Their apps and websites are familiar, and millions of us use them every single day – but how many of us really know anything about the entrepreneurs behind some of our favourite phone apps and websites? The massive popularity of their apps has taken the innovators by surprise, too.
Kevin Systrom & Mike Krieger
Kevin Systrom studied at Stanford University and went on to do an internship at Odeo, the company Twitter originated from. After two years with Google, he met Mike Krieger, a Brazilian entrepreneur and software engineer, and in 2010 the pair went on to found Instagram, the photo sharing app for mobile phones that allows users to take pictures on their smartphones, customise them and share them on the app or via Twitter and Facebook.
By April 2012 there were an estimated 100 million active users, and in September 2012 the company and its employees were bought by Facebook for a reputed $1 billion.
Everyone’s heard of Mark Zuckerberg, and many of us have seen the film ‘The Social Network’ documenting the development and success of the mighty Facebook. One of the social networking site’s five developers, Zuckerberg is the chairman and chief executive, with a personal wealth that’s estimated at $16.8 billion.
He was known to be a ‘programming prodigy’ at Harvard, and invented useful software to match students to courses, as well as Facematch, which was just for fun. Facematch proved controversial and he was forced to apologise for not only using students’ images without their permission but also crashing the college servers.
There is some disagreement about the origins of Facebook, and there has been litigation in the past, but ‘thefacebook’ soon became Facebook and a massive success, when Zuckerberg rolled it out from just being a way for Harvard alumni to keep in touch, to other colleges. The site was further developed in offices in Palo Alto, California, with the help of Dustin Moscovitz and some other friends. By 2010, Facebook had passed the 50 million user mark.
In 2007, Zuckerberg was named one of the top 35 innovators in the world under the age of 35 to the MIT Technology Review TR35.
Anyone who has ever sent a surreptitious tweet can thank American software architect Jack Dorsey and his interest in taxi booking systems. He started his career by writing dispatch software for taxis, couriers and emergency 911 centres, and this piqued his interest in the idea of a real-time messaging service that would allow users to update constantly about where they were and what they were doing – so Twitter was born.
Not content with successfully navigating his Twitter through two major rounds of financing, Dorsey was also working on the development of Square, a device that attaches to iPhone, iPad or Android devices to allow small businesses to take credit and debit card payments. He was named an ‘outstanding innovator under the age of 35,’ by MIT, and as of September 2012, the Square business was valued at around $2.3 billion.
Nick D’Aloisio was a millionaire on paper before he even finished his A-levels. He sold his app, Summly, to Yahoo for a reported £18 million, and then went to work full-time for the company as soon as he was old enough, studying for his A-levels after work.
The idea came about from Nick’s frustration with the quality of results he got from search engines while revising for exams. He thought that there should be a way of previewing pages in the lists of results so that you could immediately see what was and wasn’t relevant. This idea resulted in an iPhone app called Trimit, which proved to be a hit with Hong Kong billionaire Li-Kashing, who invested £300,000 in it.
The investment resulted in the development of Summly, which summarises news stories and tailors the number of words to fit a smartphone screen. The app won one of Apple’s best apps of 2012 awards.
From these stories, it really does sound possible to become a millionaire by developing a clever app or a popular website – so if you or your children have a talent for app design and software programming, it’s definitely something that should be explored!
About the Author: Michael Palmer is an Oxford based, business graduate and writer. His writing covers many subjects, including business, marketing, HR, fitness, and football.