- Instagram’s cofounders, Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger, are quitting the Facebook-owned company.
- Sources tell Business Insider there have been “tensions” between the two companies.
- The two companies have very different ways of doing things.
The Instagram cofounders’ Monday night bombshell, that they were resigning from Facebook, has all the telltale signs of a bad breakup.
But to people inside the organization, the divorce was a long time coming, even if the announcement came without warning.
The photo-sharing app was acquired by Facebook in 2012 and has flourished under the wings of Facebook. With more than 1 billion users and a fast-growing ad business, Instagram is considered by many to be Facebook’s smartest acquisition and among the best deals in tech industry history.
The success masked many of the tensions between Instagram and its parent company. The two cultures are very different, with separate traditions and priorities.
To Instagrammers, Facebook is the soul-less corporate giant that happens to own them. To many Facebook employees, Instagram people are arrogant, “too cool for school,” and not team players.
After years of finding common ground and resolving differences, the leadership of the two companies appears to have reached a breaking point this week. Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger, the two founders of Instagram, announced their plans to leave in a freighted farewell note.
Exactly what triggered the breaking point remains unclear, but according to several sources that Business Insider spoke to, there’s been a long buildup of friction between the two organizations.
Kevin likes getting things perfect, Facebook prefers iteration
Instagram and Facebook’s teams work very differently. Instagram has an extremely heavy focus on design, with significant thought going into new products before launch, with the intent to perfect them before unveiling them to the world.
Facebook, in contrast, has a more iterative and data-driven approach, looking at what users are already doing, and frequently making minor changes to the product. “Kevin focuses a lot on visual feel and getting things perfect, while Facebook prefers iteration,” a source said.
Instagram’s design-heavy focus stems from the top down — Systrom is into fashion, while Krieger collects art. When Instagram was rushing to get its Stories product out the door in the summer of 2016, Krieger personally jumped in and built the neon effects pen that gives the feature some of its distinctive flair, another source recalled.
With the duo out of the picture, sources predicted ever-closer integration between the two groups, with Instagram morphing from a semi-autonomous organization into a product unit within the Facebook organization.
Although Systrom and Krieger were always careful to be diplomatic in public comments about the relationship with Facebook, the growing pressure from Facebook to integrate the two platforms was a longstanding source of tension that required them to push back at times and to acquiesce at others.
The Justin Bieber stress test
One such area was advertising: Early in Instagram’s history, its focus when it came to ads was high-quality, glossy ads: At one point, Systrom was approving every single one himself. But the model could not scale, and Facebook pushed the company into integrating more closely with its own advertising business. Instagram employees were worried at the time, but it ultimately resulted it a sustained growth in revenues and profits for the app.
Another early example was the launch of Instagram’s web profiles back in November 2012, shortly after Facebook acquired Instagram for $1 billion. Systrom was worried that it doing so could lead to spam on the platform, but Facebook pushed for it because of its potential for businesses and to grow the userbase.
At the same time, Instagram has benefitted immeasurably from Facebook’s guidance and technical expertise. Prior to the acquisition, the social network would buckle under the weight of Justin Bieber, its servers crashing as they struggled to handle his millions of fans. It remains an open question whether Instagram could have succeeded the same way — recently hitting the one-billion-user mark — without Facebook’s help.
Facebook and Instagram have clashed recently
There have been significant more recent clashes leading up to Systrom and Krieger’s exits. Employees at Instagram felt they were losing autonomy, as the two products became more closely integrated over the last year.
One recent flashpoint: Users can share photos from Instagram to Facebook, and historically this included an attribution line leading back to Instagram. But this was removed, to the frustration of Instagram. (Recode also previously reported that this was a point of contention.)
“Kevin [Systrom] has been super-pissed-off” at Mark [Zuckerberg],” an anonymous ‘high-level” source told NBC News.
Interestingly, last week there was also a report from The Verge alleging that Instagram was considering a feature that would let users re-share friends’ photos onto their own feed. Facebook initially declined to comment on the report, and only later denied it was true. (The Verge stands by its reporting.) It’s not clear what the truth of the matter is, or if it played any part in Krieger and Systrom’s ultimate exit.
One source said they expected Systrom’s recent paternity leave following the birth of his first child to have played a part in his decision to go.
The departure of both cofounders simultaneously — with no staggered transition period between them — has alarmed some observers, but a source didn’t think it was surprising that they jumped ship together: “They have a really, really strong cofounder relationship. That’s always … been the case.”
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