7 Things to Know About Jan Koum, Founder of the $16 Billion WhatsApp

It's a rags-to-riches tale for the man who just sold his app to Facebook

Photo: AP

What’s WhatsApp?

That was the question on everyone’s lips when Facebook announced earlier this week that it would pay at least $16 billion for the text messaging application, which has 450 million users around the world. The app does not sell advertising and has very little revenue, but offers Facebook even more access to the fast-growing world of instant messaging.

The company was founded by Jan Koum, 38, who was relatively unknown outside of Silicon Valley circles until Facebook came calling. The low-key CEO gave very few media interviews as his messaging service quietly grew, on the grounds that press distracts from the actual product.

Now that the product has sold for a staggering sum, all eyes are on the newly anointed hotshot CEO. Here are seven things to know about the newest tech titan:

1. He was born and raised in a small village outside of Kiev, Ukraine.
According to a profile in Forbes, he is the only child of a housewife and a construction manager and grew up in a house with no hot water. At 16, he and his mother immigrated to Silicon Valley, where they struggled financially and lived on food stamps. His father died in 1997, his mother in 2000.

2. As a teenager, Koum taught himself computer programming.
He did it by purchasing used books and returning them to the store when he was done with them. He enrolled in San Jose State University, but dropped out when he got a job at Yahoo as an infrastructure engineer.

3. He signed his deal with Facebook at the North County Social Services office.
He used to collect food stamps there with his mother.

4. In 2009, Koum wanted to give up.
He wanted to pack WhatsApp in, but his friend and eventual co-founder, Brian Acton, talked him out of it. By early 2011, WhatsApp was in the top 20 of all apps in the U.S. iTunes App Store. By February 2013, WhatsApp had almost 200 million active users.

5. Mark Zuckerberg had to court him.
The Facebook CEO had his eye on WhatsApp for a long time and began wooing Koum early in 2012. Their long courtship included quiet dinners, long walks and coffee shop conversations.

6. Koum reportedly sealed the deal with Facebook over chocolate-covered strawberries.
They were originally intended for Zuckerberg’s wife, Priscilla Chan, but Koum got them instead.

7. His net worth is now around $6.8 billion.
Forbes estimates that Koum owns approximately 45 percent of WhatsApp, which translates to him netting about $6.8 billion in the deal.

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