Creativity 50 2011: Kevin Systrom

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Kevin Systrom
Kevin Systrom Credit: Guy Calaf/Bloomberg
The quick and sudden popularity of Instagram -- an iPhone app that turns your photos into retro-like Instamatics trades on our need for nostalgia and our belief that a retro gloss applied to smartphones somehow alleviates technology's calculating encroach. And, well, it just looks cool.

Released last October, the app has already been downloaded 4.3 million times, much faster than its founder and CEO Kevin Systrom imagined, and is yet another sign of Apple's ability to attract good design. But the real creative savvy behind the app's design can be found in Systrom's risky move -- scrapping his original startup venture Burbn, a mobile check-in service, to focus on the photos the service created for its users.

"We realized it wasn't special enough," Mr. Systrom said of the check-in program, citing more well-known competitors such as Foursquare. "So, we said, 'What do people love most about this thing?' It turns out, it was the photos."

Mr. Systrom, a 27-year-old Stanford University graduate, left a promising job at Google to start Burbn, and now Instagram, which has taken in $7.5 million in venture capital.

"People love photos of them," Mr. Systrom said. "Our users were sending us a very clear signal, so we built a product that lets them use it very easily. Our mission is still the same. Sharing, but through photos."

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