Half a Million Real Instagram Followers in 1 Year: How Foundr Did It

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Make sure to check out Part 1 of this series “A Guide On How To Get More Followers On Instagram: 10,000 Instagram Followers In 2 Weeks for even more awesome strategies on how to dominate Instagram!

One year ago, when we were just a scrappy new entrepreneurship magazine on the rise, Foundr started looking into what this whole Instagram business was all about.

Things haven’t been the same for us since.

With experimentation and elbow grease, we’ve amassed more than 500,000 real Instagram followers, making us one of the top Instagram accounts in our niche. Thanks to Instagram, we’ve also been able to crush sales and conversions, drastically increase our online exposure and audience, and scale our business at a rate that’s exceeded the norm and our own expectations.

Download your free Instagram eBook Now!

Instagram was a key turning point in making Foundr what it is today. If you’re reading this now, in fact, there’s a good chance you got here via Instagram.
Real Instagram Followers 1 year growth
In our journey to 500,000 real Instagram, we’ve been using the exact same techniques and strategies that we’ve been using since our early days, which you can read about here.
However, as Instagram and its audience have continued to evolve, so have we. In order to continue scaling we’ve had to take note and adapt to these new conditions with different strategies.

Some didn’t work out so well and some have been crucial to getting us to half a million in such a short period of time. So now we’re going to tell you all about the ones that worked the best. Without further ado, here are our detailed results and findings so you too can cultivate a massive following and start taking advantage of the power of this exciting and flourishing social network.

Treating your community like gold

One of the biggest mistakes people make when building their Instagram account is that they only ever see their followers as numbers.

Followers aren’t the only metric that matters when it comes to Instagram, but you can get caught up and become so obsessed in growing your follower count that you forget that each person who chooses to follow you is actually a living, breathing human being. It doesn’t matter what kind of account you’re running, whether it’s personal or business, the same is true everywhere.

You must always respect your audience.

I really cannot make that any clearer for you, and it’s become even more clear to us as we’ve gained experience with the platform. If you’re not paying attention and listening to your audience, then you’re no longer building something that has any sort of meaningful impact. All you’re doing is stroking your ego.

So how do you know if you’re connecting with your audience? While your follower count may be the most important metric, our journey to 500,000 found that you must also pay attention to your engagement levels. This means how many likes you’re getting, how many people are bothering to actually comment on your posts, how many people actually go through your Instagram sales funnel.

According to the famed Pareto principle, 80% of your results only come from 20% of your audience, or 80% of your revenue only comes from 20% of your customers. While more of a rule of thumb than a hard scientific fact, the Pareto principle should make you realize that it’s not about having a large follower count as much as it is about having a large core of engaged followers.
engagement at work
You don’t want a huge follower count because it gives you bragging rights, you want a huge follower count because by increasing your reach and exposure you increase the likelihood of finding one true follower.

A one true follower is someone who absolutely loves your content and what you do. They’re the one that, if asked, will put down money because you asked them to, or purely because it’s something that you made. Think about anytime you’ve been loyal to a brand and chose them over something else.

If you ever want to develop any sort of influence or exposure then this should be your primary goal in growing a huge follower count. Ten thousand followers isn’t impressive unless you have at least 1,000 true followers.

This is why we treat our community like gold.

For example, we are very strict on making sure we reply to every comment possible.

It’s strange how many brands forget the social aspect of social media networks. It’s no longer a one-way communication model where the audience passively has to accept what you have to say.
If someone takes the time to actually write a comment on your post, then the very least you can do reply.

It’s a simple reward for those who bother to engage you in a dialogue. Something simple as that goes a long way toward turning someone into a true fan.

You’ll find posts that have a call-to-action asking people to comment tend to garner the most shares and tags. By starting a conversation you can show your audience that you’re not some faceless corporation, but a person or people who actually care about others’ opinions.


Foundr Instagram Post

It might even yield unexpected results, as we often find real gems within our comments for ideas on articles and different people to interview.

Understanding content

To gain a huge following of real people on Instagram, you have to produce content that’s made specifically for Instagram.

You need to carefully consider what type of content it is that you’re producing.   You have to remember that Instagram is such a hit because it’s a wholly unique platform, and the experience it provides for the user is completely different than something like Facebook or Twitter.

You have to consider things like: How it is people are finding your content? What hashtags are you using? If someone were to search one of your hashtags and find your post, would they be intrigued to click through to your account, or would they be disappointed that there’s no correlation between your post and caption? What is it about the images you produce that will make people do more than just scroll on by?

