When word broke Monday morning that Facebook was buying a tiny San Francisco startup for $1 billion, many asked, "Who are these guys?"
Instagram, which makes a wildly popular app to turn mobile-phone photos into mini works of art, has a staff that barely tops a dozen. And at the top of the org chart are a pair of co-founders just a few years removed from their Stanford undergraduate days.
Kevin Systrom graduated from Stanford in 2006 and has worked at Google and the forerunner to Twitter. Co-founder Mike Krieger is even younger, a 2008 Stanford grad from Brazil who, before Instagram's launch, had held only one full-time job, and that for less than 18 months.
Both men, through a Facebook spokesman, declined an interview request. But people who have worked with them say they benefit from a winning combination of technology chops and people skills.
"You could see how passionate they were," said Rob Abbott, a former adviser at San Francisco startup accelerator Dogpatch Labs, where Systrom in early 2010 launched a location-sharing service called Burbn. Abbott remembers being struck by the hours the young Stanford alumnus put in long after his peers had gone home.
Burbn attracted a small but devoted following of techies, including Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey, who later invested in Systrom's startup. Back then, subscribers to the service had to post photos via email, an unwieldy workaround but nevertheless one that occupied an increasing amount of Burbn's traffic.
"Kevin came to me one day and asked, 'Rob, if I just focused on photos, would that be a good idea?'" Abbott recalled. "I told him, 'I need a Twitter for photos, and if you don't build that product today, I'm going to start working on it tomorrow.'" Read more at the San Jose Mercury News