The Mobile 15: Our picks for the most innovative companies

Instagram (Facebook)

CEO: Kevin Systrom

Number of employees: 12

The business:

Instagram is a mobile photo sharing service and social network that allows users to apply filters to their smartphone pictures before uploading them to the Instagram community and other social networks. The social service, which now has 100 million users, originally debuted on iOS in 2010 but made the leap to Android in April 2012. It was then acquired by Facebook in a deal valued (at the time) at $1 billion. As the acquisition closed just two weeks ago, for this list we evaluated Instagram as a separate company.

The backstory:

The app was born after co-founders Kevin Systrom and Mike Kreiger pivoted away from their first idea, a location-based check-in service called Burbn. After working up a web app for Burbn, the two decided to focus on one aspect: mobile photo sharing. They rebuilt the app as a native iOS app and removed all the non-photo features.

The innovation:

While Instagram sounds like a simple photo sharing service with filters, it stood out for a few reasons. It was built from the ground up for mobile as a two-way communication service. It allowed people to engage in simple creative expression without forcing them to get too involved. And it turned photos into a kind of mobile language that imparted feelings and a sense of a place through geo-tags, which prompted immediate feedback from users.

The plan:

Now that the acquisition has closed, Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg said he wants to let Instagram continue to grow without too much tampering by Facebook. He said the goal was to turn Instagram’s 100 million users into hundreds of millions of users.