Congrats to Jan and Brian: From Zero to $19 Billion in Five Years

A couple of ultimate-Frisbee friends from my days at Yahoo!, Jan Koum and Brian Acton, went on to make a little messaging app with the silly name WhatsApp that I've been running on my phone for a few years. It's quite convenient for communicating with friends while on the go.

It's much nicer than the traditional SMS phone messaging. Frictionless messaging. That's why 320 million people actually use it every day. I last used it an hour ago to chat with my brother.

Anyway, I just found out that these friends sold their little messaging app to Facebook for $19,000,000,000.

I'm so thrilled for them.

It's particularly sweet for Brian because early on while he was helping Jan on his app, Brian applied for a job at Facebook. He was turned down:

So he went full-in with Jan on WhatsApp. Quite the adventure, indeed!

By the way, the WhatsApp name comes from their original idea for their app... when I first started testing it for them in early 2009, its intent was merely a current-status tool, so your friends could see what you were doing at the moment (At the gym, in a meeting; don't bother me, etc.). I tried to be helpful in testing, but practically speaking I didn't think it would be useful; who's going to go to the trouble to keep the status updated all the time on the off chance that a friend will find the information useful?

I'm glad that they moved the focus to messaging.

Congrats to Jan, Brian, and their small team! Unlike winning the lottery, this was earned, building something from scratch that creates real value for others. WhatsApp spawned a slew of copycats (the most popular being LINE, which appeals to the early-teen crowd, and Facebook's own Messenger), but WhatsApp remains the Gold Standard for mobile messaging. Simple. Clean. Fast. No ads. cross-platform. A dollar a year.

Finally, a little tidbit about Jan from the early days at Yahoo!  Jan used to be the most hated person at Yahoo! among the engineers, because when he joined as the first person with a clue about Internet security, he forced us all to start using secure tools for communicating among our back-end machines. We had been used to an easy free (but decidedly insecure) world, and Jan's changes were inconvenient and disruptive. We all hated him for it. Of course, he was absolutely right, and over time he earned the respect he was due.

All 4 comments so far, oldest first...

I must be the 1000th person to say this, but it’s quite ironic that you decided to highlight his security focus when WhatsApp is so hopelessly insecure.

— comment by Anonymous on February 20th, 2014 at 4:36pm JST (3 years ago) comment permalink

Inspiring results! I’d better go back to working on my startup now 😀

— comment by Damien on February 20th, 2014 at 7:07pm JST (3 years ago) comment permalink

I actually started using WhatsApp a few years ago when the large Japan earthquake happened and you mentioned how useful it was. To this day my husband and I use it to text our friends in Brazil! I never realized you were friends with the creators. Small world. I’m so happy for them!

— comment by Melissa on February 20th, 2014 at 10:32pm JST (3 years ago) comment permalink

Whatsapp is indeed great for emergencies, because it uses a different part of cellular bandwidth than Apple’s built-in messaging program. I’m not sure how it works, but even if there is no bandwidth for voice calls (like after the Japan earthquake), Whatsapp will still work while iMessage will not.

I’ve heard it’s insecure, but who cares? What kind of a moron would send credit-card numbers or secret plans over a messaging app?

— comment by Zak on February 22nd, 2014 at 8:27pm JST (3 years ago) comment permalink
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