How Instagram “Hired Up” On Their Way To 1 Billion Users

Kevin Systrom, founder of Instagram and all-around talented innovator, gave Tim Ferriss some inspiring hiring advice. He said when looking to add someone to his team or company, he would strive to only hire people that were smarter, more experienced, and more talented than him. Gauging by Instagram’s success, it seems to have served them pretty well. 


“Hiring up” was Systrom’s way of admitting that he wasn’t the expert at most tasks. While he was the expert when it came to founding Instagram and steering their corporate vision, he wasn’t the greatest at the individual operations required to get all of the actual jobs done. Knowing where he wanted to end up meant he could focus on finding the most talented person and say, “This is where I want to go – can you get me there?”


His humility assured the people Instagram brought on that they’d have a voice in how the company achieved its goals. There’s a whole body of research on this concept of psychological safety and how progress, risk-taking, and an organization’s views on each will shape how it does (or doesn’t) evolve. Systrom realized this intuitively. Consistently “hiring up” and placing the most talented people into a progressive, risk-taking culture took Instagram from a few users to over a billion as innovation regularly happened on multiple fronts. 


When we consider who we work and partner with, we should consider how we can “hire up” or “get hired up” too. Empowered talent and internal drive will always make far more progress than any clever quota or bonus structure. Fostering the right amount of psychological safety to bring out people’s strengths to use towards earning a collective advantage makes a difference everyone within the organization can feel.


The more smart, experienced, and talented people we have working towards a common vision, the better the odds that we’ll actually get there. That’s the power of hiring (and being hired) up. No fancy filter required to see this one clearly.

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