Sometimes life gets tough and we feel like we must put aside our dreams to make things work. Many people have struggled throughout life and still found ways to succeed. You should use their stories as inspiration to lead you to achieve all your own hopes and dreams. Sure, everyone has a different situation in life. It’s what makes us unique and special, but also what fuels us to create whatever world we want to live in. It also ensures that the person who is in control of your dreams is you, so make sure you are doing everything you can to achieve them.
The Man Behind the story
The Story Behind the Man: Jan Koum, a Ukrainian American Entrepreneur and Computer Programmer.
Jan Koum was born February 24, 1978 in the small village Fastiv outside of Kiev, Ukraine. His Russian name is Ян Кум. Born to a small Jewish family living in what was at the time the Soviet Union, he was the only child to working-class parents. His mother was a housewife and his father was a construction manager. At the age of 16, he emigrated to California with his mother and grandmother. While in California, they wait for Koum’s father to join them, but he could not. He remained in Kiev until he passed away in 1997.
While in the United States, Koum’s family had to rely on social support programs to stay afloat in their small two-bedroom Mountain View, California apartment. Koum’s mother took up babysitting while he swept a local grocery store to ensure that they were able to pay their bills. Koum’s mother would later be diagnosed with cancer and their family would have to survive off of her disability payments.
Koum found himself learning programming and computer networking in high school – all self-taught by manuals he found at his school. He was also a bit of a troublemaker and, at 18, joined a hacker group called Woowoo. When he graduated high school, Koum enrolled at San Jose University and shadowed a security tester for Ernst & Young. In 1997, he interviewed and got a job at Yahoo as an infrastructure engineer as he continued to take courses at San Jose University. When an incident occurred where Yahoo’s servers crashed, the company’s co-founder David Filo asked Koum where he was when the incident occurred – to which Koum replied that he was at school. From then on, Koum decided to quit school and work full time to ensure there would not be a time where he was not present for such incidents.
Koum, who had already faced tragedy many times in his life, would have to face it again in 2000 when his mother passed away from cancer. Brian action, who also worked at Yahoo, consoled Koum by inviting him out to take his mind off of things. In 2007, Koum and Action would both leave their jobs at Yahoo and take a year off to explore, as well as play ultimate frisbee, in South America. After both men attempted to work for Facebook only to get rejected, Koum began to eat into his life savings from Yahoo – which was around $400,000 at the time. With some of this money, he bought an iPhone and saw all of the apps on the device that were about to start a whole new industry.
Koum got started on an application that would let people know about your current status. He was able to find a Russian iPhone developer, Igor Solomennikov, and immediately named the application WhatsApp. In early 2009, he incorporated WhatsApp Inc. in California. The app didn’t do too well at first. Only a few people, namely friends and family, downloaded it and the application would constantly crash. Once, while playing a game of ultimate frisbee with Action, he admitted to him that he was considering closing up shop. Action quickly called him an idiot and encouraged him to give it more time.
Soon, WhatsApp became an instant messaging service that worked around the world. This was at the same time that Blackberry BBM was popular, but it was a service only available to Blackberry users. Suddenly, the application began to get tons of users. Koum went out and got his old friend Brian action to join in on his growing company. Together, they began working on a more effective messaging service that would allow the transfer of media to become easier than the standard SMS messaging did. The company continued to grow, eventually earning $5,000 a month in 2009. By 2011, WhatsApp went viral and could be found in the Top 20 apps in the United States.
In 2013, WhatsApp had grown drastically to 200 million users worldwide and had a staff of 50 – but there was still room to grow. Koum and Action began to raise money to grow the company and were able to raise $50 million at a $1.5 Billion dollar valuation. All of a sudden, their bank accounts were in the millions and their staff had doubled. Then, in 2014, Koum and Action sold WhatsApp for $19 Million to Facebook. Koum remained on the WhatsApp board of directors until 2016 when a dispute with Facebook led him to decide to leave and forfeit $1 Billion of unvested stock in the company.
Today, Jan Koum is worth $9.5 Billion and is doing well living a more than modest lifestyle. He has lived the American dream several times over with all of his success. It goes to show you that no matter what life throws at you, where there is a will there is a way. Koum went from living in poverty as a child to becoming a billionaire today. If you would like to learn more about Jan Koum, check out his book based on Him and Action called Brian Acton and Jan Koum by Kalyani Mookherji or Try Audible and Get Two Free Audiobooks, and use one of those free audiobooks on the book.