Kara Swisher

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The Money Shot: Kara Swisher on Instagram’s Billion-Dollar Ride in Vanity Fair


There’s no picture of the moment when everything changed for Kevin Systrom. But if there were, it would look something like this: A lanky, very tall, dark-haired man in his late 20s sits on a bench at the Caltrain commuter station in Palo Alto, Calif. A sepia tone and weathered patina might underscore the mood of weighty contemplation.

It was early April of last year, and Systrom was waiting for his business partner, Mike Krieger, to arrive from San Francisco. Systrom had just left Mark Zuckerberg’s nearby house and was still digesting the offer that the Facebook founder and CEO had made him: To buy Instagram, the photo-sharing app that Systrom and Krieger had launched just 18 months before. The price Zuckerberg offered was $1 billion — $300 million in cash and the rest in Facebook stock, an especially generous-seeming deal on the eve of his company’s much-anticipated initial public offering.

The offer was even more impressive given Instagram’s size and age. At the time, it had just 13 employees, operating out of a cramped space in the South Park section of San Francisco. Still, the small crew had managed to attract 30 million Apple iPhone users in just a year and a half by offering a service that allowed a person to quickly upload, prettify through the use of filters and publish images to the Web for friends to see. A version for Google’s Android mobile operating system had launched the week before, attracting another million users in a single day.

What’s more, although the app generated no revenue, it had attracted so much attention from venture capitalists that the startup had nearly closed an impressive new round of funding at a wildly high valuation of $500 million. Zuckerberg had just doubled that, leaving Systrom with a lot to think about on that train-station bench.

Click. If there ever was a money shot to take for Instagram and Systrom, that was it.

(Photo by Jonas Fredwall Karlsson, used with permission by Vanity Fair)

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