According to Zabisco, humans process visuals visuals 60,000 times faster than plain text. In less than a second a person decides, based upon your visuals, whether or not you’re worth their time.

zabisco brain process But beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

Which is why it’s so crucial to develop a good relationship with your audience, so you know what type of content it is they like.   There have been numerous times when we’ve posted something that we thought would absolutely smash, but it turned out to be a dud. Other times we’ve been left scratching our heads as to why this one post is so popular.

Once you settle on your voice, it’s extremely important that you stick to that voice.

The number one thing that keeps people coming back to any brand or business is consistency, whether it’s a Starbucks Macchiato or a Snickers bar.   It’s exactly the same with the kind of content you produce.

The reason Foundr has so many real Instagram followers is because people can expect a consistently high level of quality from us. They know that on Instagram, we produce a certain kind of post, and that trust is what keeps them coming back for more.

This is also why we’re highly selective of the type of accounts and posts we engage for a “share-for-share” (S4S). We’re extremely protective of our brand and our audience, which is why we only ever want to be producing content we’re absolutely certain our niche wants.
foundr sports car
A common problem a lot of people face when starting out on Instagram is that they’re not entirely sure what type of theme or content it is they want to produce. Unfortunately there really is no simple answer, because at the end of the day you don’t want to be a copycat of a larger account but on the flipside to be really successful on Instagram you need to be a little unique.

Download your free Instagram eBook Now!

The best way to go about it is to get started on your hashtag research.

Check out SaaS’s (software as a service) like Iconosquare to find out what hashtags are trending and which one best fits you. Find competitors who use the same hashtags as you do, or even find users who follow these hashtags and see what other kind of content they like.

saas hashtags From there, it’s just a matter of testing out your content. Do some A/B testing, try one type of content one week and try something else the week after.   Find out what works best, and get to really know your audience.

To get you started, be sure to check out apps like WordSwag and Typrorama for content creation. We use these very same apps for our own Instagram posts!

wordswag typrorama

Finding Your Shoutout Soulmates

The Instagram world, just like any other, is all about who you know, not necessarily what you know. If you’re not taking advantage of the social aspect of social media and reaching out to other influencers then you are severely underutilizing the power of Instagram.

When it comes to growing a huge following on Instagram, you’re going to have to get used to the idea of collaboration over competition.

This is where S4S comes into play. For those who don’t know, S4S stands for “share for share” . If you’re even remotely interested in achieving half a million followers on Instagram, you need to get used to the idea of sharing other people’s content.

The basics of S4S are quite simple. You ask another influencer in your niche if they would like to share your content, and in return you will share theirs. This way you’ll be able to expose each other’s brand to each other’s audiences, some of whom may have never even heard of you before.   The best part is that if you choose who you do S4S with carefully you’ll probably find someone with an audience who you know will like your content too. You’ll quickly discover that one of the greatest things about Instagram is that it allows you to tap directly into a niche with distinct likes, interests, hobbies, and needs.

foundrmag s4sAs you can see from the image above it doesn’t even have to mean directly sharing each other’s content; you can even just give a shoutout to someone else’s account in the caption.

These types of transactions are unique to Instagram and absolutely invaluable for anyone who wants a huge following.   But remember that you should always look to be providing a mutual exchange of value.

Don’t think of others in your niche as your competition, but as potential partners. 

If you’re afraid that someone is going to “steal your followers” and, as a result, refuse to work with others, then it is highly unlikely you’re going to develop any kind of real followers on Instagram.

So with that in mind, here’s the next secret on how to maximize your S4S potential: join a shoutout group.

A shoutout group is basically an informal group of Instagrammers who have come together in order to support each other by doing S4S for one another. So instead of having to constantly find someone new to do S4S with every single time, you’ll instead have a dedicated group of people who you can reliably depend upon do S4S with you.

Of course, shoutout groups come in all shapes and sizes. Sometimes you’ll just find a group with up to hundreds of people who are simply “shopping” for other people to do S4S with. Kind of like an ad-hoc Instagram marketplace.

instagram marketplace

Other times you might find a more dedicated group of people who are very selective of their members and might have even created a set schedule for all members to follow.

group schedule

You might even be surprised by how well you get to know one another beyond Instagram, and might even accidentally set up your own mastermind group. You might do more than just exchange tips about Instagram, and even start helping each other’s businesses out more directly. You might even make a friend or two.

slack tips

But don’t start thinking that these are some sort of red triangle illuminati groups that require some sort of cryptic initiation process. All it takes is having a friendly attitude while doing S4S and looking to build a relationship beyond Instagram.   Before you know it you’ll find yourself being invited to an S4S group yourself. Or you might even want to create your own and invite others!

