Jan Koum

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Jan Koum
Tumblr inline n19k9vpY8G1qzzumw (cropped).jpg
Jan Koum (left) with Brian Acton
Native name Ян Кум
Born (1976-02-24) February 24, 1976 (age 42)
Kiev, Ukrainian SSR, Soviet Union
Residence Santa Clara, California, United States
Citizenship American
Alma mater San Jose State University (dropped out)
Occupation ex CEO of WhatsApp & Managing Director in Facebook, Inc.
Years active 2009 - 2018
Organization WhatsApp Inc.
Known for Co-founded WhatsApp
Home town Fastiv
Net worth Decrease US$9.1 billion (Feb 2018)[1]

Jan Koum (Russian: Ян Кум, Ukrainian: Ян Кум; born February 24, 1976) is a Ukrainian American entrepreneur and computer programmer. He is the co-founder and was the CEO of WhatsApp, a mobile messaging application which was acquired by Facebook Inc. in February 2014 for US$19.3 billion.

In 2014, he entered the Forbes list of the 400 richest Americans at position 62, with an estimated worth of more than $7.5 billion. He was the highest-ranked newcomer to the list that year.[2]

Early life and career[edit]

Koum was born in Kiev, Soviet Union. He is of Jewish origin.[3] He grew up in Fastiv, outside Kiev, and moved with his mother and grandmother to Mountain View, California in 1992,[4] where a social support program helped the family to get a small two-bedroom apartment,[5] at the age of 16. His father had intended to join the family later, but he never left Ukraine,[6] and died in 1997.[5] At first Koum's mother worked as a babysitter, while he himself worked as a cleaner at a grocery store.

By the age of 18 Koum became interested in programming. He enrolled at San Jose State University and simultaneously worked at Ernst & Young as a security tester.[5] He also joined a group of hackers that began in 1996 called w00w00, where he met[5][7] the future founders of Napster, Shawn Fanning and Jordan Ritter.

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".[8]

In 1997, Koum met Brian Acton while working at Ernst & Young as a security tester.[5]


Later in 1997, Koum was hired by Yahoo as an infrastructure engineer. He quit school shortly thereafter.[5] Over the next nine years, Koum and Acton worked there together. In September 2007 they both left Yahoo and took a year off, traveling around South America and playing ultimate frisbee. Both applied to work at Facebook, and both were rejected.[5]

WhatsApp and Facebook[edit]

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 the two talked for hours about Koum's idea for an app over tea at Fishman's kitchen counter.[5] Koum almost immediately chose the name WhatsApp because it sounded like "what's up", and a week later on his birthday, February 24, 2009, 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 afterwards 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, who was then still unemployed, to join the company. Koum granted Acton co-founder status after Acton managed to bring in $250,000 in seed funding.[5]

WhatsApp kept growing in popularity, which caught Facebook's attention. Facebook's founder Mark Zuckerberg first contacted Koum in spring 2012. The two began meeting at a coffee shop in Los Altos, California, then began a series of dinners and walks in the hills above Silicon Valley.[9]

On February 9, 2014 Zuckerberg asked Koum to have dinner at his home, and formally proposed Koum a deal to join the Facebook board. 10 days later Facebook announced that it was acquiring WhatsApp for US$19 billion.[10][11][12][13][14]

Over the first half of 2016, Koum sold more than $2.4 billion worth of Facebook stock, which was about a half of his total holdings. He is estimated to still own another $2.4 billion in Facebook stock.[15]

On April 30, 2018, Koum announced that he was leaving WhatsApp and stepping down from Facebook's board of directors due to disputes with Facebook,[16] forfeiting unvested stock, worth almost $1 billion.[17]


Koum dislikes being called an entrepreneur, going so far as to post on Twitter in 2012, "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 only wants to build useful products.[18]

In 2017, Koum began posting messages on Facebook in support of U.S. President Donald Trump. In September 2017, he wrote on Facebook, "as somebody who grew up in Soviet Union, Donald Trump couldn't be more right about failures of socialism...".[19]

Charitable actions[edit]

In November 2014, Koum donated one million dollars to The FreeBSD Foundation, and close to $556 million to the Silicon Valley Community Foundation (SVCF) the same year.[20]


  1. ^ "Jan Koum in Forbes". Forbes. Retrieved 2017-09-28. 
  2. ^ Forbes Announces Its 33rd Annual Forbes 400 Ranking Of The Richest Americans; 29 September 2014, Forbes.com, accessed 12 November 2014
  3. ^ "WhatsApp Founder Jan Koum's Jewish Rags-to-Riches Tale". The Jewish Daily Forward. Reuters. 20 February 2014. Retrieved 1 March 2014. 
  4. ^ Rowan, David. "WhatsApp: The inside story (Wired UK)". Wired.co.uk. Retrieved 2014-02-20. 
  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. ^ "January Kum: communist Ukraine to 19 billion Whatsapp | Network 2". 2014-06-15. Archived from the original on 2014-06-15. Retrieved 2017-09-28. 
  8. ^ De Jong, David (2014-10-20). "Facebook's Jan Koum Apologizes for Past Restraining Order". Bloomberg. 
  9. ^ "The Memories from Rags-to-Riches by Jan Koum". Eyerys. Retrieved May 15, 2015. 
  10. ^ Olson, Parmy (2009-02-24). "Exclusive: The Rags-To-Riches Tale Of How Jan Koum Built WhatsApp Into Facebook's New $19 Billion Baby". Forbes. Retrieved 2014-02-20. 
  11. ^ "Facebook acquires WhatsApp in massive deal worth $19 billion - ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)". Abc.net.au. Retrieved 2014-02-20. 
  12. ^ "WhatsApp Founders Are Low Key — And Now Very Rich". Mashable.com. 2013-10-26. Retrieved 2014-02-20. 
  13. ^ "WhatsApp's Founder Goes From Food Stamps to Billionaire". Bloomberg News. Retrieved February 20, 2014. 
  14. ^ Wood, Zoe (February 20, 2014). "Facebook turned down WhatsApp co-founder Brian Acton for job in 2009". The Guardian. Retrieved 21 February 2014. 
  15. ^ "Jan Koum Insider Trading Overview". www.insidermole.com. Retrieved 2017-09-28. 
  16. ^ Dwoskin, Elizabeth (2018-04-30). "WhatsApp founder plans to leave after broad clashes with parent Facebook". Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved 2018-04-30. 
  17. ^ "Next change for Facebook: New board director, executives reshuffled". The Mercury News. 2018-05-08. Retrieved 2018-05-09. 
  18. ^ "Why WhatsApp's Founder Hates Being Called An Entrepreneur". Retrieved 2016-07-22. 
  19. ^ https://qz.com/1234223/whatsapp-co-founder-jan-koum-uses-facebook-to-share-pro-trump-stories/
  20. ^ "No. 4: Jan Koum - Philanthropy". Philanthropy.com. 8 February 2015. 

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