Kevin Weil: Unfiltered Insights From Instagram [Entire Talk] | Summary and Q&A

May 12, 2017
Stanford eCorner
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Kevin Weil: Unfiltered Insights From Instagram [Entire Talk]

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In this video, Kevin Weil, former VP of Product at Instagram, talks about his journey from studying physics to working at Twitter and Instagram. He discusses his experiences at Harvard, his initial thoughts on Mark Zuckerberg leaving school to start Facebook, the decision to leave his PhD program, his time at Twitter, and his transition to Instagram. Weil also shares insights into Instagram's success, the relationship between Instagram and Facebook, the company's approach to innovation and experimentation, and the importance of building a great team. He concludes with a discussion on balancing work and personal life, and the lessons he has learned along the way.

Questions & Answers

Q: Can you briefly summarize your journey from being a physics student to working at Twitter and Instagram?

I grew up in Redmond, learned to program at a young age, studied physics and math at Harvard, and then joined Twitter to work on data and analytics. After several years at Twitter, I moved to Instagram.

Q: What did you initially think of Mark Zuckerberg's decision to leave school and start a company?

Initially, I thought it was a foolish decision to give up a Harvard degree for a startup. However, now, I work for him.

Q: How difficult was your decision to leave your PhD program and pursue a career in industry?

It was a strange decision because I had invested a lot in my studies, but I got hooked on the idea of creating things and shipping them to millions of people. I decided to join the workforce and started working for a startup.

Q: What was your role at Twitter and how did it change as the company grew?

I started as an engineer working on data and analytics. Eventually, I moved to the product side and became the head of the product team, overseeing the development of various products, including ads.

Q: How did your thinking about the product and the company shift as your role changed?

Initially, as an engineer, I focused on how the systems worked. But as a product manager, I had to think more about the problem I was trying to solve and not let the difficulty of implementing certain ideas affect my thinking. My focus shifted from the technical details to the needs of the users and the goals of the product.

Q: Why did you decide to leave Twitter and join Instagram?

After seven years at Twitter, I wanted to take a break, but Kevin Systrom, the co-founder of Instagram, approached me with an opportunity. I was initially hesitant, but I was drawn to the opportunity to work with a talented team and have a significant impact on a product used by millions of people.

Q: What do you attribute Instagram's success as the dominant player in the photo-sharing space?

Instagram's simplicity and focus on doing the simple thing first have been key factors in its success. By prioritizing the user experience and building a strong community, Instagram has differentiated itself from other photo-sharing apps.

Q: How do you balance the need for innovation with the need to maintain a consistent user experience?

Ideas for innovation can come from various sources, including internal teams and external users. Instagram aims to align its innovation efforts with its mission of strengthening relationships through shared experiences. The focus is on continuous improvement and making small, meaningful changes based on user feedback and data.

Q: How does Instagram's product design and development take into account cultural differences around the world?

Instagram recognizes that its global user base has diverse circumstances and social norms. To understand and address these differences, Instagram conducts research and sends teams to different regions to gain insights and ensure the product remains relevant and respectful of various cultures.

Q: How integrated is Instagram with Facebook, and how independent are you?

Instagram leverages some of Facebook's resources, such as infrastructure and sales team support. However, when it comes to product development and decision-making, Instagram operates independently and focuses on what is best for its own community while collaborating when it aligns with Facebook's goals.

Q: How does Instagram maintain its culture and what values are important to the company?

Instagram values building a team that feels like a family, emphasizes trust, and fosters an open environment for giving and receiving feedback. The company's culture revolves around the mission of bringing people closer together through shared experiences.

Q: What advice do you have for aspiring entrepreneurs and product managers?

Surround yourself with great people who are smarter than you and push you to be better. Stay focused on making small, daily improvements and learning from those around you. Trust the process and persevere, much like running an ultra-marathon.


Kevin Weil's journey from studying physics to becoming a VP of Product at Instagram teaches us the importance of being open to new opportunities and surrounding oneself with great people. Building a culture of trust and learning from those around you is crucial for success. Balancing innovation with maintaining a consistent user experience requires constant experimentation and listening to user feedback. Lastly, achieving work-life balance may require sacrifices, but having non-negotiable priorities and staying determined can help navigate the challenges.

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