20VC Instagram Founders Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger on Why Social Networks Should Be Less Social & The Next Wave of Social Why San Francisco Will Return with a Vengeance and The Future For Remote Work Let's Get Personal Relationships to Money, Be

Summary Notes


In this insightful conversation on 20VC with host Harry Stebbings, Instagram co-founders Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger discuss their new venture, Artifact, a personalized AI-driven news feed. They reflect on the importance of trust, integrity, and adaptability in their enduring partnership, emphasizing how disagreements can lead to mutual understanding and stronger decisions. They candidly address the challenges of starting a second company, the necessity of swift action when team dynamics falter, and the nuanced approach to hiring in a startup environment. Kevin and Mike also explore the evolving landscape of social networks, advocating for a shift from friend-based content to algorithmically personalized experiences while maintaining meaningful discussions. They envision Artifact not just as a news app, but as a tool that empowers users and publishers through tailored content and a symbiotic relationship with technology.

Summary Notes

Misconceptions of Social Networks

  • The speaker believes that social networks have made a critical error in assuming that friends share interests.
  • This assumption is considered the greatest mistake in the last 20 years of social networking.

"I think that social networks need to become less social, that the fundamental thesis is that your friends are into the stuff that you're into. And I would argue it is the greatest mistake of social networks in the last 20 years is to believe bad is true."

The quote suggests a need for social networks to move away from the concept that friends have similar interests. The speaker challenges the foundational premise of social networks, implying a need for a different approach.

Introduction to Artifact and Acknowledgements

  • Harry Stebbings introduces Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger, co-founders of Instagram, who have returned to the startup scene with Artifact.
  • Artifact is a personalized feed that utilizes artificial intelligence.
  • Harry expresses gratitude to Dave Clark for facilitating the introduction to Kevin Systrom.
  • Harry also mentions Secureframe and Deel as sponsors, highlighting their services in compliance and HR for global teams.

"In January this year, Kevin and Mike announced their return to the founding arena with the launch of Artifact, a personalized feed driven by artificial intelligence."

The quote announces the co-founders' new venture, Artifact, and its focus on AI-driven personalization.

Co-founder Dynamics

  • Mike Krieger explains the rarity and value of their long-standing partnership.
  • Trust, integrity, and the ability to understand each other's viewpoints are key to their successful collaboration.
  • Disagreements are seen as opportunities to explore different perspectives rather than reasons for conflict.

"The foundation is like a tremendous degree of trust and integrity, and I think that's the unquestioned part that has when things get crazy and you're fundraising or things aren't going well, or just all bumps that are inevitable in building a company, to know that you're not also questioning whether your founder has your back is huge, and I've never once had to question that."

This quote emphasizes the importance of trust and integrity in a co-founder relationship, particularly during challenging times in a company's journey.

Handling Disagreements and Partnership Challenges

  • Mike Krieger prefers to discuss problems immediately but acknowledges that not all issues can be resolved in one conversation.
  • He has observed other partnerships deteriorate due to unresolved disagreements.

"I like discussing it straight away, but not feeling like you are going to resolve everything in that moment."

This quote suggests a balanced approach to conflict resolution: addressing issues promptly without expecting immediate resolution.

Respecting Co-founder Skills

  • Kevin Systrom admires Mike Krieger's technical problem-solving skills.
  • The mutual respect for each other's abilities contributes to their successful partnership.

"Mike's craft is an interesting one because it's not like he's an artisan at code. It's not like that. His ability to pick up very difficult technical problems very quickly, diagnose them and make them right is unparalleled."

Kevin Systrom compliments Mike Krieger's unique technical aptitude, highlighting the respect and admiration that forms the basis of their partnership.

Adapting to Change in Partnership

  • Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger discuss the evolution of their partnership through various life changes.
  • They emphasize the importance of not taking the partnership for granted and working on it like a marriage.

