This week, Facebook announced that they will be buying the popular messaging app WhatsApp for $19 billion! Yes. That’s billion. With a b.
What exactly does it take to turn a mobile app into a billion dollar company? I started researching one of the founders of WhatsApp, Jan Koum and was very inspired and motivated by his true rags to riches story.
Koum was born and raised in the Ukraine where he lived in a community without hot water or electricity. When he turned 16, Koum and his mom moved the United States and relied on government assistance to afford a small apartment. To pay the bills, his mom worked as a babysitter and Koum as a custodian at a grocery store. But their combined salaries weren’t enough to live on and they would stand in line for food stamps in order to get by.
Knowing he wanted more for himself, Koum taught himself computer networking from books he bought at a used bookstore and when he graduated from high school he was accepted to San Jose State University. Koum tried to work at Yahoo and take classes at the same time, but soon realized that he would rather put all his effort into the job and dropped out of school.
After about nine years, Koum left Yahoo, traveled around for a bit and applied for a job at Facebook. He did not get hired, but this did not get him down. In fact, it seemed to make him more determined to succeed. Shortly after getting rejected from Facebook, Koum joined a few friends to chat about an idea they had for a new mobile app. These conversations would change his life and WhatsApp was soon born.
The first few months with WhatsApp were not easy and he was even advised to give up on the project and start looking for a job. However, through perseverance, some investors and a little luck, WhatsApp to became more and more popular and in a few years it started reaching millions of users.
To really cap off his journey, Koum signed the paperwork selling his multi-billion dollar company outside the welfare office he used to visit as a kid. Now, that’s inspiration.