A Painful Lesson from Hipstamatic vs. Instagram

This might be a perfect and painful example that how a once successful product fades.

Hipstamatic – most people may totally forget it now – is (still) an excellent iPhone camera app. You can use its various filters to make pictures pretty. I bought it when it first hit the market and amazed by the nice filter effects. But wait, it sounds like Instagram, right? Yes, I still remember though, after I knew that there was another similar app called Instagram – it’s free – I downloaded it immediately. Funny enough, I have them on screen side by side, but fates of the two companies are dramatically different – Instagram has been acquired by Facebook for 1 billion dollars, while Hipstamatic is still struggling to find a way for its camera app to live, and trying to make money by pushing many new products to market.

Here’s an excellent series about Hipstamatic from Fast Company. After reading it, I seemed to understand why and how it got itself in trap. I think this is a good read for anyone who is interested in product design/development/management, because the lesson of this product is so painful and so valuable.

  1. No Filter: Inside Hipstamatic’s Lost Year Searching For The Next Killer Social App
  2. No Filter: How Instagram Caused Hipstamatic To Lose Focus And Gamble On Social
  3. No Filter: How Hipstamatic Pivoted Into A Flat Spin


Several reasons resulted in the Hipstamatic mess, as I understood from the articles:

They ignored the power of social networks in the original design. 

It’s amazing that how social networks are changing this world. People are sharing an enormous amount of information on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest… One-way media like television and radio no longer shine as they did. But Hipstamatic missed this power (and opportunities). They wanted to be a great camera from the beginning, rather than a social tool like Instagram. People are so used to sharing – some old users even shared most photos taken using Hipstamatic via Instagram. One of Hipstamatic’s former staffers said “Whereas Instagram was a social network that had a camera, Hipstamatic was the camera that shared to any other social network”. It’s hard to catch up when they found Instagram grabbed a bigger portion of the cake.


They lost product focus.

Hipstamatic had an extremely successful  time, but staggered after its competitor Instagram’s success. The situation became even worse after Facebook acquired Instagram. To catch up, the company has developed many products: CS9, Timeline, Hipstamatic Classic, Hipstamatic Next with PhotoMail, Snap Magazine (launched & successful). They are planning to produce a physical Hipstamatic camera, a goods store for digital camera accessories (like Zynga) and photo galleries (like Pinteres). Looks like they are just trying to follow steps of other famous apps.


Tension developed between Ideators and Rest of the Team

Tension reached a breaking point during a discussion about Snap’s publishing solution, the entire company saw the CEO of this company give the double finger to a developer. Directions of products changed so frequent that sometimes the team felt what they were doing was a mess. Vision of the company is not clear.


And finally, the big amount of money they threw into office decoration and alcohol budget may be an issue to the company as well.


Where are you going now, Hipstamatic?


(P.S. I also found Chinese translation of the three articles here: 1, 2, 3, check them out if you’re interested.)


3 Comments A Painful Lesson from Hipstamatic vs. Instagram

    1. yingying



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *