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How Marco Arment built Instapaper as a solo entrepreneur

Marco Arment - Founder of Instapaper

Back in 2007, Marco Arment was working as lead developer at Tumblr and he noticed he kept losing links of interesting articles he did not have time to read immediately.

We all have had the experience of stumbling on an interesting article link, saying to ourselves that we are going to read it later, forgetting to save it and then spending quite some time afterwards to research for it and sometimes not finding it back again.

That was one the frustrating moments Marco experienced. So he decided to build a web app to easily save interesting articles and read them later. He first worked on a very simple version during his evenings while still having his day job at Tumblr. This is how the Instapaper adventure started.

Marco quickly got feedback from his friends to whom he showed his web app and they really liked it. That was a good validation of his idea and he kept on improving the app. Some time later, he learnt about Apple launching the appstore and sensed the potential of expanding his idea.

He liked to read articles during his commute home in the subway but the manhattan trains lacked internet connection. He thought that creating an iOS app to be able to read the saved articles on his Iphone offline would be a good idea.

The concept would simply be to store articles in a way that was optimized for reading and easily accessible from web and mobile.

Time named Instapaper one of the best Iphone apps in 2008 saying:

" Sometimes the simplest tools are the handiest. This one lets you send articles you find online directly to your phone. Set up an account on, then download the app from the iTunes store onto your iPhone. It took developer Marco Arment more than 100 hours to create this tool, but it will take you just a few seconds to start using it."

In only 3 years, more than a million users were using instapaper.

What was Instapaper initial revenue model ?

- Sales of the 4.99 $ app

- Ads on the website

- An optional website subscription fee of $1 a month

Finally, what is also really interesting is that Marco Arment managed to run Instapaper as a profitable one man operation for many years before selling instapaper to Betaworks in 2013 to pursue other creative ventures.

Five takeaways from Marco Arment Story that you can apply to your venture :

1- Think of a solution for one your current problems or frustrations. If the solution is valuable to you, then it has some good chance for providing others value too.

2 - Keep it simple and don't overthink. Get started quickly and develop your minimum viable product or service which provides immediate value for your users. Get the feedback of users early on to improve your product or service.

3 - Continue to work on your job full time and develop your product or service part time. This allows you to have a regular income while developing your project. Sure, it requires some discipline and motivation but it can be done.

4 - Keep it lean when starting. Marco Arment built and ran Instapaper as a one man operation. That's one of the advantage of developing this kind of Iphone app. Once you have done the hardwork developping the app, then maintenance and improvements are minimal. Building businesses leveraging web based tools and technology reduces overhead costs and allows to compete against much bigger companies.

5 - Don't be afraid to go Solo. Sometimes you have a good idea on which you can immediately act. So, do not wait until you find your perfect co-founder to start or else you may never start. In the case of Marco Arment, it was relatively easy for him to start as he had the skills to develop his app on his own. However, if you have a good idea and don't have the development skills you can hire freelance developpers for building your app.

Below are two interesting articles to learn further on the story of Marco Arment and Instapaper and which provided content for the above story.

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