Most groups, and Instagrammers in general, use Kik as the primary source of communication.   However, I’ve seen and been a part of groups that use Slack , GroupMe and even regular Facebook groups.

Remember, if you’re not using the social aspect of a social networking platform, then you’re severely limiting your potential and the possibilities out there.

Utilizing every bit of Instagram

Just like any other transaction in the world, S4S is all about having a mutually beneficial exchange. You have to ensure that both parties are getting something of similar value out of this exchange.

If you have an account with only a few thousand followers and ask another account with 500,000 followers, you’re either going to be ignored, politely refused, or outright laughed at. What possible benefit could that larger account get from the smaller one?

Unless you have something equally valuable to leverage, then you shouldn’t be asking someone to do S4S for you. That’s pretty much the equivalent of bringing a knife to a gunfight (don’t worry, nobody is really fighting).

instagram indiana jones

That leads to one of the questions we get asked the most at Foundr, “How do I provide leverage in S4S?”

A lot of people get discouraged by the idea of approaching bigger accounts for an S4S because it seems like they don’t have a comparable follower count. But while your follower count may be the most important metric on Instagram, it does not mean that it is the only metric on Instagram. If it was then anyone could be an influencer with a couple of bucks and few thousand bots as followers.

The best way to find leverage, in any business deal not just Instagram, is to take a step back and think about what it is that only you can offer. What is that unique aspect you can bring that the other person might have a hard time getting?

For one thing you can compare your engagement levels. If you can guarantee a highly engaged audience with many true followers then you can easily use that as leverage in S4S. Because the level of respect and loyalty you command from your audience is only something you can give, and that makes it a valuable commodity.

Beyond that, think about what else you can offer.

You can easily bring value and generate a ton of goodwill by being a regular commenter for a larger account. A valuable comment is something that is more than just the generic “oh wow, this is great!” statement. Stand out by taking the effort to be different.

Start an interesting discussion and let your targeted influencer know that you exist. Who knows, you might actually catch them in a generous mood and maybe they’ll give you a shoutout just because they like your moxie.

One more thing you should definitely consider as leverage is that valuable piece of real estate on Instagram known as the bio link.


On Instagram the only place you can put a live link is in your bio.   This is vitally important if you’re running any kind of sales funnel, and an extremely useful tool when trying to grow 500,000 followers.

An extremely easy way to offer leverage in a real and tangible way is by offering them your bio link.

Using tools like Bit.ly or Pretty Link to track and monitor how much traction bio your link receives will give you hard data on how much value you can offer them.

bit.ly summary

As long as you keep the link short, fresh and you’re sure that the landing page leads to something your audience wants then there’s no reason not to offer your bio link as a way to leverage value.   It’s a great way of establishing a business relationship by becoming an affiliate, and by offering something valuable in your bio link there is no reason you won’t be able to drive your follower count up.

Making it move with videos

While a picture may be worth a thousand words, according to Forrester Research a single minute of video is worth 1.8 million.

While Foundr doesn’t use that many videos with our Instagram account, we have noticed that every time we do post a video we receive much more engagement than the average Instagram post.   Many popular Instagram accounts have managed to gain a huge number of followers on the strength of their videos alone.

The majority of marketing professionals worldwide agree that online video has the best ROI out of all the different types of content, and more and more people are watching videos through mobile devices every year .


So it’s safe to say that learning how to master video is essential to growing your follower count on Instagram.

Now you don’t need to be Martin Scorsese to start making videos on Instagram, because all it takes is just a tiny bit of video knowhow and you’ll be making killer content soon enough.

The first thing you need to remember is that, on mobile, all videos autoplay on Instagram when you scroll past it.   Now the attention span of the average human is actually less than that of a goldfish, clocking in at eight seconds. On social media sites, that attention span is much shorter. So you have literally less than a few seconds to convince the casual viewer to continue watching your video.

goldfish If you think that’s ludicrous, think about anytime you’ve impatiently clicked on the “skip” button of every YouTube ad ever.

This means that your first priority when it comes to making videos for Instagram is to capture the viewer’s attention in less than two seconds.

