Jan Koum, Founder of Whatsapp

Jan Koum, Founder of Whatsapp

Jan Koum, an American tech Entrepreneur and the co-founder of Whatsapp was born in Ukraine in 1976. He was the only child of a construction manager and a homemaker. After spending his childhood in Fastiv, which is just outside Kyiv in Ukraine, he moved with his mother and grandmother to the United States in 1992. The main reason being political instability and growing anti-Semitic sentiments. Their destination was Mountain view, California. Though it was a bit difficult to get apartments back then, they managed to get a two room apartment through a social support program.

When Jan moved to the US, his father did wish to accompany them and wanted to join them in due course of time. However, he remained in Ukraine. To make financial ends meet, Jan’s mother had to work as a babysitter. He himself worked as a cleaner at a grocery store. By the time he turned eighteen, his interest in programming started growing. It would not be wrong to say that he was a self made programmer because he used to take programming and networking books from a used book store and return it back after reading them.

Subsequently, he enrolled himself at the San Jose State university. He also started working as a security tester in Ernst and Young. In 1997 , he joined Yahoo while still being in the University. Two weeks into the new job, he dropped out of the University after a server broke and his presence was much required to augment the small team of server engineers.

Also, it was this year that Jan met Brian Acton, the co-founder of Whatsapp. From the very beginning, both liked each other’s ‘straight to the business’ attitude. For the next nine years, Jan and Acton worked at Yahoo. In 2007, both left Yahoo and took a year off, travelling places. It must be noted that they both belong the ‘facebook reject club’ as both applied for a job and couldn’t get it.

In 2009, he bought an iphone and realized that the seven month app industry is going to grow into a very big industry. He used to discuss the idea of an app at his friend Alex Fishman’s place. Alex introduced Jan to Igor Solomennikov, an Iphone developer. Jan thought of doing all the backend work by himself. The name Whatsapp was already decided by him as it sounded like ‘Whats up’. In February 2009, he incorporated Whatsapp inc. in California. Though the app was slowly becoming famous, there were many technical issues , for instance, the app used to get stuck every now and then. Jan almost decided to give up his venture and thought of searching for a job instead. It was Acton who persuaded him to continue with his venture.

Soon Acton got involved in it and they used to work out of Red rock Cafe, which was a hanging place for Startup founders with people deep into their laptop screens writing codes. Soon Acton managed to get seed funding of $250,000 from his ex-Yahoo friends. Their office space consisted of some cubicles on a converted warehouse on Evelyn Ave. They wore blanket and used cheap tables  for their work. Moreover, they didn’t have an office symbol.

Fortunately, by early 2010, Whatsapp became a profitable venture and started pumping in $5000 a month into the company. Very soon, the app was among the top 20 apps downloaded in the US. This caught the eye of Mark Zuckerberg. Mark first contacted Jan in 2012. Starting with small coffee discussions, Mark and Jam shared many dinners and walks discussing the prospect of the app.

At a dinner at his home, Mark formally proposed Jan a deal to Join the facebook board. Finally in February 2014, Facebook acquired Whatsapp for $22 billion, making it the largest acquisition for Facebook.

From cleaning a grocery store to creating an app worth $22 billion, Jan Koum‘s journey has indeed been an inspirational one.  

Team TOS


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