"So I actually think what's more special about the partnership relationship is that it's been able to morph through all of this change, because people lasting one company is one thing, but it's one company, and then beyond one company, it's a completely different life."

Kevin Systrom reflects on the adaptability of their partnership beyond the context of a single company and through significant life changes.

Empathy and Alignment in Partnership

  • Mike Krieger believes empathy and aligned goals are critical for a partnership to thrive.
  • The co-founders discussed what they wanted from their new venture, Artifact, ensuring they were on the same page.

"Spent a good couple of weeks just making sure that we were aligned on what we wanted out of this experience."

Mike Krieger highlights the deliberate effort to align expectations and goals for their new venture, demonstrating the importance of communication in a partnership.

Balancing Multiple Roles

  • The co-founders discuss the challenge of juggling different roles and the feeling of constantly failing at something.
  • They stress the importance of accepting discomfort and choosing the right kind of suffering that leads to fulfillment.

"Choose the suffering that is most enjoyable, where you get the most reward when you work through that suffering."

Kevin Systrom suggests choosing challenges that are rewarding to overcome, acknowledging that discomfort is an inevitable part of life and work.

Relationship to Money and Motivation

  • The co-founders explore their relationship to money and the drive to build despite financial success.
  • They emphasize that happiness comes from personal achievements and relationships rather than financial gain.

"But I think we're doing this not because of money. Of course. It would be great if we made this into, like, multibillion dollar company. But the nice thing is we don't have to have that as the goal, so we can make building or doing the right thing the goal."

Kevin Systrom discusses the motivation behind their new venture, Artifact, indicating that their focus is on building and doing the right thing rather than financial incentives.

Personal and External Pressures

  • The speaker feels little competition with others but significant self-imposed competition.
  • Working from home allows for intense work while maintaining family life.
  • The speaker does not enjoy working from home but values the balance it provides.

"And I took all these personality assessments, I want to say, five, six years ago, and the thing that stood out was that I feel very little competition with other people, but I feel an enormous amount of challenge, which is competition with yourself."

The quote emphasizes the speaker's internal motivation and drive, highlighting a distinction between external competition and internal challenges.

Pragmatism vs. Perfectionism in Product Development

  • The speaker and their partner balance pragmatism and perfectionism in their work.
  • They experienced hesitation in launching their product, questioning if it was ready.
  • The speaker reflects on the readiness of Instagram at launch and the balance between polish and imperfection.

"Kevin buys us a bit more towards perfectionism."

This quote indicates the speaker's partner leans more towards perfectionism in their approach to product development.

The Weight of Expectation and Overbuilding

  • The success of Instagram brought high expectations for their new ventures.
  • The speaker admits to overbuilding their product, having unreleased features.
  • They express regret for not launching a simpler version of the product earlier.

"Every single day. Still feel it right now."

This quote conveys the constant presence of expectations the speaker feels due to their past successes.

Data-Driven Recommendations and Launch Timing

  • The new product's success depends on the quality of its recommendations.
  • The speakers waited to launch until the recommendations were satisfactory.
  • They acknowledge the challenge of meeting high expectations due to their reputation.

"The interesting thing is, I feel like core UI, we probably could have shipped several months ago, but this product lives or dies by its recommendations."

The quote highlights the importance of the recommendation system to the new product's success and influenced the timing of the launch.

The Challenge of Initial Data Collection

  • The new company requires extensive data to improve its product.
  • The speakers discuss the difficulty of building a user base and data set from scratch.
  • They recognize the advantage of their reputation in attracting initial users.

"The characteristic of this company is that you need lots of data to make the recommendations good, but you can only have lots of data if people like your product and come to it and use it."

The quote explains the catch-22 situation of needing data to improve the product but requiring a good product to attract users and generate data.

Concept of Core Recommendations and Interest Profiles

  • The speakers are focused on core recommendations, not just creating a news service.
  • They believe in using data for the user's benefit, not just the company's.
  • The goal is to make initial recommendations accurate based on common interest groups.

