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Instagram founders talk leaving Facebook at South by Southwest

Tech Crunch editor-at-large Josh Constine (L) interviews Instagram co-founders Mike Krieger (C) and Kevin Systrom live on stage during the 2019 SXSW Conference
Tech Crunch editor-at-large Josh Constine (L) interviews Instagram co-founders Mike Krieger (C) and Kevin Systrom at SXSW 2019. Photo: Jim Bennett/WireImage via Getty Images

Months after their departure from Facebook, Instagram's co-founders took to the stage at SXSW to explain why they sold their company to Facebook, and why they left the social network.

The big picture: “The idea behind it was that we wanted to make a bet on the company,” Instagram co-founder Kevin Systrom said of the decision to sell to Facebook. And if the goal was to pick a company that would help Instagram continue to grow, that bet paid off, he said.

While a lack of autonomy may have driven Systrom and co-founder Mike Krieger to leave Facebook, it was also inevitable.

  • "In some ways, there being less autonomy is a function of Instagram winning,” Systrom said. “It got to a size where it was meaningfully important to the company. It’s just an unavoidable thing if you’re successful.”

More from the interview:

  • Adding ads to Instagram: “To be clear, we were the ones pushing monetization, not the other way around,” Systrom said. We believed Instagram has to make money somehow... Whether you like ads or not, put that aside, we have to make money somehow.”
  • Warren’s proposal to break up tech: “I’d like to see … more specificity on … what problem are we solving… what integrations and problems we’re talking about… and think through what the externalities would be,” Krieger said. Systrom added that some problems like rising economic inequality and Russian election meddling are serious but are better addressed with real solutions than simply riding the anti-tech wave.
  • Whether there can be a new social media hit: “I think it’s possible,” Systrom said. “It comes in waves and you’d be surprised how determined consumers are to have another good solution. … I’d be really surprised if there wasn’t another.”

What's next: Systrom and Krieger were coy on their next move, but seemed to indicate they might be game for another startup.

Go deeper: Instagram overshadows Facebook as an engagement powerhouse