ASPEN, Colo.—Instagram didn't start out as Instagram. It started out as … Burbn.
Kevin Systrom, the creativity researcher Keith Sawyer explains, was a fan of Kentucky whiskeys. So when he created a location-based iPhone app—one driven by the success of networking app Foursquare—he named it after the booze. The app was complicated, but it took Systrom just a few months to build: Burbn let users check in at particular locations, make plans for future check-ins, earn points for hanging out with friends, and post pictures of the meet-ups.
Burbn was not, however, terribly successful. The app was too complicated, Sawyer points out, and had "a jumble of features that made it confusing." Systrom, however, kept tweaking the app. He paid attention to how people were using it. He brought on another programmer, Mike Krieger; the pair used analytics to determine how, exactly, their customers were using Burbn. Their finding? People weren't using Burbn's check-in features at all. What they were using, though, were the app's photo-sharing features. "They were posting and sharing photos like crazy," Sawyer notes.
At that point, Systrom and Krieger decided to double down on their data: They focused on their photo-sharing infrastructure and scrapped almost everything else. Burbn would become a simple-photo-sharing app.