WhatsApp grew up in Silicon Valley, but its founder's background in Eastern Europe gave it its DNA. The messaging company bought by Facebook for $19 billion in a deal announced on Wednesday has become a global force, with 450 million customers who find it an easy way to send messages across
borders and between different brands of mobile devices. Here are five things you need to know about founder and chief executive officer Jan Koum.
1) His early years
Koum, 37, grew up mostly in the Ukraine, and moved to Mountain View, California, as a teenager, an immigrant path reminiscent of other Silicon Valley successes such as Max Levchin, the Ukrainian-born co-founder of Paypal, and Google's Russian-born co-founder, Sergey Brin.
2) College dropout like Gates, Zuckerberg
Like technology titans Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg, Koum dropped out of college, but in his case, it was San Jose State rather than Harvard. Koum's eastern European background was key to WhatsApp's creation, according to Jim Goetz, the partner at Sequoia Capital who backed the company.
3) Against government interference and ads
The WhatsApp founder has expressed displeasure over government interference and advertisements in the past. He wrote in a tweet about Iran and Turkmenistan blocking WhatsApp last year: "When government gets in the way, consumers and freedom to communicate suffers." He sees advertising as an imposition. "When advertising is involved, you the user are the product," Koum wrote in a 2012 blog post, disparaging the effort other companies make to collect personal data. That same year, he quoted singer Kanye West in a tweet, writing, "You think you free but you a slave to the funds, baby."
4) Close to his roots
Last month, as the crisis in his home country of Ukraine escalated, Koum posted photos of revolutionaries and tweeted "praying for peace and quick resolution to the crisis #ukraine #freedom." He also has given a shout-out or two to his adopted country. "WhatsApp Messenger," he tweeted last year. "Made in USA. Land of the free and the home of the brave."
5) How he met Zuckerberg
Facebook and WhatsApp have held informal talks for two years, but the deal came together quickly. In the spring of 2012, Mark Zuckerberg first reached out to Koum. The two met at a coffee shop in Los Altos, California, and spoke for an hour, then took a walk for another hour and a half. Later that year, they began a series of dinners and continued to discuss messaging and communication services during meals and walks in the hills above Silicon Valley.
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