- There’s a big debate between current and former Facebookers over the way the company treats the founders of companies it acquires.
- That’s after Instagram’s founders decided to leave, and WhatsApp cofounder Brian Acton lifted the lid on his frustrations with Facebook.
- But the founders of other Facebook acquisitions appeared to dunk on Acton, saying Facebook had always been supportive.
- One founder said entrepreneurs need to realise their company will eventually have to integrate with their acquirers.
Current and former Facebookers are piling into a debate about why Instagram and WhatsApp’s founders quit, as the fight plays out over social media.
The debate was triggered by Instagram founders Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger unexpectedly resigning from Facebook on Monday, six years after selling their company for $US1 billion to the social network.
Their departure was widely thought to be down to tensions with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg around Instagram’s growth and monetisation. An analysis of their departure letter suggests that the pair were unhappy.
It coincided with WhatsApp cofounder Brian Acton breaking his silence on Wednesday about why he left Facebook in 2017, three years after WhatsApp sold for $US19 billion. In an explosive interview with Forbes, Acton said he and his cofounder, Jan Koum, had been unhappy that Facebook wanted to monetise WhatsApp by introducing ads.
That the founders of WhatsApp and Instagram seem to be dunking on Facebook and its leadership in the same week has triggered something of a debate about how Facebook treats its acquisitions, and whether it’s overly aggressive in its efforts to squeeze revenue out of its partners.
David Marcus was the first Facebook executive to publicly respond to Acton, in a fiery blog post where he described his comments as “low-class.”
His post was liked by at least two other key Facebook players, including AI chief Yann LeCun and Javier Olivan, the vice president of growth.
Former chief security officer Alex Stamos refused to take sides, but did say it was “foolish” to believe WhatsApp wouldn’t be monetised.
Nikita Bier, the founder of TBH, which was acquired by Facebook and then shut down, challenged Acton’s suggestion that Zuckerberg and his team weren’t supportive.
And Mark Trefgarne, another founder who sold his company LiveRail to Facebook in 2014, said founders needed to “get with the program” when their companies become part of a bigger entity.
He wrote on Twitter: “Post-acquisition your job is to make the integration a success. That often means letting go of many of the priorities and values you fought so hard for before, and defining a new mission that’s aligned with the priorities of your acquirer.”
The irony is that founders with deepest commitment to their startup's original mission are the ones most likely to get acquired in the first place. But that same dedication can become a liability if it can't evolve to the new realities.
— Mark Trefgarne (@trefgarne) September 26, 2018
Like the staffers who liked Marcus’ original Facebook post, other founders acquired by Facebook appeared to be quietly supportive of his views.
Alex Lebrun cofounded Wit.AI, which was acquired by Facebook in 2015. He still works in Facebook’s AI division, and “liked” David Marcus’ post about Acton on Twitter.
Randall Bennett, whose firm Vidpresso is Facebook’s most recent acquisition, also “liked” tweets that appeared to be dunking on Acton, including comments from former Facebooker and critic Antonio Garcia Martinez.
When the Forbes interview first landed, Martinez tweeted a link commenting: “Standard post-acq litany of regret here, with a sellout crying into his money after realising it’s a Faustian deal.”
He was later more nuanced and sympathetic to Acton, describing him as a different species from executive Marcus. “Marcus wouldn’t have created a WhatsApp, and Action [sic] could never handle the endless arse-kissing that living inside Zuck-land now requires,” he wrote.
Acton, he added, must have realised that money perhaps can’t make up for the fact that he may never build another WhatsApp. But, Martinez concluded, lots of people probably aren’t too sympathetic.
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