Kevin Systrom

CEO, Instagram

Person

Kevin Systrom is an American entrepreneur and programmer, best known as the co‑founder of Instagram along with Mike Krieger.

Story of success

Kevin Systrom was working behind a hissing espresso machine at Palo Alto’s Caffé del Doge in the spring of 2006 when Facebook FB. Chief Mark Zuckerberg approached the counter with a puzzled look on his face. The previous summer Zuck had taken Systrom to dinner at Zao Noodle Bar on University Avenue and asked him to ditch his senior year at Stanford to develop a photo service for his nascent social network, The Facebook. Systrom turned down the offer. Now Facebook was worth $500 million—en route to a valuation more than 100 times greater—and making hundreds of headlines. Systrom was making cappuccinos.

“I had been like, ‘No, I don’t want to work at this thing,’ and here I am working at a cafe,’” Systrom, 28, tells me over our $4.50 cups of artisan coffee in the warehouselike room of Sightglass Coffee in San Francisco’s SoMa district. In opting to stay at Stanford he turned down what surely would have amounted to tens of millions in Facebook ­options. “Working at a startup to make a lot of money was never a thing, and that’s why I decided to just finish up school. That was way more important for me,” shrugs Systrom. “I’m sure in retrospect it would have been a nice deal, but it’s funny where you end up.”

In Systrom’s case, the place you end up is exactly the place you turned down—Facebook. But thanks to his Stanford detour, instead of eight figures, Systrom, by doing it his own way—developing the white-hot photo network Instagram, which Zuckerberg agreed to buy in April—stands atop a $1 billion score.

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