from SJ Mercury News 20 Feb 14 enhanced by Peter/CXO Wiz4biz
“No Ads! No Games! No Gimmicks!” is the The note that WhatsApp Founder, Jan Koum, has taped to his desk in his Mountain View office says it all: It’s from Brian Acton, Jan’s co-founder of the messaging service WhatsApp, which Facebook bought this week in a deal worth as much as $19 billion. The jaw-dropping deal that has blown away Silicon Valley was very un-Jan-like in its high-wire audaciousness.
Who is Jan Koum? Considered the heart & soul of the wildly popular app, the Ukrainian-born Jew who left his Communist homeland as a teenager and started his working life in America sweeping floors at a grocery store, is a notoriously low-key, under-the-radar sort of entrepreneur.
The Mantra at his five-year-old, 55-employee startup: “Mobile messaging is the medium. Don’t muck it up with ads & hoopla”. And above all, don’t mess with users’ privacy. Since WhatsApp doesn’t collect personal information – like names and ages – Jan’s creation represents the polar opposite of the world he fled. It’s a decidedly contrarian approach shaped by Jan’s experience growing up in a communist country with a secret police,” Jim Goetz, Sequoia Capital partner and Jan’s venture capital backer, wrote in his Blog, where he also mentioned the note on Jan’s desk. “Jan’s childhood made him appreciate communication that was not bugged or taped.”
Other Fellow Immigrants. In a valley blossoming with out-of-the-blue startup stories, Jan’s success has been compared to that of fellow immigrants like Google’s Russian-born co-founder, Sergey Brin. But Jan’s journey from a small village outside Kiev to his perch among Silicon Valley’s self-made billionaires has been downright spectacular.
Escaping to Freedom. According to a profile published this week in Forbes magazine, he & his mother fled the anti-Semitism and political turbulence of his homeland when he was 16 and ended up in Mountain View, living on government assistance and squeezed into a tiny two-bedroom apartment. Jan swept floors to survive. When his mother was diagnosed with cancer, the two lived off her disability allowance.
After dropping out of San Jose State, he landed a job at Yahoo – where he spent 9 years in systems security & then infrastructure engineering, he finally met his co-founder Acton. They left Yahoo in 2007, launched WhatsApp two years later, and with their users multiplying around the world to nearly half a billion today, the rest is Viral history.
Another Startup. “We’ve seen these stories in the Valley over the years, whether it’s garage startups like Apple & HP, or ones that come from university connections,”. “But every so often, you get a guy like Jan that sort of comes out of nowhere. And his success really speaks to the fact that, no matter what country or background you come from, there is significant opportunity here, if you’ve got the right idea and are willing to work hard. Jan is a perfect example of that.”
[ Alls Quiet, Monetization, Zukerberg, WhatsApp’s Blog, Manifesto in Premium Content ]