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Instagram’s Kevin Systrom on leaving Facebook: ‘No one ever leaves a job because everything’s awesome’

Systrom has no idea what he wants to do next, but he knows he won’t just be sitting on a beach.

Instagram CEO Kevin Systrom
Instagram CEO Kevin Systrom
Kelly Sullivan / Getty

Everything wasn’t awesome at Facebook for former Instagram CEO Kevin Systrom.

That’s about all Systrom, who unexpectedly left Facebook last month amid tensions with Facebook and CEO Mark Zuckerberg, would say on Monday during his first public interview since departing.

Systrom said that he and co-founder Mike Krieger felt that they’d gotten Instagram to a point of self-sufficiency and were eager to get out and build something new. When asked if there were tensions with Facebook, as Recode and others reported, Systrom didn’t push back on the claim.

“Think about when you leave anything, there are obviously reasons for leaving,” he told Wired’s Lauren Goode during the Wired 25th Anniversary event in San Francisco. “No one ever leaves a job because everything’s awesome.”

Systrom didn’t elaborate, but added that there are “no hard feelings at all” toward his former employer.

Systrom, who is a new father, said that he recently spent some time reflecting with Krieger about the legacy they want to leave as entrepreneurs. The conclusion was that they were ready to do something else.

“When I sat down with Mike and we started talking, we started talking about what legacy we wanted to leave,” Systrom said. “We were like, ‘What do we want to have accomplished? Is it a revenue thing? Is it a users thing?’ And it just all felt pretty hollow.”

Systrom said he’s proud of Instagram’s work to try and combat bullying and harassment on the service, something that he hopes his successors will continue. (Instagram still has work to do.)

“That’s the kind of legacy we wanted to have. Not selfies, hashtags. That stuff’s great, trust me, it helped us grow,” he said. “But what kind of mark you want to leave on the world has nothing to do with that stuff and has everything to do with social media and the internet more broadly.”

Systrom says he hasn’t figured out what his next project is, but he and Krieger are planning to do something together.

“I don’t have any plans yet, except to hang out for a little while,” he said. “I think I have a few more Instagrams time-wise in me. I’m not sure we’ll ever do anything nearly as impactful.”

For now, Systrom is spending time with his daughter and learning to fly — he flew solo in an airplane for the first time last week. He’s also helping entrepreneurs that he’s invested in over the years, and reading and writing.

Where you won’t find Systrom, who is worth $1.3 billion, is sitting on a beach for the rest of his life.

“Listen, I had a beach week, don’t get me wrong,” he said. “Someone once told me the best thing you can possibly do between chapters is improve yourself. Learn. Get out there. Meet people. Be in different worlds. Figure out which of those worlds you really love.”

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