WhatsApp founder Jan Koum Foundation

This is how WhatsApp founder Jan Koum got rich

$ 300 million is a lot of money. This is exactly the sum that WhatsApp founder Jan Koum got richer a few days ago when he silvered his Facebook shares.

Not that he was financially clumsy and urgently needed money.

But he wanted to pay his tax debts to the tax office. These were incurred because he had sold his company to the operators of the social network in 2014. Exactly how much he paid is unknown. Still, there should be enough money left in Koum's account to make the $ 160 million deal by browser inventor and venture capitalist Marc Andreesen, who recently also sold part of his Facebook shares, look like peanuts .

Jan Koum's enormous wealth was certainly not born in the cradle. But see for yourself what a modern dishwasher for a millionaire legend in Silicon Valley can look like.

Like in a fairy tale: Jan Koum used to stand for food stamps - today the WhatsApp founder is filthy rich

Like in a fairy tale: Jan Koum used to stand for food stamps - today the WhatsApp founder is filthy rich

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  • Jan Koum is worth $ 8.8 billion today. With that, he made it to number 3 on Forbes' list of the richest entrepreneurs under 40 in the United States.

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  • The billionaire comes from a very simple background. In 1976 he was born in Ukraine. There wasn't even running water at home.

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  • Koum tells about his childhood in a run-down town near Kiev: “Our school was in a catastrophic state. So the toilets were far outside the building. Even with minus 20 degrees in winter we small children had to go outside and across the parking lot whenever we had to. In 1984 Ukraine was still completely cut off from the world. It was a very special experience to grow up there. "

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  • When Koum was 16 years old, his mother decided that it might be better to emigrate to the United States. She just wanted to get out of the post-communist chaos in Ukraine. Her first stop was a small apartment in Mountain View, California. There mother and son lived on welfare and food stamps.

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  • In high school, Koum devoured anything to do with computers. He got hold of all kinds of textbooks to sell immediately after reading them.

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  • Koum just barely graduated from high school. He then enrolled at San Jose State University and began working at Ernst & Young as a tester of security systems. Koum would rather forget one story from his biography today: the injunction of his ex-girlfriend. "I really wasn't very nice to her back then when we split up," Koum once admitted to Bloomberg. “Today I am ashamed of the way I behaved and caused them to take legal action against me. I'm extremely sorry for all of this now. "

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  • It was then that he met Brian Acton, who worked at Yahoo. In 1997 he got Koum a job there. The 21-year-old was supposed to study for another two weeks. Then his mentor, Yahoo co-founder David Filo, called because there was a serious server problem: “Where the hell are you?” He is said to have yelled over the phone. “I'm in the lecture,” Koums replied, embarrassed. "Get your bum over here right now!" Was the order. Kaoum obeyed and gave up his studies.

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  • When he worked at Yahoo, he joined an exclusive group of hackers called "w00w00" which was known to track down security vulnerabilities. At the time, Napster founder Shawn Fanning and other well-known greats from the childhood days of the Internet were part of the party. When a Canadian teenager threatened to paralyze the Yahoo service with his hacker attack, he asked his friends “w00w00” for advice.

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  • Koum stayed with Yahoo for nine years and was ultimately responsible for the entire technical infrastructure. But in 2007 he and Acton got fed up, packed their bags, toured extensively through Latin America and indulged in their favorite hobby: playing Frisbee.

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  • Upon their return, Acton and Koum applied for a job on Facebook. Irony of history - both were rejected. Without a job and with a lot of free time, Koum thought about what he should do now and came up with the idea of ​​developing a program that would enable users to continuously update their status on their smartphones. This gave rise to the WhatsApp company, which was officially launched on Koum's birthday, February 24, 2009. During the following summer he and Acton developed the whole thing very successfully into an app for sending messages.

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  • And that's how it all began: WhatsApp's first office was a few square feet of rented space in a converted department store that was shared with Evernote. All employees had to bring their own blankets because it was quite cool and drafty in them. Acton and Koum followed the Yahoo philosophy: Advertising is annoying!

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  • User privacy was also important to the company. “We want to know as little as possible about you,” says Koum: “We don't need your name or your gender ... Our system is designed in such a way that anonymity is possible. Because we are not dependent on advertising revenue, we do not need any personal data. "

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  • That caught on and WhatsApp became popular. 2012 also noticed Mark Zuckerberg, who called Koum and wanted to meet with him. They both had a coffee together and sometimes went on tour together, but a deal has not yet been concluded.

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  • But the line between Koum and Zuckerberg remained intact.

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  • In February 2014 the time had come. Zuckerberg invited Koum to dinner and put an offer on the table. He thought about it for a few days and then paid the Facebook founder a spontaneous return visit. He burst into Zuckerberg's romantic Valentine's Day dinner with his wife Priscilla, of all places. At dessert with strawberries and chocolate, the deal came about.

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  • The evening before the contract was signed, Koum stayed up late to check every detail with his team. On the drive home the accident happened that almost cost him his life: at 2:30 a.m. the tires burst at high speed.

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  • The next day Koum signed the contract anyway. Almost symbolically, he used the door of the social welfare office, which was once responsible for him and his mother, as a writing pad. By the way, this was only a few streets away from the WhatsApp headquarters in Mountain View.

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  • And in February 2014, Koum's shares in WhatsApp were worth $ 6.8 billion.

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  • Koum became a member of the board of directors of Facebook. For an annual salary of just one dollar - but stock options worth almost two billion dollars (1.9 billion euros).

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  • After the Facebook deal, the WhatsApp team had a blast and headed boxes of Cristal champagne. Igor Solomennikov, WhatsApp employee from the very beginning, posted photos of it on Instagram - only to delete them later, because the bottle price was 200 dollars (189 euros).

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  • A few days after signing the contract, Koum and WhatsApp co-founder Brian Acton jetted to Barcelona for the annual Mobile World Congress, where they met Xavier Trias, the mayor of Barcelona, ​​among others.

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  • The WhatsApp bosses also made a real party in Barcelona. Koum celebrated the deal and his 38th birthday with a huge party at the hip Boujis nightclub.

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  • Koum is the proud owner of a Porsche that he already had before the deal with Facebook - but he continues to see himself more as a developer of great products than as an entrepreneur.

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  • A few months after the deal, Koum also showed his social side and donated 556 million dollars (523 billion euros) to the Silicon Valley Community Foundation. Koum also made a billion dollars (940 million euros) for a foundation that developed the open source operating system FreeBSD. “After all, it was FreeBSD that helped me escape poverty,” he said. "And one of the reasons I got started at Yahoo was because they were using this operating system that I was so good at."

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  • When Facebook took over WhatsApp in 2014 for a whopping 19 billion dollars (17.9 billion euros), the app had around 450 million active users per month. Today there are 900 million. For Koum, this is far from the end of the flagpole: "We are only satisfied when everyone in the world has the opportunity to communicate reliably and cheaply with their friends or family around the world."

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