Instagram recently announced it had reached a big milestone: half a billion users. The BBC asked me to interview the company’s COO, Marne Levine to explore the company’s appeal and find out why video – and new products like Boomerang – are helping fuel that growth.
“We’re certainly marching towards a billion…and even beyond a billion. Today, video is exploding on Instagram… In the last six months, consumption increased by more than 40%…Sometimes people want sight, sound and motion to tell their stories. ” Instagram COO, Marne Levine
Here’s a transcript of the conversation, edited for length and clarity:
BBC host, Fergus Nicholl: Do you use Instagram? A new study says that half the Fortune 500 companies use it for marketing. Alison, you’ve been talking to a bigwig at the company about its recent announcement that it’s reached the magic number of half a billion users?
Alison van Diggelen: That’s right. I interviewed Marne Levine. Instagram is very well known as a place where youth congregate, especially teenagers…they use it to reach their friends and share cool things…a lot of these users are women. But they’re not the only ones making up this figure of half a billion users. I asked Marne how entrepreneursare using Instagram to attract more business…
Marne Levine: There are so many different stories of small businesses, big businesses that have grown through the Instagram community. A woman named Isha Yuba in Germany – has “Art Youth Society.” She started by designing a bracelet, she posted a photo of it. Somebody inquired and suddenly she has a thriving business. She has turned her passion into livelihood. A lot of businesses have started to advertise on Instagram. We now have more than 200,000 advertisers…the vast majority of those are small businesses.
Alison van Diggelen: You’ve added about 100 million users in about 9 months. Obviously the next milestone would be one billion…Any ideas when that might happen?
Marne Levine: We’re certainly marching towards a billion…and even beyond a billion. When we have more people on the platform, it really benefits the Instagram community – we get a wide range of perspectives, new windows into different things that are happening around the world.
Those could be big events like the Olympics…that’s probably how I’m going to experience the Olympics, through Instagram. Lots of people are sharing ordinary moments, epic moments and everything in between.
Alison van Diggelen: Why do you think Instagram is doing so much better than Twitter, that seems to have plateaued?
Marne Levine: We’re constantly trying to thinking about: what would add value to the community? We listen to feedback, continue to innovate so people can tell their stories in different ways. When Instagram started it was really all about photos. Today video is exploding on Instagram… In the last 6 months, consumption increased by more than 40%.
Sometimes people want “sight sound and motion” to tell their stories. Sometimes it’s not necessarily just a straight video….I don’t know whether you know Boomerang? Cool little looping videos that take ordinary moments and turn them into fun and delightful moments.
Alison van Diggelen: You posted one of your son going up and down the stairs?
Marne Levine: I did! Somebody once said this to me and this is how I now think about it: Motion is the new filter.
Marne Levine: The Pope is looking to inspire lots of people. What he told our CEO, is that a lot of times….people will show him an image to get over the language barrier…Images are the most powerful way to connect, because they transcend borders, language, cultures, generations. You look at the image and instantly connect. He understood that there’s a new global language of images. In this case 500 million people are contributing to that new global language of images – it could be images that are documenting the plight of refugees… images of hope and opportunity. That can be really inspiring…
(End of interview)
Fergus Nicholl: She could be VP for sales, as well as COO. She does a pretty fantastic job of selling…But just to zoom in on one of the questions I thought was very sharp: this question of plateauing.
You were talking about Twitter, and people might also think about Snapchat…I wonder whether Instagram is doing really well just because it’s in vogue. Maybe, in a year’s time there’ll be something else?
Alison van Diggelen: I think that’s the constant challenge of Silicon Valley companies, of social media companies in general. They have to keep innovating. They can’t just put out this cool platform and assume that people will come to it. She talked about how they listen to feedback…because not everyone loves Instagram. They recently changed their algorithm to make (the feed) not just strictly reverse chronological order and that caused push-back from certain users, so she underlined how they try to listen to their users and please as many users as possible.
They’ve also launched “business profiles” to allow businesses, like the entrepreneur mentioned, to get the word out and reach their target audience. And of course, over 50% of the users are in this very sought after demographic of under 35-years old. So it’s a great way for companies, business and media outlets to reach this young demographic.
