Instagram’s co-founder, Mike Krieger, killed my startup. That’s it, plain and simple.
This is not a strong opening to lure you in reading my blog post. This post is about how Mike Krieger literally killed my startup.
For those of you who have never visited my blog, never heard about me or never met me, I’d write this: My name is Itay Adam and I’ve been practicing the web since early 93’. I’ve been a web entrepreneur for 20 years and an online marketer for the past 15 years. I’m 38 years old, husband to Dana and father to Mika and Maya. Worked for major top Internet companies, you all know and heard of, and in the past two years now, consulting startups on how to grow and spike. Now that I’ve cleared that, let me start my story.
A few months ago, I’ve noticed that the tagging system on Instagram is somewhat over packed. Users exploiting Instagram’s “30 tags per photo” regulation to the max, just so that people will notice them. Getting noticed on Instagram equals to being existed, and being existed means more likes, followers and “fame”.
The problem with this “over tagging” thing is that when you actually search a certain tag, you’re getting tons of bullshit photos, ones that you’re not really looking for. The proper way in my opinion is to allow only -1- tag per photo in order to keep the photo search on Instagram more productive.
One night it hit me. If people want “fame” on Instagram, let’s give it to them and make sure that they’ll add only -1- tag per photo. This is how the Firegr.am app came to life.
The concept behind Firegr.am was a simple yet smart process. The app used Instagrams’ API to pull all your photos, offer you to review them and allow you to chose one photo, tag it with only -1- word and blast it out (firegram it). The blast spiked the photo to the top of the search results of 150 popular tags by switching them every 5 second. When Instagram users searched for “shoes” they got exposed to your photo for 5 seconds, in these 5 seconds they either liked it or not, and your tag switched again, for example to: “love”. This is how your photo got another 5 sec of exposure at the top of the search results. 150 tags brought in an average of 140-180 likes and 5-10 new followers per photo. You wanted followers and likes? You wanted “fame”? Cool, there you have it. Now in return, make sure you tag your photo with a reliable final -1- tag.
I must admit that as a UI/UX expert and as an online marketer who has been studying users behavior for more than 12 years, the alpha version tested outstanding. Users actually follow the system requirements and added only -1- word as their photo related tag. I was truly happy with the results and so we moved on to the next step of actually designing the UI/UX. I’ve also moved on and went on a quick seed round. In one week I’ve secure the initial funds and hired two more employees. By that time, we’ve tested the app over and over till one day…shutdown. Instagram closed our API. I wrote Instagram and after two days we received a reply telling us that we’ve exceeded the API’s rules of commenting. A short correspondence between parties and Instagram withdraw their API limitation. I felt a huge relief. We returned to work and after a week or so, again, the same thing all over. “API under limitation”. I wrote the guys again, asking them why is this happening for the second time. The reply came this time at the same day. Instagram asked us for a full spec of our app, a full description of its offer and screen shots of the design.
A few days of work and we sent the guys a long email with all the requested materials. A few days passed and again, the limitation revoked, Instagram folks green light us and gave us a “good to go”. And so we did. We moved back to work, hired a PR firm, built the launch, closed the design/flow process, and the app was just a few days from being ready. Then it happened again. “API - red light limitation” and the wheels stopped, again. I wrote the guys at Instagram, only this time, just before I click the send button, it hit me. I was corresponding all this time with Mike Krieger. All this time I was writing this “Mike” dude thinking I am writing some Mike from the support team and here I am, corresponding with the man himself. I opened my inbox and searched for my previous emails to him. Yep, it was him all along. He was the only one who wrote me and the only one who was corresponding with me. No other Mike. Just Mr. Krieger himself. So I went on and wrote him again, asking for clarifications, why did Instagram gave us a red light and limited our API over and over again. He replied nicely and said that it was a mistake and that in 24 hours they will withdraw our limitation once again. I asked: “Is this going to be the last time?” He replied: “Yes”. Here you can find the entire correspondence.
Three weeks later, we were good to go. The PR was ready, the app cleared on Apple and we were waiting for the launch day on TechCrunch. A day before the launch, we opened the app to the public just to feel the “breeze”. A warm and gentle breeze of 500 downloads welcomed us. We were killing time waiting for the launch hour on TC and when it finally arrived, we were hyped. The app flew through the roof. The review were fantastic and the hits grew by the minute, for about…30 minutes when Instagram decided to close our API.
“Oh no, it’s the Nothing”, said the rockbiter.
That’s exactly how I felt at that moment. “The Nothing” hit us so hard, that all we were left to do was to read the pilling comments on TC, laughing at us that the API was closed so fast. “How can it be?” one of my co-founders looked at me leaving me staring at the screen with no words.
We wrote Mike. no reply received.
We wrote him again after an hour. No reply received.
We wrote him everyday for 3 weeks and no, no reply received.
We’ve commented on his Instagram photos just a second after
he replied to one of his followers. No reply back.
Facebook? Nope. Email after email after email, begging, asking for his reply, and no, no reply till this moment.
Finally, we gave up.
I called my investors and explained the whole story, returned what left of our seed money and that was that. Firegr.am was gone.
Mike Krieger killed my startup. Mike Krieger, like a few other web entrepreneurs, forgot where he came from, and how he too, in his past, craved the moment of success. When you forget where you come from, you’re nothing but a momentary lapse of reason.
The saddest thing is that Mike could have written us at the get go, saying: “Look guys, we will never approve this app. Drop it”. But no, instead of that he gave us the “green light”, wasted our time, money, and hope for success, and as if that’s not enough, he didn’t even treat us with the minimum dignity of writing us back to explain Instagrams’ decision of killing our startup.
This is my first blog post about the subject. In the next few weeks, we will launch a very interesting campaign about it, one that I can not disclose at this moment. If you readers, entrepreneurs, friends, know of any US law firm that you can recommend me with, I would truly appreciate it. I believe that the days of “dismissing the app developers” like they’re nothing to take under consideration, are over…
One more thing, if you think that other entrepreneurs such as you should read this story, please share.