You couldn't name the top 10 apps in the world today without mentioning Instagram. Heck, it would even make the top five. It's so popular that not having an account is considered unusual — these days, it's not only a highlight reel of everyone's favorite memories but also an ecosystem of communities and commerce that many are building careers on.
What started as a side project for founder Kevin Systrom has become one of the world's largest photo and video-sharing platforms, now boasting over 2 billion monthly users, per Statista. But a lot of changes happened in between: Facebook acquired Instagram for a record-setting $1 billion in 2012, back when the company only had 13 employees, including Systrom and co-founder Mike Krieger.
That kind of valuation for that small a company does make you wonder about the people involved, doesn't it? We went digging for the identities of all 13 employees of the original Instagram company and what they're all up to these days. Here's what we found.
Instagram's founders and where they are today
Kevin Systrom started working on the Burbn app (which is what Instagram was first called because Systrom loved bourbon) in 2010, fueled by a passion for photography. The app enjoyed fast adoption, so much so that Facebook noticed its potential and offered to acquire it in 2012. Fun fact: Twitter's Jack Dorsey had made a $500 million bid for the company, but Systrom declined and took Facebook's offer instead. Dorsey has not posted on Instagram since the day Facebook announced the acquisition.
Systrom stayed on as CEO after the acquisition but officially resigned in 2018 due to disagreements with Mark Zuckerberg about the company's direction. He resurfaced in 2020 to announce Rt.live, a joint project with Instagram co-founder Mike Krieger that helped to track the spread of the Coronavirus.
Mike Krieger worked as the Chief Technology Officer at Instagram until 2018 and laid most of the app's engineering and UX foundation. During his tenure, the app grew from a few million to 1 billion monthly active users, but Krieger also stepped down in 2018. In 2023, the duo unveiled Artifact, an AI-powered news reader that gives readers control over the content of their news feeds — something The Verge called "a kind of TikTok for text."
Instagram's first employees (and what they're up to these days)
Instagram's first hire was Joshua Riedel, an English major at Reid College and an acquaintance of Kevin Systrom from a previous startup gig. Riedels' job description, in true startup fashion, was to handle "everything nontechnical," which meant everything from detecting bugs and doing customer support to ordering lunch. He left in 2014 to pursue his MFA in creative writing, and his debut novel, "Please Report Your Bug Here," was published in January 2023.
Next up is Shayne Sweeney, who joined the team as Instagram's first engineer. Before his recruitment, Sweeney had co-founded Coffee Table, a catalog shopping platform for the iPad (per Crunchbase), and his work birthed Instagram's camera feature that allows users to take photos within the app. He's still on the team to date, making him one of the longest-serving employees at Instagram.
Jessica Zollman was Instagram's fifth recruit. She was a budding photographer who had a healthy addiction to Instagram, and the founders soon noticed her dedication and brought her on board the team. Zollman joined as a community manager (called "Community Evangelist" at the time) to essentially do the job that software algorithms now do. The role involved curating suggested user lists and discovering and promoting the platform's most popular photographers, who formed the majority of its early users. These days, she's a full-time photographer out of Portland, Oregon, with big-time clients including Sony, Apple, and Disney in her portfolio.
Instagram's sixth employee, Amy Cole, signed on to be the company's first Head of Business, and she's credited with finding the company's first windowed office. Like Jessica Zollman, it was Cole's enthusiasm about the product that led to contact with the founders and, eventually, a job on the team. Before Instagram, Cole worked with carmaker Chrysler as an aerodynamic development engineer. Cole is still employed by Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, but her JD has changed. According to her LinkedIn, she now works as the Director of Product Marketing for messaging app WhatsApp.
After Cole, Instagram's next recruit was Gregor Hocmuth, who served as an engineer and product manager but was first approached by Systrom to come on board as co-founder. He made some of the earliest filters and remained with the company through its acquisition by Facebook. Hocmuth left the team in 2014 and has since worked on a range of art and tech projects. His last known project was a live TV app called Dreams, but his LinkedIn reveals that he's currently the Senior Software Engineer at Midjourney, an AI-powered research lab.
Tim VanDamme joined Instagram in January 2012 as a Product Designer and left about one year later to join Dropbox. VanDamme has since worked for many companies, but his profession has stayed the same. He's worked at Abstract, a San Francisco-based design firm, and Gowalla, a location-based networking platform that was also acquired by Facebook, as a Product Designer, and now holds the same role at Figma, according to his LinkedIn.
Philip McAllister was hired around the same time as Tim VanDamme, and he also served at Gowalla, although his tenure was earlier than Van Damme's. He joined Instagram as an Android developer only four months before the company was acquired but stayed on the team to become the Director of Engineering, a position he held for eight years. He still works in the same role, but now for the parent company, Meta, overseeing the business' foray into digital commerce.
The rest of the first Instagram team
Ryan Gomba was Instagram's ninth employee, and he came on as a Product Engineer to help build the platform's early defining features like video, tags, and DMs. Per his portfolio, he also helped build the prototypes for what would eventually become Instagram Stories. He left in 2014 to co-found the financial management tool Even, which was later acquired by Walmart.
The tenth employee, Dan Toffey, worked on expanding the company's community-building efforts. He led the Community Lab for six years and, per his LinkedIn, now works in a similar capacity for the parent company, Meta.
Bailey Richardson also joined the team as a Community Manager and was in charge of the start-up's blog and the official Instagram account. Like Zollman, Richardson's job involved handpicking featured Instagrammers, and she also organized in-person "Insta-meets" for devoted users all around the world. She left in 2014 and has been quite vocal about what she considers negative developments on the platform. In 2018, she even announced that she was deleting her account. Per her website, she has authored a book about community building and currently heads Marketing at Substack.
Maykel Loomans joined Instagram right before its acquisition, but he stayed on the team for two years before moving to Facebook to work as a product designer. He helped redesign the app for iOS 7 and Windows and was fundamental to the launching of Ads as well. He left Facebook in 2018 for design work at beauty brand Glossier and now heads Design at Brex, a San Francisco-based fintech company. He also runs Shoebox, a simple photo-sharing platform that seems to deliver on Instagram's original premise.