Jan Koum Money Matters

Money Matters: Jan Koum's Journey From Food Stamps to WhatsApp

Today in money matters, we're going to be taking a look at a certain Mr Jan Koum, and his rags to riches story. It's quite inspirational.

Do you use WhatsApp? Probably. Ever wondered how it came about? Possibly. Well, you're about to find out.

Notable tech innovators often come from some form of affluence. Mark Zuckerberg was the son of a relatively wealthy dentist, and Sergey Brin's mom was a NASA researcher.

But, not everybody's cut from richer cloth; Jan Koum is one of those people. In many ways, this makes his story all the more inspirational.

Koum was born and raised in a small village outside of Kiev; he lived in a house without hot water. What's interesting is that his parents rarely used their phones as they were concerned that the government was listening in and violating their privacy. All the way through WhatsApp's development, Koum put a huge emphasis on user privacy and opposed integrating adverts into the application.

At the time, life was tough; the winters were cold and political instability ran through the veins of the Ukraine, making it an unsafe place to live, learn and work.

Koum told Wired how things were back then:

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It was so run-down that our school didn't even have an inside bathroom. Imagine the Ukrainian winter, -20°C, where little kids have to stroll across the parking lot to use the bathroom. Society was extremely closed off: you can read 1984, but living there was experiencing it.

As anti-Semitism became rife in the country, so Koum and his mother left relocated to Mountain View, California to start a new life. Unfortunately, his father died in 1997 and never made it cover to Mountain view to be with his family.

Strapped for cash and alone, the pair lived in a modest apartment with government assistance - Koum swept the floor of a local grocer's while his mom worked as a babysitter to make ends meet.
A few years later, Koum's mother was diagnosed with cancer, forcing the pair to live off disability benefits. Sadly, she passed away in 2000.

Koum fought through the hardships and studied hard. The man didn't have a computer until he was 19 years old but managed to teach himself computer networking from an old manual he bought from a used bookstore. This knowledge would lead him to further academic success.

Koum worked part-time as a security tester for accounting firm Ernst & Young while studying at San Jose State University. Part of Koum's work involved inspecting Yahoo's advertising system - and it was through this job that he crossed paths with Yahoo employee Brian Acton.

Koum wound up working at Yahoo for nine years as an ad tester, something which he later revealed he found soul destroying - but still - he persevered.

Koum managed to save up a respectable £400k and decided to take some time out to clear his head. He ended up travelling South America and taking up the leisurely pursuit of Ultimate Frisbee with Acton, who also left the company.

It had been a while since Koum worked on anything noteworthy, but legend has it, he crafted the concept of WhatsApp while in the gym. Tired of the gym's no call policy, Koum wanted to build an app that he could use seamlessly and discreetly while working out.

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Money Matters: Jan Koum

He soon developed WhatsApp but it was going nowhere fast. He persuaded Acton to join forces with him. Since they had both been denied jobs at Facebook and had time on their hands, Acton decided it was a partnership worth pursuing.

Soon after, the pair managed to get Yahoo employees to pool $250,000 in seed money to get them off the ground. WhatsApp set up shop in the same office as Evernote, but the company later took over the whole premises and kicked them out.

In early 2010, WhatsApp was bringing in about $5,000 a month. Things slowly improved until the company's breakthrough year. In 2011, WhatsApp hit the top 20 in Apple's App Store - a feat that changed everything.

WhatsApp blew up, and its popularity soared to new heights. Koum and Acton recently signed a deal with Facebook and according to Forbes, Koum's estimated wealth alone is $6.8 billion. Yes, you did read that correctly.

Not forgetting his roots, Koum chose to hold the ceremonial act in the former North County Social Services building. Why? That's where the man once stood in line for food stamps.

A truly incredible underdog tale of grit, determination and never giving up no matter what. We should all try and be more like Jan Koum. Ever wondered how Cirque du Soleil was founded? Find out here.

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