Jan Koum

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Jan Koum
Ян Кум
Koum in April 2013
Yan Borysovych Kum

(1976-02-24) February 24, 1976 (age 47)
Years active1994–present

Jan Koum (Ukrainian: Ян Кум; born Yan Borysovych Kum, Ukrainian: Ян Борисович Кум, on February 24, 1976) is a Ukrainian-American billionaire businessman and computer programmer. He is the co-founder and former CEO of WhatsApp, a mobile messaging app which was acquired by Facebook in 2014 for US$19.3 billion. According to Forbes, he has an estimated net worth of US$15.2 billion as of October 2023, making him one of the richest people in the world.[1] Koum was ranked 44th on the Forbes' list of richest Americans in 2023 with a net worth of $15.1 billion. [2]

Early life[edit]

Yan Borysovych Koum was born in Kyiv, then in the Ukrainian SSR, on February 24, 1976 into a Jewish family.[3] He grew up in Fastiv. In 1992, at the age of 16, he moved with his mother and grandmother to Mountain View, California.[4] A social support program helped the family get a small two-bedroom apartment there.[5] His father had intended to join the family later, but he never left Ukraine[6] and died in 1997.[5] Koum and his mother remained in touch with his father until his death.[7] At first, his mother worked as a babysitter while he worked as a cleaner at a grocery store. His mother died in 2000 after a long battle with cancer.[3]


By the age of 18, Koum had become interested in computer programming. He enrolled at San Jose State University and simultaneously worked at Ernst & Young as a security tester.[5] He also joined w00w00, a computer security think tank started in 1996, where he met future Napster creators Shawn Fanning and Jordan Ritter.[5][8]

In 1997, Koum met Brian Acton while working at Ernst & Young.[5] Later that year, he was hired by Yahoo! as an infrastructure engineer. He quit school shortly thereafter.[5] Over the next nine years, Koum and Acton worked at Yahoo! together. In September 2007, they left and took a year off, traveling around South America and playing ultimate frisbee. Both applied to work at Facebook but were rejected.[5]

In January 2009, Koum bought an iPhone and realized that the then seven-month-old App Store was about to spawn a whole new industry of apps. He visited his friend Alex Fishman, and they talked for hours about Koum's idea for an app.[5] Koum almost immediately chose the name WhatsApp because it sounded like "what's up". A week later, on his 33rd birthday, he incorporated WhatsApp Inc. in California.[5]

WhatsApp was initially unpopular, but its fortunes began to turn after Apple added push notification ability to apps in June 2009. Koum changed WhatsApp to "ping" users when they received a message, and soon afterward he and Fishman's Russian friends in the area began to use WhatsApp as a messaging tool, in place of SMS.[5] The app gained a large user base, and Koum convinced Acton, then unemployed, to join the company. Koum granted Acton co-founder status after Acton managed to bring in $250,000 in seed funding.[5]

On February 9, 2014, Zuckerberg asked Koum to have dinner at his home, and formally proposed Koum a deal to join the Facebook board. Ten days later Facebook announced that it was acquiring WhatsApp for US$19 billion.[9][10][11][12][13] Over the first half of 2016, Koum sold more than $2.4 billion worth of Facebook stock, which was about half of his total holdings.[14]

In April 2018, Koum announced that he was leaving WhatsApp and stepping down from Facebook's board of directors due to disputes with Facebook.[15] It was originally thought that by leaving he was forfeiting his unvested stock, worth almost $1 billion.[16] However, several months later it was discovered that he was still formally employed by Facebook, earning a reported $450 million in stock from the company through a method called "rest and vest".[17][18]


In 2014, Koum donated $1 million to The FreeBSD Foundation and close to $556 million to the Silicon Valley Community Foundation (SVCF).[19] In 2016, The FreeBSD Foundation received another $500,000;[20] further donations from the Koum Family Foundation included $750,000 in 2018[21] and $500,000 in 2019.[22]

To support relief efforts during the 2022 Russian-Ukraine war, Koum donated $17 million to the European Jewish Association and $10.6 million to the Federation of Jewish Communities of the CIS.[23]

Known for his conservative political views, Koum has made donations to right-wing Israeli causes: $600,000 to the Maccabee Task Force, $6 million to Friends of Ir David, and $175,000 to Central Fund of Israel.[23] In 2022, he donated $2 million to AIPAC during the Democratic Party primaries.[24] Koum has also donated to two universities: $1 million to Fordham and $41 million to Stanford.[23] Around 2024, he donated $250,000 to a committee supporting the candidacy of Daniel Lurie for mayor of San Francisco.[25]

Personal life[edit]

Koum is Jewish.[26] He dislikes being called an entrepreneur and once tweeted, "Next person to call me an entrepreneur is getting punched in the face by my bodyguard." He feels that he is not an entrepreneur because entrepreneurs are motivated by the desire to make money, whereas he has said that he only wants to build useful products.[27]

In February 1996, a restraining order was granted against Koum in state court in San Jose, California. An ex-girlfriend detailed incidents in which she said Koum verbally and physically threatened her. In October 2014, Koum said about the restraining order, "I am ashamed of the way I acted and ashamed that my behavior forced her to take legal action".[28]


