Tech: Kevin Systrom dropped clues last year about why he would hate Facebook meddling with Instagram

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Instagram's outgoing CEO Kevin Systrom.

Instagram's cofounders, Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger, sensationally quit on Monday. Systrom dropped clues last year about how much he values Instagram's independence, telling Recode that it's important 'not to meddle if things are going really well.'

  • Instagram's cofounders, Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger, sensationally quit on Monday.
  • Several reports noted that there have been recent clashes with Facebook's leadership over Instagram's autonomy, with sources saying that Facebook is exerting tighter control over its $1 billion acquisition.
  • Systrom dropped clues last year about how much he values Instagram's independence, telling Recode that it's important "not to meddle if things are going really well."
  • His abrupt departure suggests that Instagram's freedom was being eroded.

Instagram's two cofounders, Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger, made a shock announcement on Monday by sensationally announcing their resignations.

Although neither offered any real insight on the reasons for their abrupt departure, several reports have noted that tensions had been rising between Instagram and its parent company Facebook.

The Wall Street Journal and TechCrunch were among those to suggest that there have been clashes over Instagram's autonomy in recent months, with sources pointing out that Facebook is gripping its $1 billion acquisition tighter.

A concrete example of this came in May, when Facebook integrated its executive bench more closely into Instagram. Facebook's Chris Cox took on responsibility for Instagram, while Instagram's VP of Product Kevin Weil moved to Facebook's blockchain team and was replaced by Adam Mosseri, formerly the VP of News Feed at Facebook.

"When Chris started taking initiative and with Adam as more of the old-school in-crowd of Facebook, it was clear that it wasn’t going to be pleasant. I saw that this guy [Systrom] is gonna get squeezed," a source told TechCrunch.

The moves are unlikely to have gone down well with Systrom, who last year spoke in some detail about how much he values Instagram's independence during a podcast with Kara Swisher, Recode's editor-at-large, in June 2017.

Instagram is based in its own building within Facebook's Menlo Park campus, and Systrom said he respects the arms-length approach Mark Zuckerberg has taken since buying Instagram in 2012.

"The thing that made it work was actually not what they did, it’s what they didn’t do," he said. "I see Mark practice a tremendous amount of restraint in giving us the freedom to run, but the reason why I think he gives us the freedom to run is because when we run, it typically works."

Systrom added that Instagram has earned this freedom, successfully launching products, including Stories. "I've learned that lesson as well, if you give people a runway … Not to meddle if things are going really well. You leave it alone. And I think that’s happened in a bunch of areas at Instagram," he continued.

On the surface, at least, there was little to suggest things had gone awry at Instagram before the executive changes in May. The company hit more than a billion users this year and has just launched television service IGTV, putting it into closer competition with YouTube.

Zuckerberg described Instagram as an "amazing success" in July, and even went on to highlight how the structure around Instagram had helped. "It's also a story of how effective the integration has been. We believe Instagram has been able to use Facebook's infrastructure to grow more than twice as quickly as it would have on its own," he told investors and journalists on a conference call.

Something clearly changed. So much so, that Systrom and Krieger failed to mention Zuckerberg in their goodbye letter. The Facebook CEO was only added in as an afterthought in Systrom and Krieger's Instagram messages on their departure.

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