Instagram founders (IMAGE: R. Scoble on Flickr — CC BY)

Life at Facebook: not much fun?

Enrique Dans
Sep 25, 2018 · 3 min read

Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger, founders of Instagram, say they are leaving the company they founded in 2010 and sold to Facebook in 2012 to begin a new chapter, “to explore our curiosity and creativity again.” Their statement added: “Building new things requires that we step back, understand what inspires us and match that with what the world needs; that’s what we plan to do.”

There has been speculation that the departure of the founders of Instagram, surely one of Facebook’s best acquisitions and now the company’s jewel in the crown, could be due to a progressive loss of independence. When the company was acquired in 2010, its founders made a major effort to exercise some freedom of management from the company that acquired them, choosing not to be headquartered at Facebook’s office and keeping their former email addresses and domain name. The decision to leave the company has nothing to do with lack of ambition or interesting ideas, and instead coincides with the announcement of big changes at Instagram, such as the construction of specific tools for electronic commerce, based on recognition that Instagram is a success story that now has more than one billion users, up from 30 million in 2010.

Brian Acton and Jan Koum, the founders of Facebook’s other major acquisition, WhatsApp, said they were leaving in September 2017 and April 2018 respectively, also over disagreements about the management of the company.

Bret Taylor w/ E. Dans circa 2008

Much earlier, Facebook lost Bret Taylor, then founder of another purchase, Friendfeed, and currently one of Salesforce’s key executives. The image of a welcoming Facebook, able to retain the talent it has acquired and to provide founders with the independence and the resources to make their dreams come true is further diminished with each one of these exits. Arriving at Facebook offers founders the possibility of having money, development talent and the potential to grow their projects and scale them up, but it seems this comes at the cost of important commitments with respect to what those founders had in mind when they signed on the dotted line. There seems to be little logic to Facebook’s approach, as shown by the case of WhatsApp, which was never seen as economically viable, or its opposite, Instagram, which would currently be valued at $100 billion if it were an independent company. Systrom and Krieger can leave Facebook with their heads held high after having given Facebook a business that has grown a hundredfold in value.

At what point do the founders of a company, turned into billionaires after an acquisition, consider that the game is no fun anymore, that they no longer feel comfortable and that they want to leave to think about starting something new? If your company is unable to keep this level of talent motivated and keen to keep doing new things or is unable to provide avenues and resources so they can explore their already proven creativity internally, you have a major problem. It’s all well and good for Mark Zuckerberg to say goodbye to the founders of Instagram, wishing them the best and looking forward to see what they build next, but this latest departure should prompt the company to consider what is losing when key people feel the need to go to express their “curiosity and creativity” somewhere else.


(En español, aquí)

Enrique Dans

Written by

Professor of Innovation at IE Business School and blogger at enriquedans.com

Enrique Dans

On the effects of technology innovation on people, companies and society (writing in Spanish at enriquedans.com since 2003)

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