The new Elon Musk biography by Ashlee Vance will “likely serve as the definitive account” of the most successful entrepreneur in the world, writes Jon Gertner in the New York Times. But it can also be read as a manual of how to succeed in business. Here are six big lessons for entrepreneurs, young and old:
1. Think Big
While Musk was at college, he decided the three things that would have the biggest positive impact on the human race were: sustainable energy, the Internet, and making life multi-planetary.
Here’s how Vance describes Musk’s big thinking:
“What Musk has developed that so many of the entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley lack is a meaningful worldview. He’s the possessed genius on the grandest quest anyone has ever concocted. He’s less a CEO chasing riches than a general marshaling troops to secure victory. Where Mark Zuckerberg wants to help you share baby photos, Musk wants to…well…save the human race from self-imposed or accidental annihilation.”
This passage comes early in the book, and feels as though Vance has been drinking Musk’s Kool Aid. By the last page, however, he’s painted a vivid and balanced picture of a driven man, focused intently on changing the world in a big way, no matter the cost to himself or his family (see No.6 below). So, if you want to succeed like Elon Musk, don’t waste time building a widget that’ll be 10% better than the competition:
Think big, really big, and go for it.
2. Learn to be a Better Boss
Elon Musk was ousted as CEO from two early startups Zip2 and X.com (the precursor to PayPal) because he was a bad boss. In his early days, Musk was a controlling, micro-manager whose “one upmanship” tactics were brutal.
“Musk’s traits as a confrontational know-it-all and his abundant ego created deep, lasting fractures within his companies.”
According to a colleague at Zip2, he’d rip into junior and senior executives alike, especially when employees told him that his demands were impossible.
“You would see people come out of the meetings with this disgusted look on their face…You don’t get to where Elon is now by always being a nice guy, and he was just so driven and sure of himself.”
These days, he’s still very demanding but has got better at being a decent boss at Tesla and SpaceX and his longtime employees are fiercely loyal.
Of course, part of being a good boss is inspiring your team with an awesome mission (see No.1 above) and articulating that clearly. Early employees of SpaceX were told that “the mission would be to emerge as the South-west Airlines* of Space.” More recently of course, the Mars mission dominates the company’s focus. Who wouldn’t be on board with the mind-blowing goal of making humans a multi-planetary species?
So don’t fret if you’re not getting “Boss of the Year” awards in your early days, but learn from your mistakes, and motivate your team with a grand vision.
3. Hire with Care, Fire fast
Musk is renowned for hiring top talent and for several years, he even insisted on personally interviewing employees fairly low on the totem pole. For key technical hires, once he decides he wants someone, he’ll go above and beyond to hire them. He even cold-calls them himself. A SpaceX employee recalls receiving a call from Musk in his college dorm room and thinking it was a prank call.
But on the flip side, if you’re not a fit for the team, then you’ll soon know about it, according to Steve Jurvetson, a Tesla, SpaceX board member and close ally to Musk.
“Like (Steve) Jobs, Elon does not tolerate C or D players. He’s like Jobs in that neither of them suffer fools. But I’d say he’s nicer than Jobs and a bit more refined than Bill Gates.”
The lesson: hire strategically with great care, and if an employee doesn’t fit, don’t wait.
Some of his “bombastic counteroffensives” worked, others were arguably counter productive and alienated potential allies and supporters.
Yet Vance also offers a more sympathetic interpretation of his tirades as “a quest for truth” as opposed to pure vindictiveness. As Vance writes,
“Musk is wired like a scientist and suffers mental anguish at the sight of a factual error. A mistake on a printed page would gnaw at his soul – forever.”
Although taking things personally and seeking war has generally worked for Musk, it’s a highly risky strategy. Setting the record straight is one thing, but how many bridges can you burn? One key consideration is this: going to war demands a lot of time and energy which might be better spent on getting your mission accomplished.
Choose your battles carefully.
