WhatsApp: unlikely duo behind $19bn sale

They’re both over 30 years of age, shun publicity, hate advertising and don’t like being called entrepreneurs

Fri, Feb 21, 2014, 01:15

Ukraine’s secret police “made him appreciate communication that was not bugged or taped”, noted Sequoia in a blogpost on Wednesday. WhatsApp does not collect any of the personal or demographic information that Facebook, Google and their rivals use to target advertisements.

But in spite of its political and economic difficulties, Koum remembers his childhood as “idealistic”.

“The joy of growing up in an uncluttered lifestyle was really good,” he said in an interview last month at Germany’s DLD conference. “You could focus on things such as education, which was really valuable. Moving to another country, you could see the difference – there was a lot of clutter. You see that clutter coming through in the advertising noise. We wanted to make sure we were an exception to that.”

Refused jobs
His colleague and mentor Acton was also put off advertisements by his experiences working at Yahoo, where the pair first met.

“On the internet, there is a lot of flash and fad,” he told the Financial Times in WhatsApp’s first newspaper interview in 2011. “What we are trying to build here is a long-term persistent sustainability.”

Back in 2009, when social media was the hot trend in Silicon Valley, Acton was refused jobs by both Facebook and Twitter.

“That’s okay. Would have been a long commute,” he tweeted of the Twitter rejection, little knowing that Facebook would make him a billionaire just five years later.

Acton secured seed funding for Koum’s idea of an ultra-simple messaging app for Apple’s recently opened App Store. Now, more than 30 of WhatsApp’s 50-some employees are engineers like its founders – an unusually high ratio of an unusually small staff – and the pair still take more pride in delivering a quick and reliable service than sleek, Apple-like design.

“The simplicity and the utility of our product is really what drives us,” Koum said at DLD, joking that WhatsApp was “clearly not doing that good a job” because it has not yet reached its goal of being on every smartphone in the world.

After promising to keep WhatsApp free from advertisements under its new ownership, this Porsche-driving billionaire might do well to remember the Kanye West lyrics he tweeted back in 2012: “You think you free but you a slave to the funds, baby.” – (Copyright the Financial Times )

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