When Facebook acquired Instagram six years ago, the two founders – Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger – made an agreement with Mark Zuckerberg that they would be able to operate it independently, despite the change in ownership. That said, it hasn’t exactly worked out that way and the two have become frustrated. Their timing on this couldn’t be worse given that Facebook has seen the departure of several senior executives in the last few months. This follows the long-running controversy over fake news and data privacy. WhatsApp founders Jan Koum and Brian Acton also quit earlier this year after issues with Zuckerberg related to the Cambridge Analytica scandal.
But it doesn’t stop there – Facebook’s General Counsel – Colin Stretch, Head of Communications – Elliot Schrage, Vice President of Partnership – Dan Rose also announced their departures over the summer. Instagram’s Director of Public Policy – Nicole Colaco, left earlier this year but says that Instagram is the “best place” she’s ever worked. There have been some other changes as well. Due to some staff leaving, others have been moved around into different divisions.
The sudden exodus of Instagram’s founders definitely follows a shake-up of Facebook’s executive ranks in May. What’s interesting is that Chris Cox is now in charge of the “family of apps” which includes Instagram, WhatsApp, Messenger, and Facebook. That in itself might not be interesting, but the fact that Cox is a close friend of Zuckerberg might be telling of the whole situation.
So why are Systrom and Krieger leaving now? Instagram is more popular than ever with 1 billion users, and it’s a key part of Facebook’s business plan. Instagram’s growth contrasts greatly with Facebook’s stagnant growth in North America and Europe. In short, Facebook isn’t doing well, but Instagram is, so it definitely seems odd that they would leave now. The two said in a blog post that they “remain excited for the future of Instagram and Facebook in the coming years”. Further, they’ve indicated that they are going to take some time off before starting a new venture – which was unspecified in the blog post.
Instagram’s success could be due to the fact that they have escaped many of the controversies that have plagued Facebook over the last year and a half. Most of which are tied to how Facebook was handling user data, and general privacy. In addition, Instagram was run at arm’s length for many years after the acquisition, which is likely why Instagram was at an advantage in this respect. Now, Instagram is more part of “the family”, and that’s likely why things have gone sideways with Systrom and Krieger.
Facebook has started to change the way that it does business as it attempts to deepen its integration with other apps in order to bolster engagement. Some Instagram users have complained about the promotional photos showing up in their news feed (and I can relate). Not only that, but the app has become somewhat entangled in concerns around smartphone addiction. Which we can talk about in another post. I for one deleted Instagram for a week – cold turkey – and it was difficult. I found myself looking at my phone wondering what I should be doing. But after a few days, that receded. I’ve got the app back now but I’m not tempted quite as much as I was before.
That said, maybe it was just time for them to move on. That happens to all of us – in almost any job. What this means for Instagram’s future, remains to be seen.