When Mike Krieger, the cofounder of Instagram, proposed to Kaitlyn Trigger last December, he did so on bended knee with a diamond ring, in a particularly scenic spot overlooking Horseshoe Bend in Northern Arizona. “The canyon is supremely Instagrammable,” says Trigger, a consultant who advises female-focused start-ups, with a laugh. The couple were so excited, they threw an engagement party right away, a casual Sunday-afternoon affair, at the Art Deco house they’d recently moved into in the Dolores Heights neighborhood of San Francisco, where Mark Zuckerberg, the CEO of Facebook, is a neighbor.
Trigger met Krieger at a housewarming party about five years ago, when she was at Akqa, an advertising agency, and he was working for Meebo, an instant-messaging app. At that gathering, Krieger taught her the opening chords to a tune by the indie band Beirut on the guitar. “I had to contact him if I wanted to know the rest of the song,” Trigger recalls. Their first date, a guitar lesson, led to a series of further “activity dates,” including a visit to the Bay Model, a giant replica of the San Francisco Bay and its surrounding Delta river structure, and a geological walking tour exploring the city’s tectonic history. For another date, Krieger constructed an “infographic” with a timeline and a series of icons representing the modes of transportation that would take them to their rendezvous at a wine bar. Such are the mating rituals of self-declared geeks. Trigger, 31, has a degree in political science from Yale; Krieger, 29, studied symbolic systems at Stanford University. “It’s the earnest part of my brain that is super curious,” Trigger declares.
Trigger may think of herself as a nerd, but she certainly doesn’t look like one. At her engagement party, she exuded effortless sophistication in a black and white Balenciaga dress. Seeing her shiny brunette bob and minimal makeup on porcelain skin, nobody would have guessed that she had ever felt socially awkward. But she endorses the cliché that social media impresarios are often socially clumsy. “If having a natural rapport with people does not come easily, you have to approach it analytically,” she says. “You end up developing a set of skills for in-person interactions that can be applied to other media.” Luckily, fashion assuages Trigger’s social anxieties. She favors Céline for accessories, Dior and Givenchy for occasions, and Alexander Wang for everyday. “There is something about finding the right clothes for the circumstance that allows you to let your guard down and interact with people more easily.”
At the engagement party, a glance at a cluster of guests in jeans and check shirts (the men) and nondescript blouses (the women) suggested that the creative potential of this insight was elusive. “Practicality is a sign of the tech worker,” Trigger admits with affection. “It’s a focus question. Entrepreneurs have only so many ‘revs’ in their brain.” With regard to the few women working in tech companies, Trigger insists that they garner a lot of attention no matter what they wear. “I believe that women dress up for other women. In this industry, there are not that many women to dress up for.”
A few days later, I return to the Trigger-Krieger home for locally roasted Blue Bottle Coffee and an uninterrupted one-on-one with Trigger. Through the living room window, downtown San Francisco is cut out crisply against a fog-free blue sky. Trigger, dressed in a black leather dress from The Row, slips off her shiny purple Céline flats and sweeps her legs up onto the couch in a way that suggests poise more than relaxation. Juno, the couple’s 1-year-old Bernese mountain dog, circumnavigates the table, threatening to knock over our coffee cups with each wag of his enormous tail. A shelf of vinyl above a turntable reveals that Trigger and Krieger have an appreciation for analog.
It is no accident that Trigger was wooed by Krieger’s musical prowess. Her father, Vic, who died when she was 12, was a professional guitarist who had a band and taught for many years at the Guitar Institute of Technology in Los Angeles. Some of Trigger’s earliest childhood memories are from China, where her father was dispatched by the U.S. Information Agency, now part of the State Department, to teach rock guitar in the cultural diplomacy program. She went on to study Mandarin as an East Asian studies major at Yale but dropped it when she switched to political science. Upon graduating, she worked on digital political campaigns in Washington, D.C. Keen to be affiliated with the most advanced online companies, Trigger moved to the Bay Area as soon as the opportunity arose, joining Akqa to contribute to the strategic thinking behind the Chinese ad campaign for McDonalds’s during the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Since then, she has worked for a number of start-ups, including TaskRabbit and Keaton Row, a website that offers personal styling services and promises to “transform yourlook without the looking.”
In high school, Trigger wrote a research paper on Coco Chanel as a proto-feminist who liberated women through clothes, but despite her admiration for the designer, she doesn’t own a scrap of Chanel. When asked why, she shrugs. “I don’t yet have enough background to dissect what Louis Vuitton or Burberry or Céline say about the people who wear them,” she confesses. “My current appreciation is just aesthetic.”
In the tech world, sudden wealth can hit like a tidal wave. In April 2012, Facebook acquired Instagram for $1 billion, netting Krieger an initial $100 million. For Trigger, the greatest luxury of having more money is that you have “freedom from anxiety about decision-making” and “the flexibility to make mistakes.” The downside can be confusion about value. “I was raised very comfortably, but we were not wealthy. I had an awareness of ‘opportunity cost’—if you choose to spend on this dress, then you can’t spend on that dinner.” With new money, the shift in the perception of opportunity cost can be a little dizzying. “Do we buy a painting for, say, $20,000, or give the money to SFMOMA?” Trigger ponders. “Or perhaps we hand over an unconditional gift of $1,000 each to 20 families living in Uganda through GiveDirectly? A single cash injection of $1,000 has been proven to change lives in that part of Africa.”
Trigger and Krieger are keen to find ways to balance their charitable interests with their newfound love—collecting contemporary art. With the advice of the art consultants Mary Zlot and Sabrina Buell, the couple has assembled, in a little over a year, a thoughtful collection that includes works by Hiroshi Sugimoto, Wolfgang Tillmans, Thomas Demand, Ian Wallace, Sara VanDerBeek, Florian Maier-Aichen, and Trevor Paglen. Already, it exceeds the wall space of their home. “When we started collecting, Mike was primarily interested in photography and I was most interested in conceptual art, so we found a nice overlap in conceptual photography,” Trigger says.
Of course, a photography collection makes perfect sense for the cofounder of Instagram. “Yes,” admits Trigger with a small frown. “At this point, Mike and I feel like it makes too much sense.” Contrary to certain art world assumptions, tech people are not enamored of techie art. “Sculpture—we love the physicality of it,” she says. “You spend all day interacting with two-dimensional surfaces—phones, laptops, television screens—so when you encounter something three-dimensional, it’s like, Whoa!” Digital art invariably suffers from amateurish code or, as Trigger puts it, “their pretty visualizations too often feel like screen savers.”
Needless to say, Trigger has tried her hand at writing algorithms. In 2012, she built a Web application called Lovestagram that scans through two Instagram users’ histories and finds any photo that either of them has liked, commented upon, tagged, or taken within one hour of the other at the same location. “I live in San Francisco. I want to know how to code,” she says. The original inspiration was a wedding. She wanted to give two friends a gift of some Instagram photos that represented their relationship, but it was exceedingly difficult to research it manually, so she created an app that could sift through the images in a matter of seconds. On the Lovestagram website, one can glimpse romantic moments from her and Krieger’s own Instagram feeds.
Trigger and Krieger plan to tie the knot this month at a resort in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Deciding on the dress has not been stress-free. After a prolonged, slightly tortured flirtation with a theatrical Oscar de la Renta gown with a sweetheart neckline, Trigger opted for a sleek V-neck Vera Wang. “I felt immediate relief when I finally made the decision,” she said. “It was the easy and elegant choice for this social occasion.” You can bet the newlyweds will look supremely Instagrammable.