There is no doubt that Instagram’s co-founders Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger are highly intelligent and motivated people. But let’s be clear, Instagram’s rapid-fire success is due in large part to Systrom’s and Krieger’s connections.
Both went to Stanford and took part in the Mayfield Fellowship Program, which gives its participants opportunities to meet venture capitalists. Systrom interned at Twitter and worked at Google, making beneficial connections in both places. And, in the NYT article, “Behind Intagram’s Success, Networking the Old Way,” Systrom, himself, makes it no secret that the adage “success is as much about what you know as who you know” is true.
The connections the two had enabled them to get plenty of seed money, more than many would-be entrepreneurs even imagine getting. While I, like any other entrepreneur, love an entrepreneurial fairy-tale like Instragram’s, I’m concerned about the message this Instagram tale sends. The message is this: if you want to be a successful entrepreneur, you need to make connections, and the quickest and easiest way to make connections is by going to a top tier college.
In fact, I can’t argue that this message isn’t true. It is true. But there is another message that is also true, which is invalidated by the mass-coverage of the Instagram story. The message is this: people can make it in the entrepreneurial world regardless of their background as long as they work hard, persist, and network.
There are many examples of successful entrepreneurs (sure, maybe there aren’t billionaires, but they are millionaires!) that are the people-next-door. They don’t have an Ivy League education and didn’t start out knowing “the right” people. Often these entrepreneurs don’t get much national news coverage, so we forget that all things are possible in the entrepreneurial world if you’re willing to work for it.
My own father, Roy Kaplan, is one of the best examples that I know of a successful entrepreneur who doesn’t have an Ivy League education and didn’t have any investors pouring seed money into his startup. My father was well into his 40s when he started his business, JK Group, in the loft of his townhouse. By the time he sold JK Group, he had 200 employees. JK Group is not a household name like Facebook is, but my father has certainly enjoyed the financial success that many people dream of.
Think about all the businesses in your community, and find out who started them. I bet you’ll be surprised to find out that many of your local entrepreneurs are more similar to you than to Systrom and Krieger. And remember, the adage, “where there’s a will, there’s a way,” holds true for entrepreneurs.
Suzanne Kaplan is the founder of Job Talk 4 All, which features interviews with people about their jobs and other career-related articles. As an unemployed High School English teacher, she decided that she can’t wait around for the right job, so she has tapped into her entrepreneurial spirit and is starting her own business.