"I'm interested in the science of utilizing people's tastes and profiles to make sure that the world serves them."

This quote underscores the speaker's interest in personalizing user experience through data-driven recommendations.

Preventing Feature Creep and Maintaining Product Simplicity

  • The speakers discuss the importance of maintaining product simplicity.
  • They reference the "jobs to be done" theory, focusing on the product's core purpose.
  • The product should only include features that support its core job.

"If your employee gets new skills that help you do that job or similar jobs better, then you're excited. But imagine having an employee who's like, hey, I'm going to serve you really entertaining funnels videos from your friends every single day so then you can feel more connected to them and they're like, and now you can shop. You're like, hold on. That's not why I hired you."

The quote illustrates the concept of feature creep and the importance of a product remaining true to its core purpose.

Messaging and Ambition

  • The speakers discuss the challenge of conveying the full scope of their product within the limitations of App Store descriptions.
  • They aim to provide a simple explanation for consumers while harboring broader ambitions for the product's future.
  • The product is initially positioned as a personalized news app, but the speakers have greater aspirations.

"So we're very clear to people what we are today, but it's almost, if you listen to music versus you're talking to someone who understands music theory, you just talk about it in two different ways."

The quote reflects the dual nature of messaging: a simple, clear description for consumers and a more complex, ambitious vision for those with deeper understanding.

The Future of Social Networks and Machine Learning

  • The speakers contemplate the future of social networks, moving from social graphs to machine learning-driven content discovery.
  • They argue that social networks should become less reliant on social connections for content filtering.
  • The speakers hope algorithms can be used for the user's benefit, enhancing the overall experience.

"And I hope what we will be able to do is show that algorithms can be used to work for the user rather than for the company, and that will end up being a great experience long term."

This quote expresses the speaker's vision for the future of social networks, where user experience is improved through machine learning, rather than solely serving the company's interests.

Social Product Discovery and Sharing

  • Artifact uses algorithms to recommend content based on individual relevance rather than social connections.
  • Users share content externally to Twitter or WhatsApp, indicating a desire for conversation around interests.
  • Social components enhance conversations and relationships by providing more topics for discussion.

"What determines what an artifact or other things that are recommendation driven is not who you're friends with or who you happen to follow or who you knew in college. It's what we think is relevant to you."

This quote highlights the shift from social-driven content discovery to personalized recommendation systems in products like Artifact. The focus is on relevance to individual interests rather than social connections.

Social Network Copying and Defensibility

  • Concerns about the ease of copying social networks and the defensibility of their features.
  • The speaker suggests that the team's capability is more important than the originality of the idea or product.
  • Facebook is praised for teaching product managers growth tactics using scientific methods.

"Isn't social like a bad place to invest right now? There hasn't been a news social thing. Really? What did you say in last ten years? Maybe?"

The speaker is questioning the current investment climate in social networks and the recent lack of breakthroughs in the space, pointing out the challenges of creating something new and successful.

Importance of Team in Startups

  • Emphasizes the critical role of the founding team in a startup's success.
  • Hiring decisions should consider the potential for individuals to lead or found successful companies in the future.
  • The ability to attract and build a great team is seen as a key quality in early-stage startups.

"100% of this is team. 100%. You can take a team of people and say, hey, go build a new car company."

This quote underscores the belief that the right team can make unattractive industries attractive and successful, highlighting the importance of team quality over market trends.

Specialization in Venture Capital

  • Debate over the value of specialization in venture capital.
  • Some VCs argue that specialization provides superior detection skills for identifying potential.
  • The speaker suggests that focusing on discovering talent may be more beneficial than specializing in specific verticals.

"Where are you specialized? I always say the same as you. But then VCs who are specialized say, yes, but because I only do this, my ability to detect greatness in data, in founders, in founder mentality, is so much superior."

