It came as a shock last month when Instagram’s co-founders, Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger, headed for the exits, leaving the company they built and sold to Facebook for $1 billion in 2012. (The news was so sudden, in fact, that The Wall Street Journal was forced to push up the online publican of its cover story featuring Systrom, which had been planned for October 13.) For all the turmoil Facebook faced this year, Instagram, it seemed, remained relatively insulated. But behind the scenes, Mark Zuckerberg and the Instagram co-founders had reportedly grown apart as Zuckerberg pushed for greater intermarriage between the two platforms. As Systrom quipped earlier this month, “No one ever leaves a job because everything’s awesome.”
Systrom and Krieger weren’t the first Facebook executives to depart this year, nor are they the last. On Monday, Brendan Iribe, the former C.E.O. and co-founder of Oculus, which Facebook famously acquired for $3 billion in 2014, announced that he, too, would be parting ways with the company. “I’d like to sincerely thank everyone that’s been a part of this amazing journey, especially Mark [Zuckerberg] for believing in this team and the future of VR and AR,” Iribe said in a Facebook post. Though the Oculus purchase was announced with much fanfare, the technology hasn’t gained mainstream traction the way its supporters likely hoped it would. TechCrunch points out that Iribe’s exit comes just after the cancellation of the Oculus Rift 2 headset, adding that Iribe and Facebook’s executives had “fundamentally different views on the future of Oculus that grew deeper over time,” per a source. (Iribe outlasted one of his co-founders, Palmer Luckey, who left Facebook in 2017 after the Daily Beast found he had spent $10,000 to help defeat Hillary Clinton—“I gave money to an organization that was against Hillary Clinton, and everybody hated me,” he said matter-of-factly at the Vanity Fair New Establishment Summit earlier this month.)
In the past year alone, Facebook has seen a veritable tidal wave of executive departures. Alex Stamos, the company’s chief security officer who helped guide the company through the fraught Cambridge Analytica data-privacy scandal, left in August. Two longtime communications executives, Rachel Whetstone and Elliot Schrage, also departed the company. After eight years, Facebook’s top lawyer, Colin Stretch, announced his exit in July. Dan Rose, vice president of partnerships, announced his departure in August, the same month that Alex Hardiman, the head of news products, announced she was leaving, too.
Perhaps even more crucially, Iribe is the fourth C.E.O. of a Facebook acquisition to announce his departure—Jan Koum, the co-founder of WhatsApp, which Facebook bought for $19 billion in 2014, left in April over disagreements about WhatsApp’s “strategy, and Facebook’s attempts to use its personal data and weaken its encryption,” sources said at the time. Although Facebook gave its biggest acquisitions some degree of independence after the checks cleared, in the wake of their founders’ departures, Zuckerberg has moved to re-assert control. An executive exodus at Facebook as it fends off scandals pertaining to misinformation, user privacy, and data security is bad enough. But if Zuckerberg can’t hold onto the heads of the companies he acquires, he may find it difficult to lure top talent in the increasingly competitive environment of Silicon Valley.