May 8, 2013

There’s something so boringly obvious about Kara Swisher’s behind-the-scenes look at how Facebook came to own Instagram. To fans of Silicon Valley drama (amongst whom Swisher seems to count herself), it’s a breathless tale of luck, determination, and picking the decisive moment to pivot. From a more critical vantage, it’s the story of a rich white son of privilege selling his company to another rich white son of privilege.

Maddeningly1, Swisher insists on writing it straight as a rags to riches story, glossing over the life of complete safety and entitlement of Instagram’s most prominent co-founder, Kevin Systrom. Prep school, four years at Stanford, startup internships, requisite time at Google — this is a well worn path in the valley (or a parallel one to Wall St.) and there’s nary a hint of what made Systrom different or interesting. If you read the story hoping to glean some lesson for selling your own zero-revenue company for a cool billion, keep looking, unless that lesson is to pick your parents well.

Perhaps there’s some cause to celebrate the waspy young turks who forsake well-groomed, upper crust New England lives in finance or medicine or law to strike out to the already tamed frontier of the valley. After all, Systrom and Zuckerberg and Bill Gates all reached further than their fellow prep-school grads to amass unimaginable wealth from silicon and social. Look no further than a Winkelvoss or (Randi) Zuckerberg to see how it could have turned out. Ultimately, though, these amount to little more than brave tales of how the 1% become the 0.1%.

The background stories of today’s robber barons amassing users and mining likes are no different than any other generation’s: wealthy scions risking little and being rewarded for their cynicism and ability to network.


  1. Maddening, if not exactly surprising, considering the whole thing is in Vanity Fair. The day Swisher’s story was published, the second most popular story on the site was one about a hedge fund manager alongside a slideshow of beautiful people on horses

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