WhatsApp's Acton, Facebook's Marcus Spar Over Executive Defections

Adding to Facebook’s frustrations, discord between the company’s current and former executives spilled into the open this week.

In an interview with Forbes, WhatsApp cofounder Brian Acton said he regretted ever selling his startup to Facebook, because the company places too high a value on monetizing its membership.

In response, David Marcus, head of Facebook’s blockchain efforts, published a blog post in which he essentially called Acton ungrateful. He took issue with Acton’s characterization of Facebook as less than supportive of the startups it acquires. 

“There are few companies out there that empower and retain founders and their teams for as long as Facebook does,” Marcus wrote. “The main reason is because [Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg] personally shields founders from what typically frustrates them in larger companies, giving them unprecedented autonomy.”

The timing of the row is awkward for Facebook, coming just days after Instagram cofounders Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger abruptly announced their plans to depart the tech titan.

While details around the cofounders’ imminent exits remain unclear, reports suggest that disagreements with Facebook management contributed to their decision.

Yet, rather than shy away from the changes at Instagram, Marcus applauded Facebook for holding onto its cofounders for years after assuming ownership of their property. “Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger thrived at Facebook for six years,” he noted.

Taking aim at Acton, Marcus said Facebook did everything in its power to make the WhatsApp team feel welcome and supported.

“WhatsApp founders requested a completely different office layout when their team moved on campus,” he recalled. “Much larger desks and personal space, a policy of not speaking out loud in the space, and conference rooms made unavailable to fellow Facebookers nearby … This irritated people at Facebook, but Mark personally supported and defended it.

“The global rollout of end-to-end encryption on WhatsApp happened after the acquisition, and with Mark’s full support,” Marcus noted. Yes, [WhatsApp cofounder] Jan Koum played a key role in convincing Mark of the importance of encryption, but from that point on, it was never questioned."

Added Marcus: “I find attacking the people and company that made you a billionaire and went to an unprecedented extent to shield and accommodate you for years, low-class.”

Facebook bought WhatsApp for roughly $19 billion in 2014. Koum cofounded the messaging app along with Acton back in 2009.

Tensions between Facebook and WhatsApp’s founders were on full display earlier this year when Acton encouraged the world to delete their Facebook accounts. “It is time,” Acton tweeted. “#deletefacebook”

The call to action came just days after the Cambridge Analytica controversy was made public.

Acton left WhatsApp earlier this year, while Koum announced his plans to depart in April. Acton also recently invested $50 million in WhatsApp rival Signal, which has not been lost on analysts. 

“It’s not surprising, given that Acton joined Signal after leaving Facebook,” Jeff Pollard, an analyst at Forrester Research, said earlier this year.

1 comment about "WhatsApp's Acton, Facebook's Marcus Spar Over Executive Defections".
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  1. Douglas Ferguson from College of Charleston, September 28, 2018 at 9:42 a.m.

    With all those billions of dollars from the sale, you'd think Acton would have other ways to spend his day.

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