WhatsApp founders Jan Koum and Brian Acton are billionaires just a few years after reportedly being rejected for jobs at Facebook.
Facebook may be delighted with the $19bn (£11.4bn) deal for WhatsApp, but it apparently missed out on having the company’s co-founders as employees just a few years ago.
Rumour has it that Jan Koum, 37, and Brian Acton, 44, tried and failed to get jobs at the social networking giant after leaving Yahoo!, where they met, in 2007.
Now, both men are believed to be billionaires after Mark Zuckerberg paid an eye-watering sum to get his hands on WhatsApp’s simple but effective mobile messaging technology and a fast-growing community of 450 million users.
Forbes estimates chief executive Mr Koum’s stake at 45% – making him worth $6.8bn (£4.1bn) overnight – with Mr Acton thought to hold at least another 15%.
WhatsApp’s tight team of 55 employees is also likely to benefit handsomely from the deal.
Facebook is effectively paying $344m (£207m) per employee – although there is no suggestion any of WhatsApp’s staff are set to earn sums in that ball park.
A group of five ex-Yahoo! colleagues who reportedly provided $250,000 in seed funding to Mr Koum and Mr Acton can also expect to strike gold from the $4bn cash plus $15bn shares deal.
Another major beneficiary is Sequoia Capital, a Silicon Valley venture capital firm that previously backed PayPal and YouTube, which provided $8m as the business grew.
Mr Koum’s story is an extraordinary tale of rags to tech start-up riches.
He grew up in a small village outside Kiev in Ukraine, in a house with no hot water.
At 16, he emigrated with his mother to Mountain View in the heart of California’s Silicon Valley, where they got by with help from government handouts.
In fact, photographs posted on Forbes.com show Mr Koum signing the multibillion-dollar deal with Facebook against the door of the former social services building where he once queued for food stamps.
Mr Koum taught himself programming and found work at Yahoo! where he met Mr Acton, who had previously worked for Rockwell Engineering and Apple.
The pair became friends and are said to have bonded over a shared sense of disillusionment at Yahoo!, where both had developed a distaste for a business model built on advertising.
After leaving Yahoo!, Mr Acton tweeted about apparent job rejections from both Twitter and Facebook.
In May 2009 he wrote: “Got denied by Twitter HQ. That’s OK. Would have been a long commute.”
And in August 2009, he said: “Facebook turned me down. It was a great opportunity to connect with some fantastic people. Looking forward to life’s next adventure.”
Mr Koum is said to have come up with the idea for WhatsApp in 2009 after his gym banned phones and he got frustrated by missing calls.
At the same time he was inspired by the iPhone and the potential for apps to help people communicate in a cheaper and more efficient way than services like SMS text messaging.
Sequoia Capital’s Jim Goetz has revealed that Mr Koum keeps a note from Mr Acton taped to his desk, which reads “No Ads! No Games! No Gimmicks!” which sums up the no frills approach that has so appealed to WhatsApp’s army of users.
In a blog post after the Facebook deal was confirmed, he also traced the firm’s policy of not harvesting user data back to Mr Koum’s upbringing in communist-era Ukraine.
He said: “It’s a decidedly contrarian approach shaped by Jan’s experience growing up in a communist country with a secret police.
“Jan’s childhood made him appreciate communication that was not bugged or taped.
“When he arrived in the US as a 16-year-old immigrant living on food stamps, he had the extra incentive of wanting to stay in touch with his family in Russia and the Ukraine.
“All of this was top of mind for Jan when, after years of working together with his mentor Brian at Yahoo, he began to build WhatsApp.”
Mr Koum laid out his anti-ads, anti-data collection philosophy in a rare post on the WhatsApp website in June 2012.
Explaining why the firm chose to charge $1 a year rather than sell ads, he quoted Tyler Durden, Brad Pitt’s character in the film Fight Club: “Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy s*** we don’t need.”
He wrote: “When we sat down to start our own thing together three years ago we wanted to make something that wasn’t just another ad clearinghouse.
“We wanted to spend our time building a service people wanted to use because it worked and saved them money and made their lives better in a small way.
“We knew that we could charge people directly if we could do all those things.
“We knew we could do what most people aim to do every day: avoid ads.”
As Mr Koum the billionaire takes his seat on the board of the corporate giant Facebook, only time will tell if the immigrant made-good’s distinctly anti-corporate philosophy will continue to flourish.
Source : Sky News