The departure of Instagram’s Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger has Silicon Valley scratching its head.
On Monday, the cofounders announced their exit from the photo-sharing platform they founded in 2010, but offered no concrete explanation or details of what they’ll do next.
San Francisco-based Instagram went from start-up to $1 billion Facebook acquisition in just two years, and after Systrom and Krieger sold the business, they stayed on to run it. Now they’re leaving, and Facebook chief executive officer Mark Zuckerberg is trying to cast the exit in warm terms. He wrote in a prepared statement, “I’ve learned a lot working with them for the past six years and have really enjoyed it. I wish them all the best and I’m looking forward to seeing what they build next.”
It seems perfectly amiable and drama-free, but it doesn’t address the cloud of mystery surrounding the resignations. And there’s reason to believe there’s more to the story: Reports have been swirling about the Instagram cofounders battling Facebook executives over “autonomy” inside the organization, while the announcement’s sudden timing and disjointed messaging suggest a hastily handled affair.
According to sources with direct knowledge of the company’s communications, many staffers were in the dark about the news until they read it in the headlines. The announcement also looks unplanned considering Systrom is still listed as a speaker at upcoming conferences in the next few weeks.
Systrom and Krieger aren’t the only executive departures at Facebook companies in recent years.
In 2016, two years after VR outfit Oculus became the property of the world’s biggest social media platform, founder Palmer Luckey left the company over what Republicans suspect were clashes over his conservative support and viewpoints — though it’s still not clear if he resigned or was fired. WhatsApp officially joined the Facebook family in 2014, thanks to an acquisition deal worth $19 billion. Cofounders Jan Koum and Brian Acton left the mobile messaging platform last spring over disagreements on data privacy practices.
The upheaval at Instagram comes during a time when Facebook has been in the hot seat over its transparency and approach to data privacy. The company has sent executives to Washington several times to appear before Congress, and it faces increasing scrutiny from U.S. and British officials about its business and practices. Instagram, one of Facebook’s most prized assets, hasn’t suffered the same image problems as its parent company. But the latest news thrusts the platform into uncertain territory.
Last June, Instagram announced that it had reached 1 billion active users and introduced IGTV for long-form videos, in a clear appeal to the YouTube set. Most recently, the network announced the expansion of shopping in Instagram Stories and a new dedicated shopping section in the app’s Explore tab.
As Monday night’s announcement spread out over the Internet on Tuesday, the news rattled some analysts.
“Our sense is the duo may have wanted to run Instagram more independently than their parent company wanted,” wrote CFRA analyst Scott Kessler. Reiterating his hold rating for Facebook shares, he noted “more and more promotional activity” on Instagram lately, and called Systrom and Krieger’s departures “a notable negative” for its parent company.