The Industry

Did Instagram’s Founders Leave Because Mark Zuckerberg Meddled Too Much?

Mike Krieger and Kevin Systrom.
Instagram founders Mike Krieger and Kevin Systrom were reportedly becoming frustrated with Zuckerberg. Paul Zimmerman/Getty Images

Instagram co-founders Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger announced on Monday that they are leaving the social media app and the company that owns it, Facebook. The two created Instagram in 2010 and sold it for $1 billion in 2012, though they’ve remained at Facebook as executives. “Mike and I are grateful for the last eight years at Instagram and six years with the Facebook team,” Systrom wrote in a blog post about the departure. “We remain excited for the future of Instagram and Facebook in the coming years as we transition from leaders to two users in a billion.”

The early reports on Systrom and Krieger’s exit from Facebook suggest it may be less amicable than Systrom suggests. People familiar with the companies’ internal workings told Bloomberg that Systrom and Krieger were feeling suffocated by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s increasing level of involvement with Instagram’s operations. Zuckerberg reportedly wants to integrate Instagram more tightly into plans for Facebook’s future.

Sources also told Recode that Zuckerberg was involved in “bizarre meddling” that took a toll on morale at Instagram and may have been impeding its growth. For example, Zuckerberg reportedly ordered developers to throttle promotion of Instagram within the Facebook app, which dropped referrals by hundreds of thousands of users per week. Facebook also recently began removing labels noting whether a photo had come from Instagram, a decision that Systrom voiced his opposition to within the company.

Others reportedly felt that Facebook was being less supportive of Instagram and taking undue advantage of the app for traffic. TechCrunch also posits that Facebook’s move to replace Instagram’s vice president of product with the former head of Facebook’s news feed may have caused some tension and threatened Instagram’s autonomy as well.

Though there had been disagreements, the relationship between Zuckerberg and the head Instagram executives was reportedly harmonious for most of the six years that they worked together. It was only over the past year that tensions appear to have really intensified. It’s also true that six years is a relatively long time in Silicon Valley for startup founders to stay at their company after it’s been sold.

But this departure isn’t necessarily anomalous. A similar narrative of micromanagement and clashing executives also emerged when Jan Koum, the co-founder and former CEO of Facebook subsidiary WhatsApp, left the company in April. Reports from sources inside the company intimated that Koum became uncomfortable with Facebook’s desires to allegedly weaken WhatsApp’s encryption and leverage its user data to increase revenue. Just like Systrom, however, Koum hinted at no such disagreements in his Facebook post announcing the departure.