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Facebookers pile into fight about WhatsApp’s founders quitting



Jan Koum Brian Acton
WhatsApp cofounder Brian Acton.

  • 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
  • One founder said entrepreneurs need to realise their
    company will eventually have to integrate with their

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 $1 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
monetization. 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 $16 billion. In an
explosive interview with Forbes, Acton said he and his cofounder,
Jan Koum, had been unhappy that Facebook wanted to monetize
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

David MarcusFacebook/David Marcus

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.

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 Trefgame, 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

You can
read the full thread here

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 realizing it’s a Faustian

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 ass-kissing that living inside Zuck-land now
requires,” he wrote.

Acton, he added, must have realized 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

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