  1. ^ "Forbes profile: Jan Koum". Forbes. Retrieved May 20, 2022.
  2. ^ "Forbes 400 2023 profile: Jan Koum". Forbes. October 2023. Retrieved October 9, 2023.
  3. ^ a b Elia-Shalev, Asaf (June 15, 2022). "WhatsApp's reclusive founder has quietly become a megadonor to Jewish causes". Jewish Telegraphic Agency. Retrieved December 15, 2023.
  4. ^ Rowan, David (February 19, 2014). "WhatsApp: The inside story (Wired UK)". Wired UK. Wired.co.uk. Retrieved February 20, 2014.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Parmy Olson (February 19, 2014). "Exclusive: The Rags-To-Riches Tale Of How Jan Koum Built WhatsApp Into Facebook's New $19 Billion Baby". Forbes. Retrieved February 20, 2014..
  6. ^ WhatsApp: Jan Koum – The Story Of A Man Who Kept It Simple, Jewish Business News, Feb 20th, 2014
  7. ^ Olson, Parmy. "Exclusive: The Rags-To-Riches Tale Of How Jan Koum Built WhatsApp Into Facebook's New $19 Billion Baby". Forbes. Retrieved August 10, 2018.
  8. ^ "January Kum: communist Ukraine to 19 billion Whatsapp | Network 2". June 15, 2014. Archived from the original on June 15, 2014. Retrieved September 28, 2017.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: bot: original URL status unknown (link)
  9. ^ Olson, Parmy (February 24, 2009). "Exclusive: The Rags-To-Riches Tale Of How Jan Koum Built WhatsApp Into Facebook's New $19 Billion Baby". Forbes. Retrieved February 20, 2014.
  10. ^ "Facebook acquires WhatsApp in massive deal worth $19 billion - ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)". Abc.net.au. February 20, 2014. Retrieved February 20, 2014.
  11. ^ "WhatsApp Founders Are Low Key — And Now Very Rich". Mashable.com. October 26, 2013. Retrieved February 20, 2014.
  12. ^ "WhatsApp's Founder Goes From Food Stamps to Billionaire". Bloomberg.com. Bloomberg News. February 20, 2014. Retrieved February 20, 2014.
  13. ^ Wood, Zoe (February 20, 2014). "Facebook turned down WhatsApp co-founder Brian Acton for job in 2009". The Guardian. Retrieved February 21, 2014.
  14. ^ "Jan Koum Insider Trading Overview". www.insidermole.com. Retrieved September 28, 2017.
  15. ^ Dwoskin, Elizabeth (April 30, 2018). "WhatsApp founder plans to leave after broad clashes with parent Facebook". Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved April 30, 2018.
  16. ^ "Next change for Facebook: New board director, executives reshuffled". The Mercury News. May 8, 2018. Retrieved May 9, 2018.
  17. ^ Salinas, Sara (August 15, 2018). "The WhatsApp founder who left Facebook is still employed, in an apparent move to vest stock". CNBC. Retrieved August 16, 2018.
  18. ^ Leswing, Kif (August 15, 2018). "The billionaire cofounder of WhatsApp is 'resting and vesting' — showing up to Facebook and barely working to collect a $450 million payday". Business Insider Singapore. Archived from the original on January 2, 2020. Retrieved August 16, 2018.
  19. ^ "No. 4: Jan Koum - Philanthropy". Philanthropy.com. February 8, 2015.
  20. ^ "Foundation Announces New Uranium Donor". FreeBSD Foundation. December 2016.
  21. ^ "KOUM FAMILY FOUNDATION - Full Filing- Nonprofit Explorer". ProPublica. May 9, 2013. p. 11. Archived from the original on November 25, 2022. Retrieved November 25, 2022.
  22. ^ "Koum Family Foundation - Full Filing- Nonprofit Explorer". ProPublica. May 9, 2013. p. 11. Archived from the original on November 25, 2022. Retrieved November 25, 2022.
  23. ^ a b c Shalev, Asaf (June 16, 2022). "WhatsApp's reclusive founder has quietly become a megadonor to Jewish causes". YNet. Archived from the original on November 29, 2023.
  24. ^ "WhatsApp founder Jan Koum donates record $2 million to AIPAC's campaign efforts". The Times of Israel.
  25. ^ Koehn, Josh (January 30, 2024). "Mom Drops $1M to Help Lurie Win San Francisco Mayor's Race". The San Francisco Standard. Retrieved February 1, 2024.
  26. ^ "WhatsApp Founder Jan Koum's Jewish Rags-to-Riches Tale". The Jewish Daily Forward. Reuters. February 20, 2014. Retrieved March 1, 2014.
  27. ^ "Why WhatsApp's Founder Hates Being Called An Entrepreneur". Business Insider. Retrieved July 22, 2016.
  28. ^ De Jong, David (October 20, 2014). "Facebook's Jan Koum Apologizes for Past Restraining Order". Bloomberg.

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