Instagram, Business Models, and Expectations

Instagram has been in the news a lot lately, as the service just launched an Android app. However, this video has left many people concerned about Instagram’s future:

When Sarah Lacy asks about a business model, Instagram CEO Kevin Systrom responds that ~30 million users are not enough to monetize and they plan to build a tool that makes it easier for advertisers to post to the service.

Seems kind of crazy to me. I think the free plus ads “business model” is a difficult way to go, especially when it’s bolted on after the fact. Sometimes I feel like that strategy is only a delay to keep investors at bay until you are bought by someone like Google, Facebook, or Apple.

But I guess what it comes down to is this: Would you pay for a service like Instagram? Or Facebook? Or Twitter? I would if there was something of value.

And remember:

“If you are not paying for it, you’re not the customer; you’re the product being sold.” – Andrew Lewis

How about this for Instagram: $12 (or maybe even $24) per year for a Pro account that gives an unlimited archive of your photos with and without filter, the ability to download/export your photos at any time, access to the Pro API that allows other camera apps to post images to your archive. Basically what Flickr should have been… (speaking of which, RIP Flickr?)

Not to mention other options I’ve regularly seen around the web:

  • charge for higher quality filters
  • allow users to sell/license photos and take a cut of the transaction
  • simply charge for the app

On a more macro level, it brings into question the whole venture capital route: do you take investors, who have expectations of huge revenue growth toward an IPO or huge user growth with hopes of winning the Google/Facebook/Apple lottery? Or do you try to build a smaller, sustainable business on your own (like 37signals or Instapaper) doing something you like that will last a reasonably long time?

Do you think Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter would be thought of as successful if they charged for their app or service? Or even tried to make money in ways that weren’t free plus ads?

I’d say yes. Maybe not 30 million users that Instagram currently has, but is 30 million customers paying nothing better than say 5 or 10 million of those paying for a Pro account? I think I would rather have a smaller number of paying customers than 30 million and no business model.

I know I simplified the above scenarios to make a point, but I think it comes down to expectations and having enough, as I wrote about the other day. I know there is serious temptation to build for the lottery, but I think our economy (and the web) would be better off if more people were building for the long term.

The Joy of Making

Last night I had the opportunity to take the Letterpress T-shirts workshop at WNYBAC with Melisa.

The class was amazing. It was so nice to actually design, build, and create something you can hold in your hand. It’s such a contrast to the digital world I live in each and every day. I definitely want to do more, and luckily they have plenty of workshops options to attend. If you live in Buffalo, I highly recommend checking out WNYBAC.

For my shirt design, I used words from a great Dalai Lama quote I posted a few months back:

Take care of your Thoughts because they become Words. Take care of your Words because they will become Actions. Take care of your Actions because they will become Habits. Take care of your Habits because they will form your Character. Take care of your Character because it will form your Destiny, and your Destiny will be your Life. – The Dalai Lama

The words conveniently fit in a scrabble-type format that build off each other, just like the quote. I really like the idea. I only wish I took a little extra time to embellish the design a little with some of the great wood blocks from the WNYBAC collection. Next time!

Here’s my setup on the press:

Letterpress t-shirt setup

I decided to use a dark blue ink on a grey t-shirt. Here is the final result:

Final letterpress t-shirt design


p id=”yui_3_17_2_1_1407674114902_331936″>Since I was the first one done, I was able to watch Melisa design and build a great looking t-shirt based around the quote, “Change is the only constant” (originally by Heraclitus.)It was interesting to watch her work and make decisions. I came in with an idea and was super focused on executing it (thus the lack of embellishment), where she came in with a couple vague ideas and did a lot of exploring in workshop. Then she took the time to play with different elements as she built out an idea. Whereas I found two fonts that worked fairly well together (and had all the necessary letters) and went to work. I certainly enjoyed my work — it was relaxing to piece together the movable type, spacers, and furniture to build out my design. I definitely want to go with a more “free” approach next time to see what happens.


Lucy learned about voting today in pre-school. During lunch she explained to us how it works:

“You read a paper, then it goes in a machine, in a box that is locked. If you have the key to open the box, you take the paper out and it tells you the winner. If it shows a lollipop then a lollipop wins!”

Then we asked what mommies and daddies vote on:

“What Cars character you like, your favorite pet, your favorite candy, what animals live in the sea, and what is on top of the beach that doesn’t live in the water.”

Close enough!

Sadly, her school is also reinforcing the two-party system. All of her “ballots” today only had two choices, like cat vs. dog.

Too cute.

March Love List Update

March is over already? Wow.

I know I said I was excited for warmer weather in my February update, but I totally didn’t expect the 70s and 80s we saw in March. That was very nice.

Here’s a quick update on my Love List progress.

Things I’ve done well so far:

  • Kept on top of my priorities. (I’ve also not procrastinated on any important task in three months. I’ve been fairly productive at work and even made an improvement on the home front. And most importantly, I’ve kept the wife and kids as the top funded priority.)
  • Blog once per week. (Seven posts in March.)
  • Re-connect with friends. (Hung out with Chris a few times during March.)

Works in progress:








  • Spontaneus weekend trip. (We set one up, but kids got sick so we had to postpone. Not so spontaneous any longer, so will have to try again.)
  • Take more photos. (I’ve taken more, but not a significant number and mainly only the kids.)
  • Read one book per month. (Finished book #2 in early March. Started book #3. Need to pick up the pace!)
  • Go camping. (Reservations made!)
  • Create an iPhone app. (Started sketching out screens and interactions in March!)
  • Go bowling. (Nothing in March.)
  • See more movies. (Movies in the theater, I’ve seen recently: Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, twice, The Muppets, Alvin and the Chipmunks, and Mission Impossible. Saw John Carter and Hunger Games in March. Lots of good movies coming up.)
  • Purge stuff. (I did a serious purge of our bedroom in March. Bagged up a very large contractor bag of clothes and tossed a ton of useless stuff that was cluttering up our room. More to come!)

FAIL or Starting Later




  • Exercise. (Total fail in March. Really need to pick this up.)
  • Go to more shows. (Nothing yet.)
  • Move my career forward. (No progress yet, however I did get a raise in March, effective April 1st!)
  • Meditate every week. (Not much at all in March.)



  • Blog design. (Designed my blog logo in March. Calling it a day on this one. I am happy with the current setup, so it’s not worth spending much more time on this item.)