WhatsApp Co-Founder Jan Koum was a 16-year-old immigrant from Ukraine

WhatsApp Co-Founder Jan Koum was a 16-year-old immigrant from Ukraine.

This is a totally inspiring story of 37-year-old WhatsApp co-founder Jan Koum. One of the best rags to riches story you must have heard in the recent times.

Jan Koum was born in the Ukraine and he arrived in the U.S. when he was 16-years-old and his family struggled. They lived on food stamps. (Stamps given by the govt. to the poor, so that they can receive free food from supermarkets etc.)

In fact, Koum’s family picked up their food stamps only a couple of blocks away from WhatsApp’s offices in Mountain View, Calif.

According to legend, WhatsApp co-founder and CEO Jan Koum came up with the idea for his company in early 2009 after his gym banned the use of cell phones. Koum became annoyed at missing calls during his workout and, being an engineer, decided to create a solution.

Around the same time, Koum had decided on two things: The iPhone would be the future, not only a device, but an “extension of who you are.” He also realized he hated advertising and would steer clear of it.

Over the 5-year history of WhatsApp, Koum and co-founder Brian Acton have kept steadfast to both visions, albeit in their quiet, low-key way.

Both kept a very low profile until they founded WhatsApp in April 2009. With little fanfare, WhatsApp hit the App Store that May. For users, the key selling point was the elegance of its design: WhatsApp had the same user interface as the iPhone address book and integrated contacts and even let you make calls directly from the app.


By November 2011, the app had caught on. It was the No. 1 paid social app in the App Store and had logged 10 million downloads on Android. Adoption for the app appears to have been organic and based on its perceived quality, rather than growth-hacking, advertising or other marketing methods.

The success didn’t change Koum or Acton. When a journalist visited the company’s headquarters in July 2012, the Ukranian Koum was barefoot and Acton was sporting flip-flops. The two were also described as somewhat obsessive about maintaining their privacy and needed some cajoling to pose for a picture. When WhatsApp won an award at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona that year, Kuom sent a marketing exec in his place. “I was at a meeting,” he explained.

Flash forward to today, when Facebook announced it was buying WhatsApp for a stunning $19 billion in cash and stock. Even if the deal falls through, axed by regulators, Facebook has agreed to pay WhatsApp $2 billion in cash and stocks.


Forbes estimates that Koum holds about a 45% stake in the company, while his co-founder Brian Acton’s stake is estimated at over 20%.

That would make Koum worth $6.8 billion and Acton worth a at least $3 billion as of Facebook’s closing share price on Wednesday.

From food stamps to billionaire, that’s an incredible journey.

Now that WhatsApp has netted a much bigger prize, don’t expect Koum or Acton — both of whom are around 40 — to bask in the limelight. And whatever you do, don’t call Koum the e-word. As he tweeted back in May 2012, “next person to call me an entrepreneur is getting punched in the face by my bodyguard. Seriously.”

2 thoughts on “WhatsApp Co-Founder Jan Koum was a 16-year-old immigrant from Ukraine”

  1. Facebook Privacy is really dangerous, esp with this function.Facebook would use this information for other purpose, like finding friends.For example. I have once opened a new facebook account. It requires me to enter a phone no. I used my mum’s no. After that, all my Mum’s friends that have my mum’s phone no. are shown in the friends recommendation.This imply that Facebook already has your phone no. from your friends when your friends use this contact sync function. Basically, you are uploading your friends’ privacy to Facebook, with no control on how they use it.

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