Now that might sound impossible but it’s actually not.   The secret behind getting people to watch your autoplaying video is movement. You see the human brain naturally notices movement no matter it’s shape or form.   (Click the image)

For focusing on friends, not your phone. #ThisBudsForYou A video posted by Budweiser (@budweiser) on

Or it could be very fast-paced and energetic movement like this:

The point is to take advantage of the autoplay feature and quickly grab someone’s attention by introducing movement as quickly as possible.

Now if you think you need to spend hundreds of dollars on premium editing software, I’m happy to tell you that you’re wrong! You can create your own visually stunning videos with just your phone.

Definitely check out apps like Hyperlapse or Nutshell if you want videos with a lot of movement. Try using Flixel or Pictoreo if you want to make subtle cinemagraphs like the one above.

I also highly suggest Videoshop if you’re feeling like being a bit more technical and want a more powerful editing program on your phone. I personally love using it, and always use it when I need to quickly edit my own videos.

Download your free Instagram eBook Now!

But before you go off into the wide world and start filming everything, you have to remember that consistency is key. Make sure that whatever video it is you decide to produce it fits in with the theme of your account. Definitely stretch your creative muscles and play around with what you can do with film, but don’t start going overboard.

Other than that, it’s lights, camera, action.


It’s so hard to believe that a mere 12 months ago, we had just created a little baby Foundr Instagram account. We had no reputation, no social media presence, and no followers. Today we proudly boast more than 500,000 followers, a number that continues to grow every day. And while each of these methods absolutely had an impact, it wasn’t one specific thing that got us to where we are today.

It took a lot of experimentation, some wins and some losses, to find out what really works and what doesn’t. We hope you learn a few things from our experience and join the growing crowd of top Instagrammers.

To sum up, just remember these key principles:

  • It’s always about your community.
  • Have a consistent theme and brand when it comes to content.
  • Collaboration is the key to success on Instagram.
  • Look for creative ways to provide leverage.
  • Incorporate videos as part of your Instagram strategy.


And if you’ve experimented with some of these techniques, or have racked up some wins of your own, we’d absolutely love to hear about your experience in the comments.

We’ll see you on Instagram!


P.S. If you’ve enjoyed this article be sure to check out our free in-depth step by step guide on how to get your first 10k followers on Instagram.

  • All these points are really great, Jonathan. Thanks for sharing them. Sometimes, Instagram can feel like a “mystery” to marketers. Usually, you see all these amazing accounts of food, and girls really crushing it, and it’s surprising how they are doing real hard business behind it. Showing us Foundr’s metrics, best techniques and tools take away some of the mystery of the game. It is still very interesting, though. Excited for IGDomination!

    • I agree, Rachel! I feel the same way with food accounts and girls with fashion blogs, but when you take a step back, they’re posting like what Jonathan was talking about: things that interest or inspire other people. I’m looking forward to using these techniques with my own account to see what happens!

      • Us, too! What’s your Instagram handle? I’ll go check it out! 🙂

        • Hey Rachel! It’s @huongctvo, what’s your handle? 🙂

          • Just followed you! 🙂 I’m @rachelissocial, but will start to concentrate on growing @gamintraveler 🙂

      • Yup, at the end of the day it’s all about finding content that inspires your audience. If you can do that consistently then you have a profitably Instagram marketing strategy!

    • I like to think Instagram handles the same way your first car did. A little tricky, and takes a while to get used to it, but once you do it runs perfectly and it’s yours. Glad we could take a little mystery out of the Instagram marketing world for you and everyone else reading 🙂

  • Great post Nathan!

    I have been starting out into the world of Instagram with both my local brick and mortar and my new Facebook Ads agency account. The engagement is crazy. I need to find a way to come up with a consistent look,feel, and contextual strategies.

    Quotes work well, but trying stats and tips might work as well.

    Are hashtags the only way to go from 150 – 1,000 followers? I can see s4s working once you have some leverage, but what about those first couple months?

    Also how many posts a day were you guys doing?

    • Hey Jay, many of your questions are answered in the free Instagram eBook that Foundr provides here: http://foundr.com/free Hope it helps!

    • Good to hear you enjoyed the article Jay!

      It’s amazing how more people don’t realise how powerful of a tool Instagram is when it comes to driving engagement and pushing people through your funnel.

