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Jan Koum, the CEO and co-founder of WhatsApp

Monday, 28 October 2019
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Jan Koum, the CEO and co-founder of WhatsApp, once lived on food stamps before Facebook made him a billionaire.

Jan Koum is a Ukrainian American computer programmer. He is the co-founder and was the CEO of WhatsApp, a mobile messaging application that was acquired by Facebook Inc. in February 2014 for US$19.3 billion.

Jan Koum, 37, came to the U.S. from the Ukraine when he was 16 years old. His family, struggling to make ends meet, lived on food stamps that they picked up a couple blocks away from Jan Koum's future WhatsApp offices in Mountain View, Calif.

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By the age of 18, Jan Koum became interested in programming. He enrolled at San Jose State University and simultaneously worked at Ernst & Young as a security tester. He also joined a group of hackers that began in 1996 called w00w00, where he met the future founders of Napster, Shawn Fanning, and Jordan Ritter.

In February 1996, a restraining order was granted against Jan Koum in state court in San Jose, California. An ex-girlfriend detailed incidents in which she said Jan Koum verbally and physically threatened her.


Later in 1997, Jan Koum was hired by Yahoo! as an infrastructure engineer. He quit school shortly thereafter. Over the next nine years, Jan Koum and Brian Acton worked there together. In September 2007 they both left Yahoo! and took a year off, traveling around South America and playing ultimate frisbee. Both applied to work at Facebook, and both were rejected.

In 2009, he and co-founder Brian Acton launched the real-time messaging app with an aim to connect people around the world. In January 2009, Jan Koum bought an iPhone and realized that the then seven-month-old App Store was about to spawn a whole new industry of apps. He visited his friend Alex Fishman and the two talked for hours about Jan Koum's idea for an app over tea at Fishman's kitchen counter. Jan Koum almost immediately chose the name WhatsApp because it sounded like "what's up", and a week later on his birthday, February 24, 2009, he incorporated WhatsApp Inc. in California. It essentially replaces text messaging.

Can you see why 2009 was his turning point? Why 2009 and not 1999? What is his most needed useful Ten Gods 喜用神?

In 2014, with 450 million global users, WhatsApp agreed to a $19 billion buyout from Facebook. Jan Koum is to make the most from the deal.

Forbes estimates he has a 45% stake in the company, giving him a net worth of $6.8 billion. He's come a long way on his modest means.

In 2014, he entered the Forbes list of the 400 richest Americans at position 62, with an estimated worth of more than $7.5 billion. He was the highest-ranked newcomer to the list that year.


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