“I’m convinced that about half of what separates the successful entrepreneurs from the non-successful ones is pure perseverance.”

-Steve Jobs

He was born in a small village outside Kiev, Ukraine, (erstwhile Soviet Union) His house had no hot water. His father was a construction manager and mother a housewife .He led a life full of hardships as his family struggled hard to make ends meet. His house which was located in an area having an average temperature of about 8 degrees Celsius did not even have electricity, so his home did not have hot water. His parents rarely used the phone for fear of being tapped by the oppressive Communist state.

“Our school didn’t even have a covered toilet in its premises,” he said. “Imagine the Ukrainian winter, temperature dipping to -20°C, where little kids have to cross the parking lot, to use the toilet.” He started to study Mathematics and Computer Science but confesses to having been “equally bad at both”. He  was a troublemaker at school .His mother migrated with him to the United States when he was 16, along with a stack of Soviet-issued notebooks to avoid paying for school supplies.

They lived in a small two-bedroom flat with government support. His mother worked as a babysitter and he went to school and swept floors in a shop. His father was supposed to join them but never made it, as he died in 1997. He used to collect food stamps and stand in a queue for his food packet. By 18, he learnt computer networking all by himself with the help of manuals from a used book store. He says he “barely graduated” from high school and “dropped out” from university.

He applied for a job in Face book but was rejected in 2009. Life took a tragic turn when his mother was diagnosed with cancer. She died in 2000.

Do you think a person with the above profile could have achieved anything worthwhile in life? Hold your breath, because you are in for a big surprise! He is none other than WhatsApp low-profile CEO Jan Koum, who has become an overnight billionaire by selling his mobile messaging platform WhatsApp- an instant messaging company he founded less than five years ago to Face book for a whooping $19 billion! Forbes estimates that Koum owns about 45 percent of WhatsApp, which would net him $6.8 billion in the deal. That figure dwarfs the amount the founders of Twitter received during the company’s IPO in November2013. He hasn’t simply achieved the type of success that sets up a good life. Jan Koum has earned the type of wealth that can take care of his family for generations to come.


Jan Koum, now 37 years old, used the door of his old welfare office to sign the deal with Facebook. Standing outside a derelict building that was once his lifeline, a 6ft 2in Jan Koum signed the deal that consigned his impoverished childhood to the history books. The last time he stood outside the run-down former North County Social Services offices in the Californian suburb of Mountain View he was queuing to collect food stamps as a teenager. The complex deal, with Facebook paying a mix of cash, stocks and shares, means Jan, will make even more in four years. He will also sit on Facebook’s board – an incredible turnaround from the day he was rejected for a job there.

He won a place at San Jose State University studying Computer Science, only to drop out after he got a job with Yahoo in 1998. Brian Acton was sitting across the desk from him. They stayed at Yahoo for nine years and when Jan’s mother died in 2000 it was Brian who stepped in with support, inviting him around to his house. Finally, he enrolled at San Jose State University worked at Ernst & Young as a security tester. Little did he realize that this was the beginning of an illustrious career? Meeting Brian Acton was a turning point in his life.Koum later got a job at Yahoo as an infrastructure engineer. Soon he dropped out of College. However, Koum did not stay on the job for long. In September 2007, Koum and Acton bid farewell to Yahoo and decided to unwind and travel around.

As savings started getting over, the duo started thinking about new start-up ideas. Incidentally, in 2009, the seeds of this amazing innovation were sown.Koum bought an I Phone and figured out that apps would be the next big thing. On his birthday in February 2009 he registered WhatsApp, the name with a twist on the greeting “What’s up?” He thought creating a hassle-free and instant messaging service would work wonders across the globe if it had mobile users as base. The idea was to get people across the world to network on a single platform effortlessly. It took him months of back-breaking work and testing to get the code in place. There were several trying times when things would not work out.Koum had even thought of giving up the idea but Brian Acton convinced him to try it for a few months.  Initially, the messaging service was tried on phones of his Russian friends.

The response was encouraging. Koum released WhatsApp 2.0 with a messaging component and active users went up to 250,000. By 2011, WhatsApp found a place among the top 20 apps in the US app store. Two years later in 2013, WhatsApp’s user base had zoomed to 200 million active users. Today WhatsApp has more than 450 million active users, and reached that number faster than any other company in history.

Unlike Facebook and Twitter, Whats­App does not collect any personal information from users. Making the app paid-for rather than free slowed its growth but helped maintain their stand against advertising. It’s an instant messaging service used between two people or a group. It sends text-style messages for free and needs no login. It simply uses your mobile number. It is now used to send photos, short videos and voice recordings. The app is free for the first year, and then costs 69p per year.

Mark Zuckerberg and Jan met for the first time in a coffee shop. They spoke for a couple of hours but no deal was struck. After more meetings a formal proposal on February 9 this year invited Jan to join the Facebook board.” I’ve also known Jan for a long time, and I know that we both share the vision of making the world more open and connected.” said Mark.

His humble beginnings appear to have instilled in him a strong work ethic and dislike for egotism – WhatsApp may be a global phenomenon but it has no sign at its office. Koum and Acton developed WhatsApp in coffee shops and at their homes. They eschewed marketing and didn’t employ a public relations person, relying on the word-of-mouth recommendations of its users instead. The service became popular with friends and family communicating in different countries, especially in Europe, because it circumvents the fees charged by phone carriers. Another fascinating aspect is, WhatsApp runs lean with just 32 engineers. One WhatsApp developer, supports 14 million active users; a ratio unheard of in the industry.

Jan keeps a note taped to his desk that reads “No Ads! No Games! No Gimmicks!’ It serves as a daily reminder of their commitment to stay focused on building a pure messaging experience.