Instagram now has access to some of the world's best technology resources after being acquired by Facebook for US$1 billion. However, it was a very different story in late 2010, when the photo-sharing application's launch was being threatened by an internet outage at the infamous Pier 38 in San Francisco.
The founders, Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger, will soon move into the plush Facebook headquarters at Menlo Park, California, which are jam-packed with some of the world's best developers and infrastructure — a world away from the shared office space of Pier 38, where the pair first launched Instagram.
There was already a buzz surrounding Instagram prior to launch, courtesy of some coverage on popular start-up blog Techcrunch, and this hype became a reality when it launched in the App Store on 6 October 2010.
Instagram notched up over 20,000 downloads in one day, according to 99designs CEO Patrick Llewellyn, who also shared an office at Pier 38 with the Instagram founders. Instagram was being downloaded by users across the world, a response that caught the founders off guard.
The growing popularity was a double-edged sword, however, as Instagram's servers collapsed under the increasing loads.
Nothing was working, and when the founders sought to switch on more servers, the Pier 38 internet connection went down.
99designs had the only working internet connection in the office, Llewellyn said, and had the opportunity to help out at a crucial time.
"They were working in a shared area, and the whole [internet] went down, and for whatever reason our connection stayed up," Llewellyn said.
"We had our own connection in our little room down the back, and Ken [Thom], who ran the place, realised that and brought the guys down because they were getting smashed.
"They sat there for a while, and then we said, 'so, what are you guys doing, why is this happening?'"
The Instagram founders responded, "Oh, we have this photo-sharing app", and so Kevin Systrom gave 99designs a demo, Llewellyn said.
99designs helped out until the internet came back online.
"I think it'd be a bit of a stretch to say we saved them, but we certainly played a small part in keeping them going at a crucial time; it shows that we were just part of the exciting nature of being in a place like Pier 38, San Francisco, and all that's going on."
In addition to incubating nascent start-ups such as Instagram and 99designs, Pier 38 was a beacon for entrepreneurs and investors alike, and reportedly hosted about 50 companies and 200 workers, including venture-capital firm True Ventures. However, Pier 38 was shut down late last year, because the local government deemed it unsafe.
While he is saddened by the demise of 99designs' first office, and a start-up landmark, Llewellyn is excited by the prospect of seeing the Silicon Valley serendipity make its way down under, as more shared office spaces and incubators are established in Australia.
"What is exciting [is] we're seeing a bunch of these spaces spring up all over Australia as well, so hopefully we'll start to see the Australian versions of those.
"It's that grass roots stuff, really the most crucial, because that collaborative environment stimulates everyone that's involved in it."