Start-ups & Entrepreneurship

WhatsApp – The New Facebook

Two men, discussing over tea on the inception of a mobile application that would bring the world together, and keep people across nations connected, marked the birth of WhatsApp.

Jan Koum was born Jewish on February 24, 1976.He grew up in Ukraine and moved to California at the age of 16, in 1992, with his mother and grandmother. His mother, initially, worked as a babysitter, and he worked as a cleaner at a Grocery Store. It was after two years that programming drew his attention and interest, and he enrolled himself at the San Jose State University, California. He concomitantly started working as a security tester at Ernst and Young.

Koum was hired to work for Yahoo Inc., at the age of 21, as an infrastructure engineer. He worked at Yahoo for the next nine years. He later applied to work at Facebook, and his application was rejected.

It was in January 2009 that Koum’s life revolutionised, when he bought an Apple iPhone. He realised that the Apple app store was just seven months old, which meant, an opportunity for success. He sensed that the store would attract many mobile application industries, and he exploited the lucky chance. It is said that this was when he visited his friend Alex Fishman and the two talked for hours about Koum’s idea for an app over tea at Fishman’s kitchen counter. He named his app “WhatsApp” since it sounded very much like “What’s up”. On his 37th Birthday in 2009, Jan Koum incorporated WhatsApp Inc., at California.

Brian Acton, the co-founder of WhatsApp, graduated from Stanford University with a Computer Science degree. He worked with Apple Inc. and Adobe Systems, before becoming the 44th employee to be hired by Yahoo Inc.Jan Koum and Brian Acton worked together at Yahoo Inc. for nine years, after which they took to travelling around South America and playing Ultimate Frisbee. It seems that both of them had applied to work with Facebook, and had failed to get selected. Together, they went on to develop WhatsApp. According to Acton’s personal Twitter feed, he was turned down for employment by both Twitter and Facebook.

During the initial days of WhatsApp, it kept crashing or getting stuck. In June 2009, when Apple launched push notifications, Koum updated WhatsApp and released Whatsapp 2.0, with a messaging component. The number of active users of Whatsapp skyrocketed to 250,000. In October, Acton persuaded five ex-Yahoo friends to invest $250,000 in seed funding. This resulted in him gaining the co-founder status and a stake in the business. It is said that he officially joined the company on November 1.

Chris Peiffer, an old friend of Koum was hired to make the BlackBerry version of WhatsApp .WhatsApp, which was initially a free service, switched to paid service to avoid growing too fast. Later, in December 2009, WhatsApp for the iPhone was updated to send photos. By early 2011, WhatsApp was in the top 20 list of all apps in the U.S. App Store. By Feb. 2013, WhatsApp’s user base had grown to about 200 million active users and the number of staffs to 50.

It was on Feb. 19, 2014, that Facebook acquired WhatsApp for $19 billion. According to Forbes, Acton held over 20% stake in the company, making his net worth around $3.8 billion and Koum’s net worth around US$ 6.8 billion.

Isn’t it ironic how both Jan Koum and Brian Acton had failed to be employed under Facebook, but how their product was bought by the same company for a whopping $19 Billion?! Irish luck maybe?

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Sindhoora Kadya

Sindhoora Kadya

Blogger, Passionate Writer