On a list of the most popular messenger services in the world, WhatsApp is at the forefront. The network now has over two billion monthly active users. But what are the founders of WhatsApp actually doing today?
The messenger service WhatsApp has a long and turbulent history behind it. Founded in 2009 by Jan Koum and Brian Acton, WhatsApp quickly became an app that was a real alternative to the old-fashioned SMS.
Above all, the users appreciated the simple communication via the application. The success led to whatsApp Inc. being acquired by Meta Platforms (formerly Facebook) in 2014 for around $19 billion.
Jan Koum: WhatsApp founder with Ukrainian roots
Jan Koum was born on February 24, 1976 in the Ukrainian Soviet Republic to parents with a Jewish background in Kiev. He and his mother emigrated with Koum’s grandmother to Mountain View, California in 1992.
Koum initially worked as a cleaner in a supermarket. In 2000, his mother died after a long battle with cancer. Meanwhile, Koum showed an interest in programming at the age of 18.
He began studying at San José State University around the same time. In addition, he worked as an application tester at the corporate network Ernst & Young. In 1996, Koum joined the hacker group “w00w00”. There he met, among other things, the future founders of Napster.
Many years of work at Yahoo
At Ernst & Young, Koum met computer scientist Brian Acton. The email provider Yahoo hired the two as developers in 1997. As a result, Koum broke off his studies and worked for Yahoo for the next few years.
In 2009, Koum bought an iPhone. After a conversation with a friend, he had the idea for a new app. The name “WhatsApp” immediately came to mind, as it sounded like the English phrase “what’s up”.
Founding WhatsApp with an old friend
On February 24, 2009, WhatsApp Inc. was founded. The app developed by the company allowed users to share individual status messages with their friends. In the beginning, however, the success of the app failed to materialize. Koum was about to give up.
But his friends persuaded him to keep going. After Apple introduced push notifications on iOS in June 2009, the number of users of WhatsApp exploded. Around 250,000 people were suddenly interested in the app.
On February 9, 2014, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg personally invited Koum to a dinner at his home. Just ten days later, it became public that Facebook would buy WhatsApp for $19 billion.
Silent life as a billionaire and political positions
In 2018, Koum announced that he was leaving the Facebook board. Originally, it was thought that with his departure he wanted to forfeit the not yet bought shares in the amount of around one billion US dollars.
However, a few months later, it became known that Koum still officially appears as an employee of Facebook and thus earned around 450 million US dollars in shares with the “Rest and Vest” method.
Today, Koum does not pursue any particular activity. He donated money to several open source foundations. In 2017, Koum made public that he supported then-US President Donald Trump. He posted on his Facebook account that Trump’s “views on the failure of socialism could not have been more correct.” However, Koum has since deleted the posts.
Brian Acton: Philanthropist and founder of WhatsApp
Brian Acton was born michigan in 1972 and grew up in Florida, where he graduated from high school. He then studied engineering at Stanford University.
In 1994 he completed his computer science studies. Two years earlier, he became a system administrator at Rockwell International and later a product tester at Apple and Adobe. In 1996, he started working for Yahoo.
During this time, Acton met the computer scientist Jan Koum. They worked together at Yahoo until 2007 and then travelled to South America together. Upon their return, they founded the messaging service in 2009.
Establishment of the private intelligence service Signal
After the sale of WhatsApp to Facebook in 2014, Acton, like Koum, initially rose to Facebook’s board of directors. However, he left the tech giant in the wake of a dispute over WhatsApp’s monetization in September 2017.
That same month, Acton launched the Signal Foundation. The aim was to enable users to communicate privately via a messaging app. The app quickly became successful – especially among journalists.
In February 2018, Acton announced its intention to invest $50 million in the Signal Foundation. That amount rose to over $105 million by the end of 2018 and is expected to be repaid by 2068.
Philanthropy: The Next Big Chapter in Acton’s Life
To date, Acton is a member of the board of Whatsapp competitor Signal. Since 2014, he and his wife have had another job: they founded several organizations that deal with philanthropy.
As part of a charity network, she founded the Wildcard Giving Foundation and sister foundations Sunlight Giving, Acton Family Giving and Solidarity Giving.
The foundations are dedicated to supporting low-income families in the San Francisco Bay Area. In 2017, the organizations approved grants of over $23 million.