Does Instagram's Success Send the Wrong Message to Entrepreneurs? : Under30CEO Does Instagram's Success Send the Wrong Message to Entrepreneurs? : Under30CEO
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Does Instagram’s Success Send the Wrong Message to Entrepreneurs?

| April 22, 2012 | 14 Comments

Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger

There is no doubt that Instagram’s co-founders Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger are highly intelligent and motivated people. But let’s be clear, Instagram’s rapid-fire success is due in large part to Systrom’s and Krieger’s connections.

Both went to Stanford and took part in the Mayfield Fellowship Program, which gives its participants opportunities to meet venture capitalists. Systrom interned at Twitter and worked at Google, making beneficial connections in both places. And, in the NYT article, “Behind Intagram’s Success, Networking the Old Way,” Systrom, himself, makes it no secret that the adage “success is as much about what you know as who you know” is true.

The connections the two had enabled them to get plenty of seed money, more than many would-be entrepreneurs even imagine getting. While I, like any other entrepreneur, love an entrepreneurial fairy-tale like Instragram’s, I’m concerned about the message this Instagram tale sends. The message is this: if you want to be a successful entrepreneur, you need to make connections, and the quickest and easiest way to make connections is by going to a top tier college.

In fact, I can’t argue that this message isn’t true. It is true. But there is another message that is also true, which is invalidated by the mass-coverage of the Instagram story. The message is this: people can make it in the entrepreneurial world regardless of their background as long as they work hard, persist, and network.

There are many examples of successful entrepreneurs (sure, maybe there aren’t billionaires, but they are millionaires!) that are the people-next-door. They don’t have an Ivy League education and didn’t start out knowing “the right” people. Often these entrepreneurs don’t get much national news coverage, so we forget that all things are possible in the entrepreneurial world if you’re willing to work for it.

My own father, Roy Kaplan, is one of the best examples that I know of a successful entrepreneur who doesn’t have an Ivy League education and didn’t have any investors pouring seed money into his startup. My father was well into his 40s when he started his business, JK Group, in the loft of his townhouse. By the time he sold JK Group, he had 200 employees. JK Group is not a household name like Facebook is, but my father has certainly enjoyed the financial success that many people dream of.

Think about all the businesses in your community, and find out who started them. I bet you’ll be surprised to find out that many of your local entrepreneurs are more similar to you than to Systrom and Krieger. And remember, the adage, “where there’s a will, there’s a way,” holds true for entrepreneurs.

Suzanne Kaplan is the founder of Job Talk 4 All, which features interviews with people about their jobs and other career-related articles. As an unemployed High School English teacher, she decided that she can’t wait around for the right job, so she has tapped into her entrepreneurial spirit and is starting her own business.

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Category: Startup Advice

  • http://www.thebusinessfox.com/ Nancy Fox

    Suzanne, it’s ideal you highlighted this topic. I read the story about how Kevin Systrom met his first “investor” at a Palo Alto party.
    In life and in business, who you are is who you hang around with. Going to an Ivy League school and networking with the future movers and shakers is a good strategy, but you are right: if you have the right mindset, determination and networking strategy, you will connect with the right people and the right people will have the ability to open the right doors.

  • Kay

    Suzanne, thank you so much for this wonderful post. As a Canadian woman entrepreneur with access to very little financing and mentoring support, it does feel like a kick in the guts when you read about successes like Instagram.

    While I admire all they have accomplished in such a short period of time, their, almost overnight success, can make it seem that all the choices you have made were wrong (didn’t attend an Ivy League school, didn’t cultivate the right connections).

    Thanks for reminding me that hard work and perseverance can also be worthwhile.

    Cheers!

  • Kay

    Stanford isn’t an Ivy League school…

  • Suzanne Kaplan

    I was wondering if someone was going to say that! I debated whether or not to put Stanford as an Ivy League, but these days people lump Stanford and MIT in with the Ivy League heading… But yes, it’s true it’s not an Ivy in that historical sense that the term Ivy was used for. 

  • Suzanne Kaplan

    Thanks! I’ve been interviewing entrepreneurs and some CEOs and everyone that I’ve interviewed doesn’t have and Ivy or Top-tier college education. 

  • Suzane Kaplan

    Thanks, Nancy.  You’re right, it is ideal to go to an Ivy League college if you can. But many of us can’t. There’s also a lot of people who don’t even start on an entrepreneurial path until later in life, like my father. At which point, he was not about to go back to college because he didn’t need to. I believe that people can do incredible things. It may take a little longer than it does for those with money and/or connections, but it can happen.

  • http://www.online-business-virtual-assistant.com/ Virtual Assistants

     Hi Suzann, great post and some times I too felt like we should have a graduation from a top tier college to start a business and run it successfully. But you shared your father’s story and I am really motivated and would work much harder to get mine to top.

  • http://www.online-business-virtual-assistant.com/ Virtual Assistants

     Hi Suzann, great post and some times I too felt like we should have a graduation from a top tier college to start a business and run it successfully. But you shared your father’s story and I am really motivated and would work much harder to get mine to top.

  • Suzane Kaplan

    Hi! Thanks for the comment. I promise you that there are tons of people out there that didn’t go to a top-tier college doing well as entrepreneurs. My father is an example that comes easily to me because I obviously know his story well. But my father himself dealt with some really interesting people – entrepreneurs – who had “average” backgrounds and built successful companies. Good luck with everything!
    Suzanne

  • Suzane Kaplan

    Hi! Thanks for the comment. I promise you that there are tons of people out there that didn’t go to a top-tier college doing well as entrepreneurs. My father is an example that comes easily to me because I obviously know his story well. But my father himself dealt with some really interesting people – entrepreneurs – who had “average” backgrounds and built successful companies. Good luck with everything!
    Suzanne

  • http://thepeachdesign.com/ Peachanan Rojwongsuriya

    I think it’s a strike balance between network and a great product. An example of great network, but not so good product is Color. :)

  • Suzane Kaplan

    I had never heard of Color until now. I have not idea if the product is good or not, but if it’s not so great, like you say, it goes to show that networking can do a lot for a company! 

  • http://thepeachdesign.com/ Peachanan Rojwongsuriya

    They were very well funded ($41 million) to compete with Instagram but they failed miserably with their first app.  

    http://techcrunch.com/2011/04/29/how-many-mulligans-does-color-get/

  • Suzane Kaplan

    Wow! 41 million. Will have to read the article now. Thanks for the link.