Last week it was announced that Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger, Instagram's co-founders, were departing from Facebook and the company. The duo founded the photo-sharing company in 2010 and sold it to Facebook for a whopping $1 billion in 2012. Even though six years is an unusual amount of time to stay on in your own company after its acquisition, their departure has raised questions about their relationship with Mark Zuckerberg and the app’s connection to its parent company.
It is understood that the increased control from Mark Zuckerberg is the main reason for their decision to leave. Until recently, it was agreed between the founders that the two entities would operate somewhat separately to each other. Now, Zuckerberg is determined to integrate the two more closely. Alas, a decision that cost the original founders and their creative drive.
There is no surprise as to why Mark Zuckerberg would want to do this. Facebook is increasingly seen as a platform for ‘old people’ - over 24s - and Instagram is the property that attracts the largest share among young users. The flagship social media is also the oldest, turning 14 this year, and its loyal users have grown old with it. Young people are more attracted to new forms of social media that rely on ‘storyfied’ newsfeeds and disappearing posts.
Instagram initially took some steps to combat this. In October 2016, it mimicked Snapchat by copying its main feature and quickly overtook Snapchat as the leading place to reach and cater to young people. The feature has since extended to other platforms such as Facebook and WhatsApp. Still, this was Instagram, not Facebook, and Facebook had its own problems to combat.
Facebook has been hit with more than a few scandals in recent months which is seeing its trust and usership erode. Alongside its questionable relationship with Cambridge Analytica and the impact of the 2016 election, the company has been the target of hacks affecting 90 million of its users (this writer included). It makes sense that Mark Zuckerberg would want to shift focus, at least temporarily, to his products that don’t attract such negative press.
His focus is not without its own controversy. Just last year, WhatsApp founder Jan Koum left Facebook after disagreeing with Zuckerberg on how to best monetize WhatsApp. Targeted advertisements will soon appear in the status feature, something the founder was always against. He has since described his decision to work with Facebook as ‘selling out’ to the data company.
Now that Facebook has lost the founders and partners of two of its biggest properties, what does this mean for its future? It appears that Mark Zuckerberg is facing his own pressures for Facebook: decreased usership for the first time ever, eroding trust, a plague of hacks and controversies, and an overall bad reputation.
It is difficult to see how Instagram will change, if at all, once this transition is complete. Adam Mosseri, Instagram’s current VP of Product will become its new Head - not too surprising given his knowledge and experience of the company. He is generally well-liked within the company and was responsible for building Facebook’s news feed - perhaps its most successful product. With Zuckerberg’s plan to make Instagram a larger part of Facebook (and not just a company that operates independently on the premises), it might just be a match made in heaven.
As for Systrom and Krieger? The duo is happy to take a break from the startup world to focus on reigniting their creativity for a brand-new project in the near future. We look forward to what they bring.