There is nobody who uses a smartphone and does not have his app. It is the fastest mode of communication in the digital era and is celebrated by billions everyday. Today, we bring you a story of utmost struggle that ended with the sweet elixir of success.
Jan Koum, founder of WhatsApp Incorporation, is one of the best and most inspirational rags to riches story we have seen in the recent times. This story has the power to inspire even those who are drowning in despair and hopelessness. Share it to create a bright tomorrow for every dreamer.
Jan Koum was born in 1976 in Kiev, Ukraine. His father was a construction labor and mother a housewife. Their home did not even have running water; they would fetch water from a public connection. Jan’s childhood was very difficult where he saw adversities and scarcities on a daily basis.
When he turned 16, his family had to leave Ukraine because of the political and anti-Semitic environment. He moved to Mountain View, California, with his mother and grandmother. His father wanted to join them later but he could never cross the borders. Jan never met his father again. Life for him changed to worse. All these disruptions can potentially destroy a person’s self-esteem and emotional health. It was a very tough phase of Jan’s life.
His family, too, struggled a lot. After much trouble, a social support program helped them get a small two-bedroom apartment. This was a welcome change, however, they still did not have electricity or hot water. Jan had to wait in long queues to get food stamps. It was a feeling he desperately wanted to shrug off. His mother began babysitting and Jan started working as a cleaner in a grocery store. His days went by mopping the floor for peanuts. Life seemed miserable but he never gave up. He tightly held on to hope of a better future.
Hunger for knowledge
When Koum was in high school, he developed an interest in software programming. Since, he could not afford to buy a computer; he used to bring manuals from bookstores to learn. By the time he completed his schooling, he had mastered in computer networking. His mother trusted her son’s abilities and enrolled him in San Jose State University.
To meet the expenses and lighten his mother’s load, Jan started working at Ernst & Young as a security tester in Yahoo’s Advertising System, which intensified his love for computers. The bills were being paid, life was not thorny anymore, or so did he think.
It was a major setback in his life when he found out that his beloved mother, his only source of love and comfort, was diagnosed with cancer. They had to live off government allowance. Although, he knew his fate could change with tonnes of hardwork and a dash of luck. At the age of 19, he managed to own a computer.
Turn of luck
After a few months, Koum got a job offer from Yahoo as an infrastructure engineer, while he was still pursuing his studies. However, he had to make a life changing decision — to choose between education and job. He ended up choosing to work with Yahoo. He worked there for nine years where he also met Brian Acton, an American computer programmer and Internet entrepreneur.
Jan wanted to work in the field of social media, which had always intrigued him. When Yahoo did not offer him much space to work in his desired field, he quit in 2007. His friend Acton also left the job, to follow their common interest in social media. Both of them decided to take a sabbatical and travel the world. When their savings diminished, they started looking for opportunities. Both applied for job in Facebook and Twitter but got rejected.
Emergence of an innovation
In 2009, Jan bought an iPhone and that is how the idea of WhatsApp was born. Looking at the Apple app store, he realized that apps would be the next big thing. He felt the need of creating an easy, cheap, and instant messaging service. He approached Acton and both of them started working on the thought. The idea was to get everyone on a single platform.
It took Jan months to get the code in place. However, nothing was falling in place and the app kept crashing despite their efforts. His efforts failed and he decided to call off the entire project. At that time, Acton gave extended his support and infused hope in him. Work on the project resumed. After a few months, the amazing innovation was born. The duo named it WhatsApp Incorporation and launched it in 2010.
Jan’s WhatsApp Inc raised $250,000 in October 2009 through seed funding. The duo rented an office space that meant a couple of cubicles in the back of a converted warehouse. Their employees had to wrap blankets around themselves while working as they could not afford to install heaters. The struggle in Jan’s life had not ended but now he was hopeful that the day would soon come. The company was earning mere $5,000 per month. However, the app gained popularity after Koum released WhatsApp 2.0, which made its place among the top 20 apps in the US app store in 2011. By 2016, it got more than one billion users.
In 2012, WhatsApp Inc caught attention of Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook. Witnessing the growth and popularity of the app, Zuckerberg approached Koum. After two years, in 2014, Facebook acquired the app for whopping $22 billion in cash and stock, adding Koum to the company board. His stake in WhatsApp was worth $6.8 dollars.
Koum came a long way, from absolute penury to an estimated fortune of $9.7 billion. He believed that a Porsche represents the epitome of success and bought one in 2016. After WhatsApp was bought, Koum donated $556 million to the Silicon Valley Community Foundation and $1 million to FreeBSD, a foundation that helped him in the days of poverty. Today, WhatsApp has 1.2 billion users from around 109 countries.
Koum has proved that nothing is impossible if you are determined and have hope. He has made life easier and affordable for billions of people around the world. The path he walked on was not easy but he chose not to give up and reach his destination.
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