No Filter by Sarah Frier [Actionable Summary]

This is a comprehensive summary of the book No Filter: The Inside Story of Instagram by Sarah Frier (part of the business book summaries collection). Covering the key ideas and proposing practical ways for achieving what’s mentioned in the text. Written by book fanatic and online librarian Ivaylo Durmonski. Supporting Members get full access.

The Book In Three Or More Sentences:

As the title suggests, No Filter is an attempt, extremely engaging I must say, to tell the story of Instagram with no filter applied. Technology reporter Sarah Frier, is taking us behind the scenes of now the most-used app that allows you to polish your virtual identity hoping that your real identity will benefit from this too. How the app came to be? What was the main goal of the founders Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger when they created the company? Why was Instagram later sold to Facebook and how the product is changing people’s lives? These are just some of the questions the book tackles.

The Core Idea:

Apart from the lessons that can be useful for entrepreneurs. The applauding storytelling tracking the progress of the founders till their departure from their own company. The book also covers a lot of ground regarding how Instagram (negatively) affects us. While the filter-making app has helped some to leave their jobs and devote their lives to their interests, it has also made our lives a race for popularity. People are so obsessed with sharing the best version of their lives that they don’t actually live them.


  • An app, to be successful, should infiltrate the daily lives of its users. Make its use a habit.
  • People feel both good and bad about using Instagram: Good because it allows them to create a well-crafted online persona. Bad because there are always others with seemingly better profiles.
  • Focusing on doing good things and setting values should be prioritized above growth and making more money.

7 Key Lessons from No Filter:

Lesson #1: Don’t Give Everything up For Someone Else’s Vision

Kevin Systrom, the person who co-founded Instagram that will later become the largest photo-sharing website, was actually approached by Mark Zuckerberg.

Way before Instagram was invented, in 2005, Zuckerberg tried to recruit Systrom to work for him, so he can create for Facebook a way for users to add photos.

Systrom declined the offer. He was pleased that the Facebook founder was interested in his skills, but he wasn’t so interested in getting involved in the hustle hype mentality the Silicon Valley firms were so obsessed with.

What made his mind was his mentor on campus, Fern Mandelbaum. She was worried, as mentioned in the book, that “Systrom would waste his potential if he gave everything up for somebody else’s vision.”

And even though he didn’t consider himself a skilled programmer, he was obsessed with making quality stuff. He was constantly striving to make things perfect. Always pushing himself and trying to find the best solution for the current problem.

This restless desire to produce quality products along with his main passion: photography. Inspired him to create a mobile website – the first iteration of Instagram – called Burbn.

While the app wasn’t that sophisticated in the beginning, it was good enough to enter the Silicon Valley apps race and seek funding. But since VCs were not interested in investing money in solo founders, he had to find someone else who can help him create the company he aspired to create – a medium where you can show your outlook on the world to everyone. That’s how he started looking for a co-founder. And that’s how he found Mike Krieger.

“The biggest risk for you is you’re a sole founder,” Anderson told Systrom. “I usually don’t invest in sole founders.” He argued that without someone else at the top, nobody would tell Systrom when he was wrong, or push his ideas to be better.” Sarah Frier

Lesson #2: Prioritize Creating Useful Product Over Creating Fun Product

If you want to make money, a product should be useful, and then be fun. That’s what Systrom and Krieger learned, the hard way, after talking with investors and after working on their Burbn app for several months.

The founders were quickly spending money but making little progress. If they wanted to succeed in the highly competitive market of mobile apps, they had to make an app that wasn’t only with an addictive effect, it had to be also somehow useful and potentially monetizable.

So, to find “What was their Twitter?” they brainstormed what should be their philosophy when building the tool.

They figured out that one day, people won’t carry their big cameras with them and instead use their phones to snap pictures – once the quality of the camera was better. Based on this idea, they outlined the biggest problems users in early 2010 faced when wanting to share a photo:

  • Images took a lot of time to load on a 3G network.
  • People were embarrassed to share their low-quality photos.
  • It was annoying to share photos on all currently available social networks.

With these three in mind, they created Scotch. An app that was all about easily sharing square photos on other platforms. The constraint was not only based on the character limit Twitter had, it was created to solve the other problem – the time it took for a photo to load. The square frame reduced the size of the photo which improved the upload speed.

These two, however, were not solving the main issue: the problem with low-quality pictures. After all, if a person is not happy with the quality, the framing, and the overall look of the picture, he’ll be embarrassed to show it to the world. But one day, after talking with his back-then-girlfriend, Nicole Schuetz. They figured it out! Filters will make all the difference.

By adding filters, you could alter your photos so they can look better and also make you look like a pro photographer. Even if you don’t have an idea of what you’re doing.

This, as later turned out, was a game-changer.

“Neither Rise nor the founders thought there was a downside to the fact that filters, when used en masse, would give Instagrammers permission to present their reality as more interesting and beautiful than it actually was. That was exactly what would help make the product popular. Instagram posts would be art, and art was a form of commentary on life. The app would give people the gift of expression, but also escapism.” Sarah Frier

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