5. Have a trusted assistant
Ashley Vance describes Musk’s long-time assistant Mary Beth Brown as:
“A now-legendary character in the lore of both SpaceX and Tesla….establishing a real-life version of the relationship between Iron Man’s Tony Stark and Pepper Potts. If Musk worked a twenty hour day, so too did Mary Beth…She would emerge as the only bridge between Musk and all of his interests and was an invaluable asset to the companies’ employees.”
Sadly for Musk, she’s now moved on, but having worked with her briefly in 2012/13 (to arrange an in-depth interview with Musk), I can attest that she was very charming and an excellent surrogate for Musk. She represented him well in a professional and personal capacity.
Read more about her in the biography and try find someone as loyal, talented and hard-working to be your right-hand man or woman. Good luck!
6. Work hard, very hard
Not only does Musk lead two hard-driving companies (which are 300 miles apart) – SpaceX (L.A.) and Tesla (Silicon Valley) – he’s chairman of SolarCity, and has five boys, two ex-wives and a tight circle of friends, that includes Google’s Larry Page. He claims to sleep an average of six hours a night, but almost every waking hour is devoted to his businesses. His ex-wife Justine Musk, describes his work ethic like this:
“I had friends who complained that their husbands came home at seven or eight. Elon would come home at eleven and work some more. People didn’t always get the sacrifice he made in order to be where he was. He does what he wants, and he is relentless about it. It’s Elon’s world, and the rest of us live in it.”
The only regular downtime he allows is to indulge in long showers, but even then, it’s really work. He says that’s when he has most of his innovative ideas.
So, the lesson for you is the same as that espoused by pioneering giants like Thomas Edison and Andrew Carnegie: there’s nothing like good old fashioned hard work.
Note: Although Musk comes over as a hard-driving maniac in this biography, he does have a more sensitive side. You can see this for yourself in this candid interview. He comes close to tears several times.
Sandberg asks: Have you ever called a little girl “bossy”? Or seen it happen? Next time you witness it, she says, “Walk up to that person, whether you know them or not, big smile on your face, and say, ‘your daughter’s not bossy, your daughter has executive leadership skills.'”
2. Change male/female expectations
Have you ever been asked ‘should you be working?’ Sandberg points out that this is a question women often get asked, never men. She says, “We need to help our sons nurture, we need to help our husbands be good fathers, and we need to have equal expectations (for both sexes).”
. 3. Create equality at home
Sandberg points out that worldwide, women do the great majority of the child care and the housework; and since most women are working full time, they have two jobs while men have one. She even shares evidence of the correlation between husbands doing laundry and sex.
“We are never ever going to get to equality in the workplace until we get to equality in the home.” Sheryl Sandberg. 4. Ask: what would you do if you weren’t afraid?
“Would you reach for? Would you reach to be CEO, would you lead something you’re not leading? I want you to think of just one thing you would do.” Sheryl Sandberg. 5. Bring an honest conversation about gender to work and home.
“Together we are going to break through the stagnation for women in leadership and together we are going to create a better world.” Sheryl Sandberg.
So, are you convinced?
I’m certainly impressed with the simplicity of Sandberg’s message and the way she delivers it logically, calmly, and with humor. She refrains from being whiny or strident and is using her powerful platform effectively. Sandberg makes a strong case for more women in the workforce increasing each company’s, (even each country’s) productivity, but I fear that most women I know are too busy struggling with the juggle to join her Lean In Movement in droves.
Nevertheless, I find it hard to resist her fourth call to action: what would you do if you weren’t afraid? I can think of at least one thing…Can you?
Sandberg addressed an audience of 4000 businesswomen at the Moscone Center in San Francisco, PBWC Conference on May 23, 2013. Read more about her speech and the audience reaction. And learn more here about her Lean In book and movement
“We are a community of change agents,” said Sarandon. “Bringing about the world we want for our children.”
In a video tribute at the Bently Reserve, Will.i.am enthused about healthy design being a human right, and thanked Bill McDonough for inspiring him. “It’s my mission…to create products that after we use them have a new beginning,” said the popular singer songwriter, and quipped, pointing first at himself then at Bill McDonough: “Will.i.am…Bill.i.am.”
