A Brief History of Jan Koum: Co-founder of WhatsApp
Just like one of the co-founders of PayPal, Max Levichin, born in Ukraine, and co-founder of Google, Sergey Brin, born in Russia, Jan Koum is an immigrant. Jan Koum was born in a small village in Ukraine. It was a communist nation. He didn’t even have electricity at his house. His father was a construction worker who built school and hospital buildings.
Due to political instability in Ukraine, Jan had to leave Ukraine and he came to America with his mother and grandmother. His father was unable to come with them. In Mountain view, California, the American government provided them with a two bedroom apartment. Koum and his family lived in this apartment but they had to struggle greatly to earn a living. They didn’t have enough money to buy food, so they used food stamps to buy their groceries.
Today, the place where his family used to buy food, using food stamps is just a few meters away from the current office of WhatsApp, in Mountain view, California. His mother got cancer and they didn’t have money for her treatment. The disability allowance that the government provided was used to buy daily necessities for their home.
Koum spoke good English but he didn’t like to make friends in high school. He was a shy kid. He also had difficulties in his school studies. At the age of 18 he used to buy old books and manuals from bookstores and started learning computer networking himself. He also joined a hacker group.
Later he took admission in San Jose State University. Along with his studies he started doing a night job in ‘Ernst & Young’. Working in the night shift he met Bryan Acton and soon they became good friends. Bryan was overseeing the advertising system in ‘Ernst & Young’.
After six months Koum gave a job interview in Yahoo and he got a job there in Infrastructure and Security Engineering Department. Later Bryan also joined Yahoo. After joining Yahoo, Koum found it difficult to attend college. He was only able to attend for two weeks after getting his job. So like Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerburg, Koum also dropped out and didn’t complete his studies.
In 2000, Koum’s mother died after her fight with cancer. His father died back in 1997. So all of a sudden Koum was all alone without any family. Bryan supported him during these difficult times. Their friendship deepened after this. They both liked to play football and go Skiing.
After working for yahoo for nine years Koum and Bryan left Yahoo in September 2007. They were unemployed for one year after that. They didn’t have any plans, so they repeatedly applied for a job in Facebook, but they never succeeded. Bryan said that they both were in the rejected club of Facebook.
Today that same Facebook company is paying them 19 billion dollars to buy their company. Not only this, Koum will also be a member of the board of directors of Facebook.
In January 2009, Koum bought an iPhone. And he realised that the seven month old App Store was going to revolutionize the whole apps market. Koum met with his Russian friend Alex Fishman and discussed about creating an app. Alex knew Koum was serious about this endeavour, so he arranged a meeting with an iPhone developer. And suddenly during this meeting Koum came up with a wonderful idea for an app. He named it ‘WhatsApp’ because it sounded similar to ‘what’s up’. He thought it was a cool name for an app.
After this Koum started a company in California called WhatsApp Inc. The first people to download this app were Koum and his Russian friend Alex. Later their other Russian friends also downloaded this app. And over the years WhatsApp became a sensation and it changed the way people used to text each other.
Neeraj Arora, 35, is the vice president of WhatsApp. He completed his engineering at IIT Delhi. Later he also did MBA from the Indian School of Business, Hyderabad. In 2012 he made a deal with Anil Ambani’s company, Reliance Communications, to provide unlimited WhatsApp messages for 16 Rs per month plan. He considered this to be one of his biggest achievements. Before this he was working in Google for four years under corporate development. Before joining Google he was the Chief Manager at Times Internet Limited. He is also a self taught hacker like Koum.
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