Amid all the hype this week over Instagram's acquisition by Facebook for a cool $1 billion, it's worth pointing out the following. Your business will not be able to take advantage of many of the factors that enabled this 12-person company (12 people!) to quickly gain 30 million users and the attention of the biggest social software dog on the planet. Those factors include impeccable timing and a specialty (mobile) that fit a particular weakness of its acquirer.
You'd be better off scrutinizing failed ventures for things that their leadership actively did that you would not want to emulate. Sidestepping avoidable mistakes gives you a chance to succeed, at least modestly, with virtually any business. The difference between a modest success and a blockbuster will, for the most part, depend on things that are part of your environment or conditions peculiar to the time. They don't call it "catching lightning in a bottle" for nothing.
One feature of Instagram's leadership that I do think is instructive is their ability to nimbly adjust their product as they got feedback from users on where the market was headed. That's a habit we all could use to emulate.