Business and Finance

How WhatsApp founder went from struggling immigrant to co-founder of $19bn messaging service

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Over 450million active users per month

70 per cent of users active on any given day

Messaging volume approaching the entire global telecom SMS volume

Service adds more than 1 million new registered users per day

600million photos uploaded each day

200million voice messages sent each day

The creator of instant messaging service WhatsApp can now comfortably call himself a billionaire, but his new wealth is far from his humble beginnings as a teenage immigrant on food stamps.Jan Koum, 37, co-founded WhatsApp in 2009, and five years later, after signing a $19billion deal with Facebook he is now estimated to now be worth about $6.8 billion.

Koum, who is a ‘long time’-friend of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, was just 16 when he moved to the U.S. from Ukraine.

As a young immigrant, Koum and his mother had to rely on food stamps, and in a poignant tribute to his humble past, he chose to sign the deal with Facebook at the same welfare office in Mountain View where he used to queue to get food stamps.

The offices for WhatsApp, an instant messaging service with 450million active users which Koum created with Brian Acton in 2009, are located only a few blocks from the welfare office.

On Wednesday, Acton and Koum stood outside the welfare building as they signed the deal with Facebook, only this time Koum was able to drive there in his Porsche.

His humble beginnings appear to have instilled in him a strong work ethic and dislike for egotism – WhatsApp may be a global phenomenon but it has no sign at its office.

‘I can’t see a reason for there being a sign. It’s an ego boost,’ he told Forbes. ‘We all know where we work.’

Koum and Acton developed WhatsApp in coffee shops and at their homes. It took just a few years for the app to be worth billions of dollars.

Facebook has paid $12 billion in stock and $4 billion in cash for WhatsApp, and the founders and employees will be granted $3 billion in restricted stock that will vest over four years after the $19 billion deal closes.

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