U.S. Markets closed

From Stanford to Facebook: The two founders of Instagram are leaving on a high

Natasha Bernal
The Instagram founders have already outlined plans to work together again - REUTERS

In his resignation message, Kevin Systrom, the co-founder of Instagram, sounded a valedictory note.

“The Instagram journey is one I won’t forget," he said in a note which circulated rapidly across the social media platforms he helped create. "It started by building simple products that solved universal problems.”

This was Systrom’s swan song. After six years of working with the social media giant, he and co-founder and chief technology officer Mike Krieger, 32, quit the company to “build new things”. Quite what they might be is not yet clear - but one thing is clear - they won’t be owned by Facebook.

Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg praised Systrom and Krieger as "extraordinary product leaders".

Their exit was sudden but not wholly unexpected.  Systrom, the public face of the entire company, was giving interviews just a few weeks before this exit. Both men, who have known each other since their student days at Stanford University, have Silicon Valley pedigree. 

Systrom, who is 34 and grew up in San Diego, worked on Gmail, Reader and Docs while at Google, and then spent time at Nextstop, a location recommendation start-up acquired by Facebook in 2010.

Krieger, a Brazilian who grew up in Sao Paolo before moving to California to study, trained at Microsoft, and worked at consumer internet company Meebo.

Both took a risk, leaving stable jobs to launch Instagram in October 2010. Deemed “cooler” than Facebook and appealing to a younger generation, the app soon took off. The co-founders reportedly rejected advances from Facebook before, but capitulated when the social media giant raised the stakes to offer $1bn in 2012. At the time, Instagram had just 13 employees and 30 million users.

When they made the deal with Facebook in 2012, Systrom, a keen photographer and wine lover,  let out a now infamous laugh when asked “how it felt” to have sold his company for $1bn. He had good reason. Not only was he taking home $400m from the deal, but his public profile exploded. Systrom was suddenly everywhere - black tie balls, the Met Gala, the Oscars… and all was recorded on his Instagram.

Everyone’s life looks perfect on Instagram, and Systrom’s certainly did. However, all was not rosy inside Instagram’s headquarters at Menlo Park.

Reports of rifts between the Instagram co-founders and Facebook’s management were rife, while regulatory pressure on Instagram to resolve inappropriate content on its site and accounts that promote fake news has increased dramatically in the last year. The possible announcement of a shopping app, which would drive revenue in a very Facebook-style move, probably did not help matters.

In 2016 Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg reportedly clashed with Systrom and Krieger over the introduction of Instagram's Stories feature, a concept cloned from Snapchat, which has become wildly successful. This introduction directly contradicted an argument that Systrom made to the Telegraph the year before.

“One of the things I love about Instagram’s photos is they are there,” he told The Telegraph in a 2015 interview. “They stick around. It means historians are going to be able to look back at humanity at this point in time and engage, and understand what has happened and what people were seeing.”

In a classic Systrom-style Instagram post, he teases what the pair are up to. It will be new, creative, and inspired. And it won’t belong to Facebook.