The story behind WhatsApp

LoboStudioHamburg / Pixabay

WhatsApp was founded in 2009 by Brian Acton and Jan Koum, both former employees of Yahoo!. After Koum and Acton left Yahoo! in September 2007, the duo travelled to South America to take a break from work. At one point, they applied for jobs at Facebook but were rejected.

Jan Koum is from the Ukraine and moved to Mountain View (California) when he was 16 years old. His family was financially challenged and they had to live of food stamps. It was not before he was 19 that he owned his first computer. Koum was part of the famous hacker’s network called w00w00, where other famous tech entrepreneurs Sean Parker and Shawn Fanning were also part of. Koum went to San Jose State University to study math and computer science, he would eventually drop out after David File, a co-founder of Yahoo!, convinced him to work for him. Before dropping out of college he worked for Ernst and Young as a security tester.

Brian Acton grew up in central Florida and went to two different universities before graduating from Stanford University in 1994 with a degree in computer sciences. After getting his degree he started working for Apple as a software engineer. It was in 1996 that he started working for Yahoo! as the 44th employee. Acton began as a software engineer, focussing on Advertising and Data Processing.

How WhatsApp was founded?

Koum met Acton while he was working for Ernst & Young as a security tester and was assigned to inspect Yahoo!’s advertising system. Acton recalls that he found Koum to be very different from the other Ernst and Young people, he was more-straight forward. It turned out Koum liked Acton’s no-nonsense style: “Neither of us has ability to bullshit,” says Koum. Six months later Koum interviewed at Yahoo! and got a job as a software engineer. During their time at Yahoo their friendship grew and by 2007 they both quit their jobs and travelled through South-America and played ultimate Frisbee. Koum came up with the idea for WhatsApp in 2009 during a movie night at a friend’s place. It started out as an idea to send notifications to friends, but soon evolved to an instant messaging app. Acton got involved after a match of ultimate Frisbee. Koum was telling Acton that he thought about giving up and wanted look for steady job. Acton replied by saying “You’d be an idiot to quit now. Give it a few more months.”                            

By fall 2009, WhatsApp had no significant growth, but Koum persuaded Acton to join him. Both Koum and Acton were rejected for jobs at Facebook. Acton would also be turned down by Twitter. In October of 2009 Acton contacted several old Yahoo buddies and got together 250.000 dollars in seed funding. This earned Acton the title of co-founder and he received shares. Between October 2009 and June 2015 a lot has happened. After getting investments from venture capitalist firm Sequoia and eventually being bought by Facebook, WhatsApp is still growing and it is reported to have 800 million monthly active users by April of 2015. Koum and Acton are still leading WhatsApp and still work together.

Koum and Acton wanted WhatsApp to be different; they did not seek attention and didn’t even have a sign at their office. Both men share a passion for hating advertisement. The story of Koum is one of a lot hardship and let downs, Brian lost a fortune in the dotcom bubble and got rejected by multiple companies, but both men came out on top through hard work and perseverance.

Acton and Koum had a clear vision of what their product was going to be. They both were on the same page and understood exactly what their product is and more important, what is was going to be. Persistence marks the remarkable journey of WhatsApp.

mohamed_hassan / Pixabay


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