Jan Koum: Poverty, Food Stamps, Sweeping Floors to Founding $22 Billion WhatsApp

Jan Koum is one of the biggest names in the technology industry like Mark Zuckerberg, Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos. He is the co-founder of WhatsApp that worth $22 Billion. Jon Koum himself has a net worth of $13.2 Billion. WhatsApp is now owned by Facebook and the reasons will be discussed later. Jan Koum sold WhatsApp to Facebook in 2014 for $22 Billion and made him one of the richest people on earth with a net worth of $6.4 Billion. That was quite a huge achievement for a person who taught himself programming and coding through old books.

Early Life

He didn't come from a wealthy family or just a normal family who has a strong background like other millionaires in the world right now. During his teenage, he was used to sweeping floors of the supermarket to earn some penny. A sweeper cannot afford a place to live, right? So, he lived in a government-funded apartment and survived by eating food stamps.


Let's just have a little background check of his life. He was born in Ukraine in 1976 when mobile phones were new. His family tried to avoid this technology as much as they could because they were Jewish. Due to antisemitic action by police officers on Jewish, they were forced to migrate from Ukraine. Later in 1992, when Jan Koum was 16 years old, he and his mother settled in California while his father remained in Ukraine due to some personal reasons. It was hard for a mother and a child to survive in a new country with new people but luckily with the help of social support program, they were able to get a two-bedroom apartment. 

Life in California

When they migrated, his mother brought a suitcase of pens and different books so that she can avoid expanses of school supplies as much as possible. She started doing the job of a babysitter which didn't earn her much. In 1997, Jan's father died in Ukraine, although he was trying his best to come to California to his family he couldn't. Then later in 2000, his mother also died and he lost both of his parents at a very young age.


In 1994, Jan started teaching himself about programming by purchasing old books from a book store, and later on, after reading them he returned the books to get his money back. You know when you are passionate about something you can do it, you just need to push yourself and that's what he did. His poverty couldn't stop him from gaining knowledge.

Job at Yahoo

He joined a hacker group where he came to know about Shawn who is the founder of a peer-to-peer software Napster. There he learned a lot and then got a job as a security tester in an institution. One day during his job he met a yahoo employer Brian Acton who was a software engineer. After that, they became very good friends. This friendship got his job as a security tester in Yahoo. Due to his abilities and passion, he got promoted from security tester to infrastructure engineer soon. He worked there for 8 years and left his job along with Brian Acton. They both left their jobs because they didn't like Yahoo policies.


After leaving their jobs, both of them decided to enjoy their life a little bit away from everyone. So, they planned a trip to South America where they learned and played ultimate frisbee. After coming back from the tour, both of them applied for a job at Facebook but they had to face rejection. They also applied on Twitter and got rejected from there as well.


In 2009, Jan Koum bought his first iPhone, and then he decided to build his messaging service. He told Brian about his idea and he told Jan about Alex Fishman who is a Russian programmer willing to help them with their idea so they hired him.

Making WhatsApp

First of all, WhatsApp was incorporated in California. At first, this app didn't gain much fame as it was crashing too much all the time. Later on, when iPhone introduced push notifications and, in the meantime, both of them improved the quality of their app, WhatsApp started gaining users.

Founder of WhatsApp

Jan was able to raise $250,000 from his friends at Yahoo and it helped him to become the co-founder of WhatsApp. Soon as WhatsApp started gaining the attention of people worldwide it attracted some investors too. In 2011 Sequoia invested $8 million in WhatsApp with a profit of 15% and at this time WhatsApp users increased to 1 million. As the number of users increased, in 2013 Sequoia invested $50 million more which got WhatsApp to enter the unicorn club. Sequoia is a company that invests in technology companies such as Google, YouTube, etc. When WhatsApp gained 400 million users, its worth increased to $1.5 billion. In 2014 Facebook acquired WhatsApp with a total of $22 billion which brought Jan Koum a total net worth of $6.4 billion.

WhatsApp CEO

WhatsApp crossed from 600 million users to 1 billion users in a margin of 2 years which earned Sequoia a total of 5000% profit from his initial investments in WhatsApp. Sequoia invested a total of $58 million which turned into $3 billion. Jan Koum, later on, became the CEO of WhatsApp.

Sold WhatsApp to Facebook

Jan Koum's initial mission was no ads, no games, and no gimmicks. At first, WhatsApp never stored messaged to respect privacy, and later on, after acquiring WhatsApp by Facebook. Facebook forced WhatsApp to give data of its users. Due to this reason, Jan Koum and Brian left WhatsApp.