This quote discusses the contrasting perspectives on specialization in VC, with some believing it leads to better insight and others questioning its overall effectiveness.

Hiring and Team Building Post-Launch

  • Post-launch hiring challenges include managing a large number of applicants and maintaining a cohesive team culture.
  • Importance of tailoring solutions to the current stage of the company.
  • Learning to screen for individuals who thrive in a startup environment is crucial.

"It's funny because amazingly, the beta was really quiet. People sign an NDA that's only as good as the person decides it to be."

The speaker reflects on the pre-launch phase, where they relied on their network for hiring due to confidentiality, and contrasts it with the post-launch phase's hiring challenges.

Trust and Hiring Decisions

  • Trust is not required to be absolute in hiring decisions.
  • Importance of moving quickly when a hire is not working out.
  • Hiring should be approached with the understanding that not every hire will be perfect.

"I think the premise or the constraint that you have to 100% trust every single person is just not right."

This quote challenges the notion that complete trust is necessary for every hiring decision, advocating for a more pragmatic approach to building a team.

Music Analogy for Talent Assessment

  • Quick judgment of music parallels quick assessment of talent in a work setting.
  • Developing a sense for detecting talent early in the hiring process can prevent future churn.
  • Being decisive about changes when a hire is not working out is part of being a founder.

"All you need is 5 seconds and you're like, I got it. This is great, or I got it. This is not great."

The speaker uses a study about music to illustrate how quickly people can form opinions, drawing a parallel to quickly assessing talent in a hiring context.

Team Dynamics and Fun in the Workplace

  • Consideration of team energy and dynamics when hiring.
  • Not every team member needs to be a source of fun or energy, but a balance is important.
  • Hiring decisions should not be solely based on personality; competence is key.

"I think it comes down to you kind of want the team composition to have at least a sizable group of people where you draw energy from them."

This quote emphasizes the need for a team that collectively provides energy and enthusiasm, while also acknowledging the importance of individual competence in their roles.

Hiring Ambitious vs. Experienced Individuals

  • Different company phases may require different types of people.
  • Preference for individuals with raw talent and a willingness to learn and take on challenges.
  • Balancing expertise with ambition is important for team composition.

"The people I love working with are the ones that don't come up. If they're iOS engineers and they start having to do backend work, they don't up their hands and go, ah, that's not my problem."

The speaker values team members who are adaptable and willing to go beyond their defined roles, which is particularly important in early-stage startups.

Impact of Parenthood on Work

  • Parenthood changes work habits, including taking more breaks and focusing on long-term goals.
  • It leads to more efficient prioritization and a focus on doing meaningful work.

"Definitely more breaks throughout the day and more thinking about what am I building for on a 20 year horizon and less sleep."

Parenthood has led the speaker to re-evaluate their daily work routine and consider the long-term impact of their work, illustrating the shift in priorities that can come with having children.

Life's Unpredictability and Prioritization

  • Life can present unexpected events that require immediate attention and can disrupt your daily plans.
  • Prioritizing family and emergencies is sometimes necessary, even when it conflicts with important work.

my son last week was running around. I was in the middle of something super important and he just fell and busted open his chin and needed to go to get stitches... my entire day gone just because I had to go do the stitches.

The quote illustrates the speaker's experience with an unforeseen family emergency that took precedence over their planned schedule, emphasizing the importance of adaptability and prioritization in life.

Personal Legacies

  • The speakers discuss the legacy they hope to leave behind, encapsulated in a single word on their tombstones.
  • The chosen words reflect values of continuous growth and inquisitiveness.

Hopefully curious. Always learning, Kevin.

These quotes represent the desired legacies of the speakers, with "curious" and "always learning" signifying a lifelong commitment to curiosity and education.

The Role of San Francisco in Startups

  • San Francisco's history of resilience through economic downturns is highlighted as a reason for its continued relevance in the startup ecosystem.
  • Remote work is acknowledged as a significant change in the startup landscape, yet the unique culture of San Francisco is still seen as a valuable asset.

