In response to the intensifying conversation about Sen. Elizabeth warrens promise to break up Amazon, Apple, Google, and Facebook, Instagram co-founders Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger said that selling the famous photo sharing platform is a consequence of success and was a necessary step to grow Instagram in a faster pace.
During this year’s SXSW festival in Austin, Texas, the two co-founders shared a little more about their journey in creating one of the most successful social media platform, Instagram. The two showed up in a sit-down panel interview and have a lot to say about the brewing plans to break up and regulate tech companies in Washington.
The two have sold their company to Facebook but abruptly resigned last September after working with Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg for the last few years amid the reported loss of their autonomy over the app that they created and the direction with which Facebook is taking the photo-sharing social media platform.
Last week, Zuckerberg announced a new, privacy-focused shift for the company that would see a stronger integration among Facebook, Messenger, WhatsApp, and Instagram into a unified messaging system.
During the panel, the two discussed superhero origin stories, authenticity on social media, looming regulation for big tech, and how they’re exploring what they’ll do next.
According to the two, their loss of autonomy of Instagram to Facebook is a sign of success. “In some ways, there being less autonomy is a function of Instagram winning. If Instagram had just been this niche photo app for photographers, we probably would be working on that app for 20 years. Instead what happened was it got better and better and better, and it improved, and it got to a size where it was meaningfully important to this company,” Systrom explained.
“If this thing gets to that scale that we want it to get to which is why we’re doing this deal, the autonomy will eventually not be there as much because it’s so important. So in some ways, it’s just an unavoidable thing if you’re successful. So you can choose, do you want to be unsuccessful and small and have all the autonomy in the world or no?”
Krieger followed up that “I think if you study . . . All the current companies, the ones that succeed internally eventually have become so important to the acquiring company that it’s almost irresponsible not to be thinking about what are the right models for integration. The advice I generally give is, ‘are you okay with that if you succeed?’ And if you’re not then you shouldn’t do the deal.”
One thing that the two talked about is the plan of the U.S. government to break up tech companies, and they have a lot to say about it, starting with questioning what exactly is the problem that the policy is trying to solve.
“We live in a time where I think the anger against big tech has increased ten-fold — whether that’s because the property prices in your neighborhood have gone up, whether it’s because you don’t like Russian meddling in elections — there are a long list of reasons people are angry at tech right now and some of them I think are well-founded” Systrom confirmed.
“That doesn’t mean that the answer is to break all the companies up. Breaking companies up is a very specific prescription for a very specific problem. If you want to fix economic issues, there are ways of doing that. If you want to fix Russian meddling, there are ways of doing that. Breaking up a company doesn’t fix those problems. That doesn’t mean that companies shouldn’t be broken up if they get too big and they’re monopolies, and they cause problems, but being big in and of itself is not a crime.”
Systrom criticized the policy by pointing out how it lacks nuance. He said that it surprises him to know that the policy says “all tech should be broken up, and that feels to me again not nuanced enough, and it shows me that the understanding of the problem isn’t there. I think it’s going to take a more nuanced proposal, but my fear is that something like a proposal to break up all tech is playing on everyone’s current feeling of anti-tech rather than doing what I think politicians should do which is address real problems and give real solutions.”