Kevin Systrom is a computer programmer and entrepreneur best known for being the co-founder of Instagram, the world's largest photo sharing website. Within two years of its launch, Instagram was acquired by Facebook for an astounding $1 billion in 2012. Systrom led Instagram for six years after its acquisition, giving him a key spot on the roster as the social media company scaled its operations to reach 700 million monthly active users and a market valuation of $50 billion at the time.
Prior to founding Instagram, Systrom spent two years at Google, working on Gmail, Google Calendar, Docs, and other products. Following his 2018 resignation from Instagram, Systrom now serves on the boards of Walmart and the public radio station KCRW. In 2014, Systrom was included in Forbes' 30 under 30 list. While in 2016, the publication ranked him among its list of billionaires, estimating his net worth at $1.1 billion.
Much of Systrom's success in Silicon Valley can be ascribed to his fortuitous tenure as an undergraduate at Stanford University in the early 2000s. He initially majored in computer science, but he switched majors to management science and engineering after realizing the focus of the computer science program was more academic than practical. He didn’t give up programming though. During his free time, he still built web apps, including a private photo site for him and his fraternity brothers to share party pictures.
During his degree, Systrom was chosen to participate in the highly prestigious Mayfield Fellows Programme. This milestone led to an internship at Odeo, the company that gave rise to Twitter. At one point, Systrom's undisguised brilliance compelled Mark Zuckerberg to offer him a job at Facebook, but the college kid declined, instead spending the winter term of his third year in Florence, Italy where he studied photography. In 2006, Systrom graduated from Stanford University with a Bachelor of Science degree in management science and engineering.
Five years later, in 2011, the wunderkind returned to Stanford to speak in the Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders (ETL) series. There he shared his first-hand experiences of the entrepreneurial process that led to the creation of Instagram, which already had a million users a month after its launch in 2010. The talk marked his first time, but not his last time back on campus. In 2020 he was speaking in another ETL series sponsored by his alma mater. After fondly reflecting on some of his Stanford classes, Systrom spoke about his decision to sell Instagram to Facebook, comparing the acquisition to strapping rocket boosters to the startup.
More importantly, before leaving, the tech billionaire gave some advice to his 20-year-old self. "Life is about whether you enjoy the process of getting better," Systrom said. "The thing I learned from cycling is that the best cyclists in the world are the cyclists who truly enjoy training and the pain of training a lot. You have to choose an area of life where you enjoy the practice, you enjoy the pain, because you won’t escape the pain anywhere."