Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger built Instagram into one of the world's most popular social media platforms.
But on Monday, they still didn't appear ready to share why they left the company six months ago – or exactly what they're planning next.
In a South by Southwest session, Systrom and Krieger instead kept the focus on Instagram's journey as a social media company, the challenges it faced as it grew and how the platform changed after Facebook bought it seven years ago.
"We had no idea what it was going to become," Systrom said in a packed ballroom at the Austin Convention Centre. "It was initially a check-in app. To say when we began a check-in app that it would become Instagram, we would be lying."
Systrom and Krieger met in 2010. They were both interested in building software and said they wanted to create a product people loved. They paid attention to the social wave of smartphone cameras, they said, and decided they could ride that wave.
Instagram quickly became popular in its hometown of San Francisco, and eventually, millions of users throughout the world were signing up for the app.
"It was the hardest trial by fire," Krieger said about the company's early days.
Instagram eventually caught the interest of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, who offered to buy the company in 2012 for US$1bil (RM4.09bil), an astounding price for a two-year-old company.
At the time of the purchase, about 30 million people used Instagram. It now has more than 1 billion users.
As the app aged, it evolved. It began integrating with Android products, transitioned to an algorithm timeline structure rather than its initial real-time model and added its popular pop-up "stories" feature.
"When you build something and you put it around in the world, that product is relevant for as long as society wants it to be," Krieger said. "If you don't reinvent it every quarter, or every year, then you fall out of relevancy."
However, not all of the platform's alterations have been well-received. Some users have lamented how Instagram increasingly functions like Facebook. The app has also been criticized for helping to create the phone-obsessed, fabricated lifestyle trends among young people.
"In some ways, it's just an inevitable thing if you're successful," Systrom said of Instagram's decreasing autonomy within Facebook.
In recent years, Facebook has faced blowback over its lack of user protection, which has included hacks that have affected millions of users and questions to its targeted advertisement model, a product that also exists on Instagram.
In response, Facebook said last week that it will be integrating some aspects of its subsidiary companies such as Instagram and WhatsApp and creating a more private, encrypted messaging system, a pivot away from its flagship public posts model.
Elected officials such as Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren have called on the power of big tech companies to be stripped. Warren recently proposed, in part, to roll back the acquisitions made by companies such as Facebook, Amazon and Google.
While big tech does have problems, Systrom said, "that doesn't mean the answer is to break the tech companies up. I think it will take a more nuanced proposal."
When they left Instagram in September, Systrom and Krieger didn't explain their move, only saying in a short statement that they were "ready for our next chapter".
The two said little else on the matter Monday, saying that they hoped Instagram will continue to thrive under Facebook.
But the pair are not done working together, Systrom said.
They're just waiting to catch the next wave.
"What's the next wave?" Krieger said. "You can't force a wave. It comes with time, and neither Mike or I are rushing that." – Austin American-Statesman/Tribune News Service