An unassuming white building in Mountain View, California, entered Silicon Valley folklore on Wednesday as the place where Jan Koum signed a $19 billion deal.
As immigrants from Ukraine, Koum and his mother survived month to month on food stamps from that building, which then housed the
North County Social Services office.
The WhatsApp co-founder returned to that building on Wednesday — in a Porsche — with co-founder Brian Acton to sign papers selling their company to Facebook.
By the time they left the building, Koum's personal worth, based on his reported 45% ownership of the company, had shot to $6.8 billion and Acton's to at least $3 billion.
Koum, 37, moved to California from Kiev, Ukraine, with his mother when he was 16. His mother took up babysitting and Koum swept floor at a local grocery to make ends meet.
School wasn't much fun, and he was soon a known troublemaker. But he had also begun teaching himself computer networking with the help of used manuals from a nearby store.
While enrolled at San Jose State University, Koum began moonlighting with Ernst & Young as a security tester, which in 1997 took him to Yahoo one day, where he met Acton. They bonded.
"Neither of us has an ability to bullshit," Koum told Forbes magazine. He joined Yahoo six months later; and soon dropped out of college, which he didn't like much.
The two became close after Koum's mother died.
They left Yahoo in 2007, travelled around and tried a few things. They even applied at Facebook. Both were rejected. Acton tried at Twitter too, with the same outcome.
Around 2009, Koum started working on an App for iPhone that allowed users to check on the statuses of people in your address book — on call, busy or at the gym.
And you could change your status to let others know too.
Koum named the App WhatsApp immediately, taking off on "what's up?" He incorporated it even before he had written the code for it, a friend of his told Forbes.
Status changes, Koum figured, registered immediately, as instant messages, like a text message going over the net and not through service providers' cellular network, which was billed.
He released WhatsApp 2,0 with a messaging component and was surprised to see it grown immediately to 250,000 users.
Acton came on board, now.
And they were on their way.
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