San Francisco has been through so many downturns... It always rebounds and comes back way harder than it was before in a good way.

The quote emphasizes San Francisco's track record of recovery and growth, suggesting a pattern of resilience that the speaker believes will continue.

Remote Work and the Future of San Francisco

  • The speaker acknowledges that talented individuals will have the flexibility to work remotely, but insists that San Francisco will remain a central hub for innovation and startups.
  • The cultural environment of San Francisco is described as conducive to hard work and devoid of distractions, making it ideal for dedicated entrepreneurs.

you're going to see huge remote component, especially for your most talented people. They'll be able to work basically from anywhere... But there's no way San Francisco is going away as a city as the center of great startups, basically.

This quote recognizes the shift towards remote work while affirming the speaker's belief in the enduring significance of San Francisco for starting companies.

Personal Philosophy and Advice

  • The speakers share personal philosophies, touching on the importance of cutting ties with the wrong people, the non-linearity of past success to future outcomes, and the value of worrying less and embracing life's unpredictability.
  • They advocate for a balanced approach to life, suggesting that happiness can be found in various forms of success and lifestyles.

Probably not to worry as much... the thing that matters most is that you meet a partner or a group of friends that carry you throughout life, and then you grow a family, or you choose to live the life you want to live.

The quote advises against excessive worrying, emphasizing the importance of relationships and personal choices in achieving a fulfilling life.

Trusting New Friends and the Impact of Success

  • The speakers discuss the challenge of forming genuine friendships when success can attract ulterior motives.
  • As a parent, one speaker expresses a lack of time for new friendships, focusing instead on family responsibilities.

What are new friends if you're a parent?... I'm excited for the moment where I come up for air and you start hanging out with people again.

This quote conveys the speaker's current focus on parenting over socializing and the anticipation of reconnecting with friends in the future.

Angel Investing Insights

  • The speakers reflect on their experiences with angel investing, noting the pitfalls of following hype and the importance of backing founders with resilience and determination.
  • They emphasize learning from past mistakes and the value of investing in founders who can handle adversity.

If it feels hypey... I have to keep relearning that lesson... It's such a cliche, but there's the founders where you're like, they were going to run through the wall of any problem that they hit.

The quote highlights the speaker's learning process in angel investing and the recognition that resilience in founders is a key indicator of potential success.

Millennial Work Ethic and Startup Culture

  • The speakers discuss the perceived differences in work ethic between generations, with a focus on the challenges faced by startups in retaining committed employees.
  • The importance of a strong work ethic and the ability to endure the volatility of startup life is stressed.

It is just a grinder. It goes through people like crazy because it either screens you out because it's too hard work wise, the trade offs are too crazy or the volatility and the emotions are too much.

The quote describes the intense and demanding nature of startup culture, which can lead to a high turnover of employees who are unable to cope with the challenges.

Trusting the Process and Adapting to Change

  • The speakers convey the necessity of trusting established systems and processes, even when emotions and external opinions may cause doubt.
  • They encourage reliance on objective data and metrics to guide decisions and maintain progress in the face of uncertainty.

Just trust the instruments... Forget about what people are saying. Forget about what issue you had yesterday with the server. Trust the instruments.

This quote advises on the importance of trusting data and systems over subjective feelings, especially in the fluctuating environment of startups.

Vision for Artifact in the Next Five Years

  • The speakers share their aspirations for Artifact, hoping it will become a trusted platform that supports both the publishing industry and independent publishers.
  • They desire to create a product that makes technology serve users in a personalized and simplified manner.

For artifact. Specifically, I want a world where publishers trust technology companies... we create a system where people look at algorithms and portraits and all this stuff not with a skeptical eye, but with excitement.

The quote outlines the speaker's goal for Artifact to foster a positive relationship between publishers and technology, leveraging algorithms to enhance user experience.

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