The news, reported by Mike Isaac at The New York Times, that Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger are leaving Instagram was inevitable.
The same can be said of the departure earlier this year of Jan Koum, founder of WhatsApp, from Facebook. Neither Instagram, nor WhatsApp, both built through the development of thoughtful and deliberate products as they were, had meaningfully embarked on enabling an effective, large scale business model at the time of purchase.
Yes, you paid a dollar a year for WhatsApp, but was that going to keep the wheels of growth turning as fast as they needed to?
Ben Thompson highlights in his excellent article, Instagram’s CEO:
“Technically speaking, Instagram was a company. In practice, though, Instagram was a product, and its business model was venture capital funding. “
As Ben points out, moving to Facebook allowed Systrom and Krieger to focus on the product and not on the building of the large scale business Instagram was going to need to become.
The WhatsApp and Instagram stories would likely have been more akin to Twitter or Snapchat’s had they refused Zuckerberg’s offers. Despite being engaging products, both Twitter and more recently Snapchat, have faced significant struggles in converting an excellent product into an excellent business. Much of the glamour has been stripped from the Twitter and Snapchat stories in recent years. Much as the glamour has been stripped from Facebook itself. The benefit afforded to Instagram and WhatsApp to remain true to the product and vision was paid for by Facebook’s success as a business. Instagram and WhatsApp did not have to deal with paying for all that growth. In essence, they could remain product darlings. To steal a phrase from from John Gruber – it is the heaviness of Facebook, that allowed Instagram (and WhatsApp) to remain light.
The minute that acquisition cheque is signed and deposited, the keys to the car are handed over. You still get to drive it on a daily basis, and have the unique responsibility of making sure it runs smooth and fast. In short, you get to enjoy the ride, without having to pay for the gas.
Reasons for the departure of Systrom and Krieger will likely emerge over the next few days and weeks. The departure was inevitable because when things get sticky, you don’t have much say if you object to where the money comes from or the manner in which it got there.