The Inspirational Story of WhatsApp Founder, Jan Koum – Darasimi Oshodi


by Darasimi Oshodi

Jan Koum, a Ukranian, went to the US at the age of 16 due to the hostile treatment Jews were receiving in the country. When they arrived in the US, Jan and his mother lived on food stamps. He met Brian Acton in 1997 at Yahoo, where they were both working and they became friends. By 2007, the two of them men had become disillusioned and they left Yahoo to seek new challenges.

Koum founded WhatsApp in 2009 after he had been turned down by Facebook and was joined by Acton who had also been turned down by Twitter and Facebook. They created a project that allowed them to concentrate on creating an easy-to-use messaging product and the approach paid off. WhatsApp amassed 450 million monthly users. Their idea was that smartphone users should be able to easily message each other without incurring fees from phone carriers. They refused to advertise their product and only relied on the recommendations of users of the product. In 2014, Facebook decided to purchase WhatsApp for a whooping 19 billion dollars!

Lessons from Jan Koum’s (and Brian Acton’s) story:

Your background is not an excuse for failure in life: Jan Koum did menial jobs like cleaning and mopping at a grocery store while his mother took up a babysitting job. At a point in his life, he and his mother depended on allowances from the government. (Jan signed the agreement with Facebook on the door of the social services office where he and his mother used to stand in line to collect food stamps.)

Adversity should make you stronger and resilient not break you: Jan learnt computer networking all by himself with the help of manuals from a used book store. He couldn’t afford to pay for lessons but he has become a billionaire today.

You can profit from your experience: Jan’s experience in communist Ukraine where phone lines were bugged by secret police greatly influenced his decision to create WhatsApp. He wanted a service that guaranteed messaging privacy. “I grew up in a country where I remember my parents not being able to have a conversation on the phone,” he explained. “The walls had ears and you couldn’t speak freely.”

If you find your job unexciting, get out: Jan and Brian became disillusioned with life at Yahoo and they quit.

Don’t allow disappointment to overwhelm you: Jan and Brian were turned down turned down for employment by Facebook. Brian was also rejected by Twitter and he took it on the chin. Read this: “Got denied by Twitter HQ. That’s ok. Would have been a long commute.” and this “Facebook turned me down. It was a great opportunity to connect with some fantastic people. Looking forward to life’s next adventure.”

Be passion-driven not money-driven: Jan wanted to create a product that would meet a need, and when this product filled the need, money came. Today he is a billionaire. Money was not his primary motivation. He says he just wanted to build a great product. “I started WhatsApp, to build a product. I do not want to create a company around it, the goal was not to earn. 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.” He tweeted in 2012 that he was not an entrepreneur: “Next person to call me an entrepreneur is getting punched in the face by my bodyguard, seriously.”

A good product will advertise itself: WhatsApp has a ‘no ads’ policy. The company refuses to be involved in promotions, marketing and advertising and it has over 450 million active users, reaching the number faster than any other company in history. This is what WhatsApp says about advertising, “No one wakes up excited to see more advertising, no one goes to sleep thinking about the ads they’ll see tomorrow. We know people go to sleep excited about who they chatted with that day (and disappointed about who they didn’t). We want WhatsApp to be the product that keeps you awake… and that you reach for in the morning. No one jumps up from a nap and runs to see an advertisement.”

Jan’s is an inspirational story that yet again proves that as long as you refuse to give up but continue to look for a way out, you will eventually have your big break.


Darasimi Oshodi is a blogger. Read his blogs at

Follow him on twitter @Aristotle274.