Crowdsourcing, Venture Capital and How Money May or May Not Change Things

I threw this out to Instagram on Twitter last week:

@instagramapp popularity only breeds popularity. I want more discovery. Show me diamonds in the rough, not in the store.

They responded:

@blankenship Can you add your ideas for how we can make photos/users more discoverable here thanks!

I appreciate how engaged Instagram has been with users and their willingness to listen to ideas from the community. But something feels off to me about a small company funded with half a million dollars in VC money crowdsourcing improvements to their product. 

I’ll be the first to admit I have little understanding of the obligations Instagram (or any funded company) has to their investors, or how they’re having to spend that cash to scale the app. But where I’m from $500k is a lot of money, no matter how you slice it. Money changes things, at least subconsciously. If Instagram was a team of two bootstrapping a great app and pushing out changes in their spare time, I’d think differently about giving them ideas on how their product could be better. But they’re not, and so I perceive them differently (whether I’m wrong in that line of thinking or not).

I’m trying to figure out if this is some kind of bias against VC-funded companies (too much reading 37signals anti-VC rants maybe?), a perception of crowdsourcing being similar to spec work, or if I’m just in a snarky mood that ends with, “you have $500k of someone else’s money, why should I do your work for you?” The first is likely my ignorance showing, the second is wholly understandable, but the third is just plain nasty.

One of the things I love about the web and the people creating good things for it is the desire to share ideas and knowledge in an open-handed fashion. I hate scarcity mentality, I don’t want to operate from it or let it creep into my subconscious and affect the way I interact with others. I know building great things typically takes money—and the more people along for the ride, the more money it takes to scale it. But Silicon Valley designer shortages aside, I wonder if tapping the user community for ideas is the best way to move forward?

My assumption is that hungry intelligent people who talk wealthy intelligent people into giving them half a million dollars will have razor-sharp focus and vision for their product. I assume they are busy in the depths of the proverbial laboratory making that vision happen. I assume they’re balancing user feedback with their own goals and gut to write the roadmap for their product. I assume they have clarity and are fearless in ignoring the voices that compromise it, even if those voices are from their own user base. 

So am I assuming too much? Or generalizing too much and looking for patterns where they don’t exist? Am I just reading too much into a tweet from a classy company who wants to improve a product they’re proud of? Does money change things? Or does money just change things for me? I obviously have more questions now than I did when I started writing this post. I’m getting used to that.