WhatsApp founders Jan Koum and Brian Acton once rejected by Facebook
Published on Feb 20, 2014 2:37 PM
The Whatsapp texting application was founded by engineers Jan Koum and Brian Acton in April 2009. Here's more on these newly-minted billionaires.
Jan Koum, 37
Born in a village outside Kiev, Ukraine, and the only child of a housewife and a construction manager, he migrated to the United States when he was 16 with his mother. They settled in Mountain View, California. They were so poor they had to rely on government assistance and food stamps to get by.
According to a Forbes piece, which details his life history, Mr Koum picked up software skills by age 18, learning from used books. He later studied mathematics and computer science at San Jose State University.
He met Mr Acton when he was temping at Ernst & Young as a security tester and was assigned to inspect Yahoo's advertising system. According to the Forbes.com article, Mr Acton liked his "no-nonsense" manner.
He later joined Yahoo as an infrastructure engineer. He was still in school when two weeks into his job, he got a call during class from Yahoo co-founder David Filo when a company server broke down, says Forbes.com. Mr Koum decided to drop out of school and work full time.
His mother died of cancer in 2000. His father, who never managed to join them in the US, had died in 1997.
His friendship with Mr Acton grew in the years they spent working at Yahoo. They both quit in 2007 and took a gap year, travelling through South America and playing ultimate Frisbee.
Both applied to work at Facebook and were rejected. Mr Koum found a direction when he bought an iPhone in 2009 and realised the potential of the then seven-month-old App Store.
He began working on an app for status updates, but it evolved into an instant messaging service. He roped in his friend Acton to work on the code and their first proper office was a converted warehouse where they had to wear blankets to keep warm.
They charged US$1 (S$1.26) for the app occasionally to keep a check on the growing number of users.
By 2011, the app had gone viral and attracted the attention of venture capitalists. Investment company Sequoia's partner Jim Goetz got his foot in the door and injected US$8 million in funding on the promise that he would not push advertising models on the company.
On his Twitter account @jankoum, he quotes the singer Kanye West "We on a galaxy the haters cannot visit" on his profile.
His posts are fairly random, from declarations of love of New York City to a photograph of a bus shelter at night captioned "This photo was not edited by instagram". But he actually responded to a Whatsapp user who complained about her account getting disabled, fixing her issue with an apology.
He comes off as a straight-shooting all-American guy, posting with amusingly profane befuddlement about a German wikipedia entry that apparently credited a "Diana Chub" as the founder of Whatsapp. But he has not forgotten his ties to Russia, with posts written in the Cyrillic alphabet and tweets about the current unrest in Ukraine.
If you run a startup and your goal is to get on techcrunch, you are doing it wrong.
— jan koum (@jankoum) May 6, 2012
Next person to call me an entrepreneur is getting punched in the face by my bodyguard. Seriously.
— jan koum (@jankoum) May 22, 2012
Poker and whiskey with friends; winning last hand with pocket 5s against pocket jacks and pocket aces = priceless. pic.twitter.com/yNxAOlaz
— jan koum (@jankoum) July 7, 2012
Going to Hong Kong in September. So excited! My first trip ever to Asia!
— jan koum (@jankoum) August 29, 2012
New York, I Love You!
— jan koum (@jankoum) October 26, 2012
You think you free but you a slave to the funds, baby You think you me, but you ain't me, what you done lately?
— jan koum (@jankoum) November 16, 2012
nothing like waking up from jet lag at 6am and finding a cockroach in your hotel room. switching hotels in 3,.. 2.. 1..
— jan koum (@jankoum) January 18, 2014
Brian Acton, 42
The two founders are famously press shy and low key. Mr Acton, a native of Michigan, grew up in Florida. His mother ran a freight forwarding company and his adoptive father was a professional golfer.
He studied computer science at Stanford and joined Yahoo! as an engineer. He also worked in advertising in Yahoo!, which is where both he and Mr Koum's famous aversion to advertising was born.
Mr Koum had tweeted a quote from Fight Club - "has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy shit we don't need" - to explain their strict no-ads stance on Whatsapp.
According to a Forbes article, Mr Acton also invested, and lost, millions in the dotcom boom and bust of the early Noughties.
Another tidbit to be gleaned about his personal life is in one passing reference from an interview with Wired magazine that he is "essentially married with a kid...I send the 'I love you's in text. She's sending me photos of our baby".
His twitter account, @brianacton, was started in 2009. He has all of 72 tweets. One of his earliest tweets bemoans his lack of understanding of the platform: "Still don't 'get' Twitter. Isn't it just the same as Facebook/IM status update?" Given his paucity of tweets, it seems he still has yet to get the hang of it although one tweet does reveal his music preferences: "Concert tonight with Willy Nelson and Bob Dylan. Woot!"
The accounts he follows on Twitter all seem to be related to the Silicon Valley community, from programmers to software companies.
Saw Star Trek. I felt it was a more Spock oriented story line. I enjoyed that. I did not like some of the over the top camp and cliche.
— Brian Acton (@brianacton) May 13, 2009
Got denied by Twitter HQ. That's ok. Would have been a long commute.
— Brian Acton (@brianacton) May 23, 2009
Facebook turned me down. It was a great opportunity to connect with some fantastic people. Looking forward to life's next adventure.
— Brian Acton (@brianacton) August 3, 2009
Concert tonight with Willy Nelson and Bob Dylan. Woot!
— Brian Acton (@brianacton) August 15, 2009
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