Instagram, WhatsApp And Tesla: Does It Matter If Founders Run Tech Companies?

By Owen Thomas
San Francisco Chronicle

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) As columnist Owen Thomas points out, “Steve Jobs’ turnaround of Apple served as a powerful example of a company that lost its way without a founder and regained it when he returned, as did Mark Zuckerberg’s stewardship, from trouble to triumph and back again, over and over, of Facebook.”

San Francisco Chronicle

Silicon Valley has been arguing for days over the matter of founders — or rather, whether founders matter.

It started Monday when news broke that Instagram’s co-founders, Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger, were leaving Facebook, the company that bought the photo-sharing app six years ago.

This prompted instant hand-wringing: Would Instagram lose its way without its founders? Who would keep it on track?

Who would stand up to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg? How could anyone match the moral authority of a founder?

I was thinking about these questions the next day, as Marc Benioff, a co-founder of Salesforce, prowled the stage at Dreamforce, his company’s annual software conference that draws more than 170,000 people to downtown San Francisco.

Under his watch, the company has grown to more than $10 billion in annual revenue and a value of more than $120 billion. And he’s given away hundreds of millions of dollars of his own wealth, on top of Salesforce’s corporate giving.

Are his business feats what give him the moral authority to capture people’s attention — or the fact that he’s been running the company since its beginning? Are those two inextricably intertwined?

The debate got nastier when Forbes published a tell-all interview with WhatsApp co-founder Brian Acton on Wednesday.

Acton sold his messaging app to Facebook in 2014 for $22 billion; he’s now worth $3.6 billion. He left Facebook last year, then shocked many by tweeting “It is time. #deletefacebook” in March.

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