      Be sure to check out the “Part 1” of this article where we document how we went from 0-10k in 2 weeks, and any other Instagram related articles have on our blog (we have a lot), and also definitely check out our free ebook that Robyn so kindly mentioned earlier! We have a lot of resources for anyone wanting to learn more about crushing it on Instagram.

      In regards to how many times we were postings at the start, we experimented with different times and all that, but in the end we found out that the more you post the more followers you get. We always spaced our posts a couple of hours apart, but the important thing was that we were remaining consistent with our schedule.

      Hope this answers your questions!

  • Cathy Jordan

    I love reading anything posted by Foundr. I always gain another perspective on how to approach a task. i have fought establishing an Instagram account long enough. I plan to launch my brand March 16! Because of Nathan Chan and Foundr, I have been able to map a strategy for consistency. (I have sooo many notes!) Thank you!

    • Hey Cathy All the best for your launch. Hope you do really well.

    • Super excited for you Cathy! Sounds like you have an amazing time ahead of you so the best of luck to you (although I’m sure you don’t need it) and let us know how it all goes 🙂

  • Hey Nathan, You have really done an awesome job in this article. You have given a total walk through of Foundr journey.

    Also, after being so impressed with this success story I would love to link you up in my coming up article.

    I am an Instagram Expert and help people and brand get into lime light on Instagram. I also Have a Blog and service website Insta Marketers. This is where I want to give your article as an example of a case study to my viewers.

    P.S– If you can revert on this asap I would need you to talk to me about this.

    Thanks in Advance

    • Glad you liked the article May, I’ll be sure to pass this along to Nathan and have him get back to you 🙂

      • Ohk Jonathan, I will be waiting.
        Please keep in mind the time need to hurry with this Thanks 🙂

        • Hey @maypierce:disqus – Glad you enjoyed this epic article @disqus_pYZOHMKYCy:disqus put together! Please do feel free to link back to this article or any of our other work in regards to sharing our insights on how to use Instagram to rapidly grow your business and get more leads, sales, exposure and followers!

          • @chany_the_one:disqus Sure. I am on the verge of completing the article. I will link your case study in my article and notify you later.

  • Really great tips, I’m definitely going to try some of those video apps you recommended. Even though I try to keep selfies out of my posts, anything with my face on it gets a spike in engagement – so I need to just go with it and try videos. Thanks Foundr team!

    • Hey Robyn, definitely try out those video apps, I personally love using them and try to incorporate videos as much as I can. If you have an audience that loves having you as the face of your brand then why deny them the content they want!

      Let me know how your videos posts go and what you think of them 🙂

  • Hamist Cornet

    Really insightful article @disqus_pYZOHMKYCy:disqus! I really like the depth of your article!! Keep going 🙂 @chany_the_one:disqus I’ve small question: what plugin or software do you use for your sign-up form AFTER clicking on “free issue” on the homepage? I don’t seem to get the right one when searching. Thanks in advance!

    • Glad you enjoyed it @hamistcornet:disqus – We use lead pages and infusionsoft for the web form! You didn’t receive the free issue?

      • Hamist Cornet

        Yes I did receive it and I enjoyed it! I had a specific question however about the form or plugin what you use to pop-up after clicking on the “free issue” button.

        There are different kind of sign-up forms – exit pop-ups, static form in the header, a pop-up what appears fullscreen etc. But I want one that appears after clicking on a button like you have and I don’t know what the name is of that kind of sign-up.

        Haha I hope you understand me a little better now 🙂

  • Thank you Dina! Glad you enjoyed it! @disqus_pYZOHMKYCy:disqus crushed it with this one!!

  • Thank you!

  • Wow! Surprised youd release this when you sell material on this

    • We’re always looking to give back to the community that helped us get this far. Also just goes to show the many tricks we have up our sleeves when it comes to Instagram 😉

  • Muslima Taus

    Hello great article! I have a question. What is better on instagram a like or a comment? And if it is a comment why?

    • Excellent question Muslima!

      I always believe that a comment is always better. Because a like is a very quick action, whereas a comment means that someone is taking the time to actually write something down and let you know that they enjoy your content. Those extra few seconds show that you don’t have just someone passively liking your content, but someone that’s actually engaged with it.

  • Wilson Hung

    Again, another super detailed post! Totally agree that video is super effective!

    Jon, have you seen the BuzzFeed Tasty short form videos floating around instagram/Facebook? The amount of likes/comments they all get is crazy! Wonder how other niches could take advantages of those style of videos.


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