Jan Koum was born in 1977 and raised in a small village outside of Kiev. The family home had no electricity or hot water and his parents rarely talked on the phone in case it was tapped by the state. At 16, Koum and his mother immigrated to the US, where she took up babysitting and he swept the floor of a grocery store to help make ends meet. When his mother was diagnosed with cancer, they lived off her disability allowance. When she died in 2000, the young Ukrainian was alone in America; his father had died in 1997. He taught himself computer networking by buying manuals from a used book store and returning them when he was done. He got a job a Yahoo but in his LinkedIn profile, he unenthusiastically describes his time there with the words, “Did some work.”
WhatsApp is growing insanely fast in Russia: more than 10 million monthly active users… ?? ?????? ??????? ???? ?????? ????? ? ?????!!!
— jan koum (@jankoum) February 11, 2014
He left in September 2007 and spent a year traveling around South America. On his return, he applied, and failed, to find work at Facebook. In January 2009, he bought an iPhone and realized that the seven-month old App Store was about to generate a whole new industry of apps. His thinking was it would be cool to have a free messaging app where the login was your own phone number. Koum chose the name WhatsApp because it sounded like “What’s up,” and a week later on his birthday, 24 February 2009, he incorporated WhatsApp Inc. in California. Yesterday, Jan Koum signed the $19 billion Facebook deal paperwork on the door of his old welfare office in Mountain View, California. (Photo courtesy of Jan Koum)Tweet