram Stories, for example, can help give an intimate insight into a business, but it’s about “working the trade-off of how much you let people in”.
When the panel were asked to leverage their Instagram expertise for expert pointers, Taylor stressed the importance of collaboration and interaction with other businesses.
“Create a community. People come to Instagram looking for their interests and passions,” he told the audience, encouraging fellow entrepreneurs to send direct messages and engage with like-minded brands.
Looking more closely at the tools on offer to entrepreneurs, Taylor confirmed the importance of paid promotion in growing his brand. It was an “essential” part of the business, he said, “but the hardest thing is identifying the customer and targeting the ad”.
On the other hand, fellow panellist Sophie Lee, founder of botanical stylist geo-fleur, talked up the power organic sharing. Lee referred to a high-profile Instagrammer sharing of one of her cacti. The geo-fleur account collected an extra 20,000 followers from the photo.
After almost seven years introducing his app as far afield as Indonesia and Russia, Krieger wanted to express the value of real-life experiences to the Instagram experience.
“The portal of Instagram really does open up when you travel,” the Instagram founder concluded.
Three essential takeaway tips from the Instagram entrepreneurs
- Engage with like-minded brands to build a community that benefits your own business
- Make full use of Business Tools, optimising your profile with links and seeing how your audience engages through analytics
- Encourage your following to create user generated content through hashtags, short campaigns and competitions
Sign up to our newsletter to get the latest from Business Advice.