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From Welfare to Billionaire – The Story of WhatsApp

from welfare to billionaire

Life has indeed come full circle for Jan Koum and Brian Acton. Being rejected by Facebook, the entrepreneur duo acquired $19 billion from the same company for the mobile messaging platform that has greatly impacted the telecom industry.

Yes, we’re talking about WhatsApp, the messaging app that has made communication affordable for users all over the world. One of the most popular mobile apps, WhatsApp currently has 800 million active users monthly.

The co-founders had to survive a lot of ups and downs in their lives, but the journey was worth it.

Who are Jan Koum and Brian Acton?

Jan Koum was 16 years old when he migrated to the U.S. from Ukraine with his mother in hopes of finding a better future. Unfortunately, the initial days in America were challenging for the family and they had to live off food stamps while taking on cleaning and babysitting jobs to pay the bills. According to Forbes, the family lived without electricity while trying to build a life for themselves.

But life’s hardships only made Koum stronger. Using manuals bought from local used book stores, he taught himself programming and computer networking. While studying, he worked for Yahoo, where he
met Brian Acton. The two quit their jobs in 2007 and travelled for a while but it was not until 2009 that inspiration for a new concept came to Koum’s mind.

WhatsApp:
Koum came up with the idea of WhatsApp after purchasing an iPhone and figuring that mobile applications would be the next big thing. At first he started the venture alone but soon persuaded Acton to join him. During this time, the duo applied for jobs at Facebook and Twitter but were rejected.

So they got a few friends to sponsor the app and between 2009 and 2015, WhatsApp saw significant growth. Ultimately, Facebook, the company that initially rejected Koum and Acton, purchased their app for a whopping $19 billion in 2014. At that time, the acquisition was the largest purchase made by Facebook in the company’s history.

Even though the idea of WhatsApp wasn’t new and users could get similar services through instant messengers like Facebook, WeChat, and Skype, it was free and user friendly. Users preferred WhatsApp to traditional SMS texting because it had no limits and no charges, offered encrypted messaging, and made sending photos and videos quick and easy.

What can we learn from the story of Jan Koum and Brian Acton?

  • Age doesn’t matter. Acton and Koum were 42 and 39 respectively when they entered the field. This age is considered ‘old’ for Silicon Valley but the businessmen remained persistent. In fact, Acton even claims that their ages were an advantage as they remained practical throughout the whole ordeal.
  • Persistence is the key to success. Acton and Koum both faced hardships. They lost money and were rejected at job interviews; however, they continually moved forward and came out on top through their hard work and dedication.
  • Passion matters. Although both partners had an idea in their mind, no one knew it would take off. As with any idea or product, there is always a chance of failure, but Koum was focused and determined to make his app a success.

According to Forbes, Acton now holds over 20% stake in Facebook while Koum owns 39.7 million Facebook shares. Koum also remains WhatsApp’s CEO and continues to be a part of Facebook’s group of
directors.

July 27th, 2017

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