The newly crowned “Bill.i.am” came on stage to great applause and was obviously amused by his tributes. He announced his upcoming book, “The Upcycle” (a tome on upcycling to be released in 2013) and what he called “his baby,” a Bill Clinton inspired solution to homelessness in Haiti and beyond.
“What if we could design a house that could be built by children and their parents in a day without tools?” said McDonough, who is well known for his visionary zeal. He showed the audience a model of a simple one room home, made of ‘upcycled’ plastic no doubt. He dreams that these homes could be shipped in flatpacks to earthquake and storm damaged areas, wherever there is a need around the world.
“What if we could do (for building) what Muhammad Yunus did for banking?” said McDonough, alluding to the microfinance guru who received the Nobel Peace Prize for his work alleviating poverty in Bangladesh.
Perhaps McDonough has a similar award in mind? He’s won many awards in the green design field (including three Presidential Awards for Sustainable Development and Design), and has taken some criticism, but one thing is for certain, he’s never been short on grand vision. Witness the 6-hour long Monticello Dialogues.
He may yet succeed in taking Cradle to Cradle mainstream and making the world a healthier and greener place. With allies like Meryl Streep, Susan Sarandon and Will.i.am who can doubt him?
Click here to see highlights of Fresh Dialogues exclusive interview with Meryl Streep at the event.
The video was recorded at the Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute Gala, the Bently Reserve, San Francisco on Wednesday November 14, 2012.
The first thing that strikes you about Meryl Streep is her grace and poise. Like a true royal, she glided into the throng of green designers and architects gathered at the Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute Gala in San Francisco this week, completely unruffled by the crush of fans; the flash of cameras and smart phones; and the fierce security guards. Yet instantly, like a chameleon, Streep can switch from serene queen of the movies to cozy confidante. I found myself standing next to her and shook her hand. As you know, she’s renowned for her authentic accents in every exotic role she’s played, so I asked her, “Can you do a good Scottish accent?” She immediately leaned over and whispered in my ear, “I love the way they say murdererrrr!” Rolling those r’s as only a lass from Scotland – or Meryl Streep – can do. Then she laughed with that infectious burst of effervescence. Now that would make even The Iron Lady melt a wee bit.
But enough trivia. The best part is, I found her later that evening and she agreed to a Fresh Dialogues interview. We had a lively conversation about her green design guru and close friend William McDonough; and why she’s become an activist for the environment. Enjoy her hilarious tribute to McDonough below and check out the highlights of her interview…
Why should we care for the environment?
We’re all part of the ecosystem. We’re all connected. You can’t go around in a bubble…
On why Bill McDonough inspires her
Unlike so many environmental messages which are negative: “don’t this…don’t that!” Bill approaches things in a positive, restorative, beneficial way…with a focus on abundance. His mantra is a beautiful thing: “Designing a safe, healthy and delightful world for the love of all children, for all species, for all time.”
He’s a fervent optimist. His cup is never half empty or even half full. It’s always full of water and air. We were both profoundly affected by similar things: Silent Spring (the book by Rachel Carson) and concern for the impact of toxins on children. He’s the consummate multi-tasker. He leaves me breathless.
On the roots of her environmental consciousness
It all goes back to being a mother. That’s the most invested relationship. You pay attention, perhaps for the first time. What is going in your child’s mouth? What’s her environment like? What will the future be?
In 1989 Streep cofounded “Mothers and Others” to raise awareness of toxic pesticides used in food production.
On how playing acclaimed chef, Julia Child influenced her green journey
We need to think about the provenance of our food. Where does it come from? Is it produced locally and with concern for the environment?
During her hilarious speech in San Francisco, Streep praised the work being done by Brad Pitt, William McDonough and Tom Darden through the Make it Right Foundationin New Orleans and beyond. The group began building green-designed houses for low income families displaced by Hurricane Katrina in 2008.
Does Streep consider herself a green activist?
In an interview with USA Today, she said, “We are all activists every day that we make a purchase. We vote daily with our credit cards; we demonstrate with our dollars.”
Today Streep helps raise awareness of toxins in food and the environment by supporting the work of the Children’s Health Environmental Coalition and is known to shop at Whole Foods and prefer locally produced goods. Her home in Connecticut is fueled by geothermal power.