A random sampling of recent Versagram posts with the hashtag
#versalove supports that assessment. One message in the stream
that 's overlaid on a picture of clouds reads "OMG!! So happy! I
got a new iPod today from my parents!" while another in cursive
over a red background says, "I still like that person but I'm not
going to tell him!"
Mr. Broyles noted that he built the feature that lets users pick
out quotes after noticing that many young users had a tendency to
replace the filler text he used when delivering a new theme with
"Bored" and other brief phrases.
"When you're a 12-year-old, what do you really have to say?"
said Mr. Broyles, 31, who lives in Nashville. He had been seeking a
full-time job as an iOS developer around the time he was building
Versagram, but then wound up quitting his position at the
Nordstrom-owned shopping site HauteLook months later because
Versagram had started making money.
"The app has turned into a way for them to express themselves,"
User habits have sometimes surprised Mr. Broyles, such as during
Election Night, when usage of the app peaked from 1,000 posts per
minute to 9,400 posts per minute in the 45 minutes after President
Barack Obama's victory was made official. He experimented with a
filter for a few days amid the presidential debates that changed
curse words to "I have a potty mouth," but ultimately decided that
it wasn't his place to be a censor.
Still, Mr. Broyles says he worries about the youthfulness of his
user base and, by extension, Instagram's.
"I think a large number of people are fibbing about their age to
join Instagram," he said.
How it makes money: The app is free, but Mr.
Broyles makes the majority of his income off purchases of
supplemental "packs" of themes that cost $0.99 each. As of Nov. 16,
Versagram was 23rd in a ranking of top-grossing iPhone utility
apps, according to App Annie. (A
competitor, Tweegram, which preceded Versagram and launched in
mid-2011, isn't far behind in 40th place.) He also said he's
exploring the concept of advertiser-sponsored themes.
Marketing strategy: In lieu of advertising, Mr.
Broyles marketed Versagram by building up a following for its own
Instagram account. Prior to launching the app, he first followed
thousands of users -- a relatively small share of whom followed
back -- and seeded the account with images the app could render.
Now he relies on viral engineering to acquire new users, since each
post automatically generates text like "Created with the awesome
@Versagram App!" to accompany the image.
Mr. Broyles uses Versagram's Instagram following (317,000 users
strong) to keep the fan base engaged. Sometimes he issues
scavenger-hunt-style challenges, asking users to look for something
on Instagram, but usually on celebrity accounts that likely have
notifications turned off so as not to bother anyone. But last week
he did an experiment using this reporter's
account, asking them to find and like all the cats in her
photos. Versagram users responded with more than 2,000 likes and
hundreds of comments (mostly "Done @versagram") in the 20 minutes
that he kept the challenge live.