Most people will remember WhatsApp as the app that made them say goodbye to costly SMSs. Others will think of the words ‘instant’ and ‘convenient’ when the app is mentioned. The Facebook-owned app is the biggest messaging service in the world, boasting two billion users to date. Jan Koum (44) and Brian Acton (48) co-founded WhatsApp in 2009 and sold it to Facebook in 2014 for an eye-popping sum of $19 billion. But how did this app come about?
Brian and Jan meet at Yahoo!
In 1997, Jan was hired by Yahoo! as an Infrastructure Engineer and that’s where he met computer science graduate, Brian. The pair grew close and formed a solid partnership and it was nine years later that they both decided to part ways with Yahoo! in September 2007. Leaving a solid job in one of the largest companies couldn’t have been an easy decision for the two, more especially when they didn’t even know what their next adventure would be.
They spent the following year travelling around South America and playing sport. In July 2008, Apple introduced the App Store and something about it caught Jan’s attention about six months later when he bought his first iPhone. He realised the App Store was about to give birth to a whole new industry of apps and it was time to come up with something that would compete in the opening market.
Jan went over to his other friend to discuss this idea of a new app and they talked for hours over a cup of tea. The idea was to introduce an app that would allow users to send messages and display ‘statuses’ next to their name. Almost immediately, Jan came up with the name ‘WhatsApp’ because it sounded like ‘what’s up’. He incorporated WhatsApp Inc. a week later on his birthday, February 24, 2009 with the help of Russian developer, Igor Solomennikov.
WhatsApp registers first 250,000 users
The messaging app was initially unpopular until Apple allowed apps to push notifications, something that enabled WhatsApp to ‘ping’ users when they received a message. Users quickly came to use this as if it were an instant messaging service and the app gradually gained traction reaching 250, 000 users in June 2009.
Jan, realising the need to source funding, convinced Brian to join the company. Brian was still unemployed at the time but he had the potential to recruit former colleagues at Yahoo! to come on board. Jan decided to grant Brian co-founder status after he successfully racked in $250, 000 in seed funding.
By October 2011, a whopping one billion messages were being sent per day on the platform. In early 2013, WhatsApp had over 200 million active users and the numbers would only skyrocket from there.
It was in 2014 when Facebook CEO and co-founder Mark Zuckerberg invited Jan to have dinner at his house and proposed to Jan a deal to join the Facebook board. A few days later, Facebook announced the acquisition of WhatsApp for $16 billion with co-founders Jan and Brian walking away with $3 billion worth of Facebook stock.
Brian left WhatsApp in September 2017 and Jan followed suit in April 2018, effectively stepping down from Facebook’s board.
Facebook and Twitter reject Jan and Brian’s job applications
Brian would probably remember mid-2009 as the time when companies didn’t want to hire him, despite having dozens of years of experience at Yahoo and Apple Computer. In May 2009, he took to twitter to share his frustrations after he was turned down by Twitter HQ. Jan and Brian were both running low on cash after being unemployed for more than a year. They took their chances and applied to work at Facebook. Both their applications were unsuccessful. Brian once more tweeted his rejection, in what is now a popular tweet that serves as an inspiration to those who are yearning for it.
Needless to mention, rejecting the pair was one of the biggest and costliest mistakes that Facebook ever made. To date, Jan and Brian’s net worth is sitting at a staggering $10 billion and $2, 5 billion respectively.
Jan and Brian’s journey perhaps proves true the saying, ‘Dreams delayed are not dreams denied.’ Also, sometimes rejection means having to reroute and follow a new direction. Imagine if the two companies had accepted Jan and Brian, there wouldn’t be the WhatsApp that you love and use daily today.
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