Instagram’s Patient and Focused Bowling Pin Strategy

Instagram is rolling out its Snapchat competitor Bolt in 3 markets - New Zealand, Singapore and South Africa – as Mashable reports.

Instagram Annonces Bolt - Rollout Strategy

In a statement to Mashable:

We decided to start small with Bolt, in just a handful of countries, to make sure we can scale while maintaining a great experience. We expect to roll it out more widely soon.

What strikes me about this is Instagram’s patience and focus. It’s classic Instagram.

Remember, back in early 2012 – Instagram had been live on iPhone for 1.5 years, and boasted over 30 million users, before Instagram (patiently and with focus) rolled out to Android in April 2012.

And that Android release was downloaded over 1 million times in the first day. Incredible. (Later that month, $1B later, they became part of the Facebook family.)

Back to patience and focus. 

Chris Dixon sums it up nicely in The Bowling Pin Strategy:

A huge challenge for user-generated websites is overcoming the chicken-and-egg problem: attracting users and contributors when you are starting with zero content. One way to approach this challenge is to use what Geoffrey Moore calls the bowling pin strategy: find a niche where the chicken-and-egg problem is more easily overcome and then find ways to hop from that niche to other niches and eventually to the broader market.

This is exactly what worked for Instagram in the first place.

Their patient and focused bowling pin strategy took them from iPhone to Android masterfully.

And now, they’re duplicating the strategy rolling out Bolt in a hot, controlled burn in three select markets. (A refreshing twist from Facebook’s sloppy, leaked roll out of Slingshot)

I wonder, though… Why those three markets - New Zealand, Singapore and South Africa? Why them in particular?

  • RyanChacon

    Nice post! Smart people over at IG–it’s sometimes hard for people to remember how these big apps came to be and the “bowling pin strategy” worked well for them. Too many people think these apps we have today were always this way (by this way I mean this refined), but there was a crafty strategy behind their roll out and development to turn them into something hundreds of millions of people need to get through their day

    • Alan VanToai

      Exactly. Facebook is probably the most glaring example of this – it’s a behemoth that touches on so many social functions, it’s easy to forget how small it started (and only 10 years ago).

      This is *such* a key insight to remember for young entrepreneurs just starting out. *Start incredibly small*. Create a controlled burn. And leverage that flame to ignite the bonfire later.

  • Hien Nguyen

    the strategy is sound not just for online businesses but for offline as well. Yet what I wonder is this, is there a danger in trying out a new product in a few countries to find out that user behavior is quite different in other countries?

    • RyanChacon

      I think it depends on your product–as with anything it is important to get the lay of the land in any market you release your product into (especially a small market that you plan on testing in)

  • Nick

    Good post. I wonder if they’d go Android faster if they launched today since market dynamics have shifted. Bowling pin strategy arguably works better when you can pick your markets.

    • Alan VanToai

      Interesting question. I know that’s a choice we had to make (both iOS & Android) for SimpleCrew, since our app was a group productivity tool and thus would be worth less if 50% (or more) of the group couldn’t participate.

      Are you going cross platform to start? Or web?

      • RyanChacon

        I think this could depend on your market–if you launch in the states then you’re looking at roughly a 50-50 market split between android and iOS….but if you shift to a market where one dominates the other–then you’re decision may be made for you.

        When the tool you build relies in some form of collaboration or group usage you obviously want to be on both (eventually) but early on while you get things out of an MVP it is much easier (and smarter) to stick with one and once you are happy with it, copy it over–dual developing with a small team can be a killer—users will understand if they are value.

        Speaking of seeing value, if you gain traction on iOS then the shift to android becomes less daunting because you know you are at a point where your app is useful to your market and all you’re doing by going to android is making that value available to a larger market (as seen with Instagram )

  • Thomas Howard

    Why New Zealand, Singapore and South Africa? If you think about it, they are probably THE ideal test markets for this sort of thing. They are probably sufficiently similar to what I assume are their main markets, USA, EU, Asia, Australia, while also being isolated enough to contain the test. You can go all out on pushing market penetration in those places without ostracizing another region since they are somewhat self contained.

    • Alan VanToai

      Really well said. I’ll buy it.

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