The Norman Transcript

Nation/World

February 23, 2014

The unlikely founders behind WhatsApp’s rise

NEW YORK — WhatsApp isn’t your average Silicon Valley startup.

The company’s founders Jan Koum, 38, and Brian Acton, 42, shun the media spotlight and are much older than your typical college dropout-turned CEO. And at a time when social media companies are focusing on advertising to generate revenue, WhatsApp rejects the idea of showing ads to the 450 million people who use its mobile messaging app.

The whopping $19 billion that Facebook is paying for the service is also unusual, even as other startups with no profit, or even revenue, are commanding sky-high valuations.

Koum and Acton are at the center of the largest buyout deal ever for a venture-backed company. How did two former Yahoo engineers who witnessed the late ‘90s dot-com boom — and bust — create the world’s hottest app and make 10-year-old Facebook seem a tad grizzled?

“Jan keeps a note from Brian 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,” wrote Sequoia Capital partner Jim Goetz in a blog post about Thursday’s deal. Sequoia is WhatsApp’s sole venture capital investor.

The Ukraine-born Koum, WhatsApp’s CEO, move to the U.S. when he was 16. Acton was born in Michigan.

“We’re the most atypical Silicon Valley company you’ll come across,” Acton told Wired in a December interview that the magazine will publish next month in its U.K edition. “We were founded by thirtysomethings; we focused on business sustainability and revenue rather than getting big fast; we’ve been incognito almost all the time; we’re mobile first; and we’re global first.”

The pair started WhatsApp in 2009, two years after they left their jobs at Yahoo Inc. and five years after Facebook got its start in Mark Zuckerberg’s Harvard dorm room. The service is simple. People use it to send text, photo or video messages to their contacts, bypassing text messaging charges and other fees from wireless carriers.

Text Only | Photo Reprints
Nation/World
  • Judge asks pointed questions in gay marriage case

    DENVER — A judge in Colorado who will play a pivotal role deciding whether gays should be allowed to wed in the United States asked pointed questions Thursday about whether Oklahoma can legally ban the unions....

    April 18, 2014

  • Sudan: 12 die after mob attacks UN base

    JUBA, South Sudan — An angry mob of South Sudanese youths attacked a U.N. base on Thursday to harm members of an ethnic minority sheltering inside. Peacekeepers were forced to open fire, amid rampaging violence that killed at least 12 ...

    April 18, 2014

  • Astronomers spot most Earth-like planet yet

    LOS ANGELES — Astronomers have discovered what they say is the most Earth-like planet yet detected — a distant, rocky world that’s similar in size to our own and exists in the Goldilocks zone where it’s not too hot and not too cold for ...

    April 18, 2014

  • Creek, old purse solve mystery

    ELK POINT, S.D. — Cheryl Miller and Pamella Jackson had planned to celebrate the end of the 1971 school year by gathering with classmates at a quarry along a gravel road....

    April 18, 2014

  • Chaotic scene described on sinking ferry

    MOKPO, South Korea — There was chaos and confusion on the bridge of a sinking ferry, with the captain first trying to stabilize the listing vessel before ordering its evacuation, a crewman said Thursday....

    April 18, 2014

  • Tiny power plants hold promise for nuclear energy

    PARIS — Small underground nuclear power plants that could be cheaper to build than their behemoth counterparts may herald the future for an energy industry under intense scrutiny since the Fukushima disaster, the incoming head of the ...

    April 18, 2014

  • Organizers confident of safe race

    BOSTON — The arrest of a man with a rice cooker in his backpack near the Boston Marathon finish line led police to step up patrols Wednesday, while organizers sought to assure the city and runners of a safe race next week....

    April 17, 2014

  • Ukraine bares teeth against eastern uprising

    KRAMATORSK, Ukraine — In the first Ukrainian military action against a pro-Russian uprising in the east, government forces repelled an attack Tuesday by about 30 gunmen at an airport, beginning what the president called an “anti-terrorist ...

    April 16, 2014

  • Supremacist faces murder charges

    OVERLAND PARK, Kan. — The white supremacist charged in shootings that left three people dead at two Jewish community sites in suburban Kansas City made his first court appearance Tuesday....

    April 16, 2014

  • Iran cuts nuclear weapons ability

    VIENNA — The United Nations will release a report this week certifying that Iran’s ability to make a nuclear bomb has been greatly reduced because it has diluted half of its material that can be turned most quickly into weapons-grade ...

    April 16, 2014

Video
Facebook