Instagram’s Kevin Systrom On Tracking Covid-19 And Advice For Entrepreneurs | Forbes

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Shut-in at home as Covid-19 swept the U.S., Instagram cofounder Kevin Systrom was growing frustrated by the confusing and unreliable data on the spread and scale of the disease. So the creator of one of the world’s most viral companies—now one billion-plus users strong—began building a site to track the virus. “I kept asking ‘if I was running a state or a country what stat would I want to know?” said Systrom in a Zoom interview during the Forbes’s Under 30 hackathon, with partner Rocket Mortgage, in support of the city of Detroit. Through his research, he learned about a metric called Rt. Well known in epidemiology, it measures the rate that a virus spreads from person to person. “If R is less than one, then the outbreak shrinks. If it’s larger than one, it grows exponentially—and that’s a bad thing.”

Playing around with Python code, Systrom, 36, built a program that collected patient data from various health sources and calculated the Rt reproduction rate for California. Other states soon followed. Data in hand, but with no way to share it, he phoned his Instagram cofounder Mike Krieger. Launched in mid-April, the site now attracts more than 100,000 daily users, including health officials, media outlets, and government leaders—N.Y. Governor Andrew Cuomo has quoted the website in his popular daily press briefings. The site shows if the Covid rate of reproduction is growing or shrinking in each state, and the effect that shutdowns—and reopenings—are having on the virus’s spread. Says Systrom: “My goal was to be apolitical, factual, and show people the data. Hopefully, people will make better decisions based on the data that they get to see.”

To close-out Forbes’ Under 30 Detroit Hackathon, Kevin Systrom, a member of the inaugural Under 30 list, shared how and why he built RT.Live, his tips on starting companies to solve big problems, and the next area of tech he’s looking to shake up.

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