Jan Koum: Revolutionising Communication

February 20, 2024
minutes to read
Alice Surdy
Table of Contents

Jan Koum, a Ukrainian-American tech visionary, embarked on an extraordinary journey from a challenging childhood to co-founding WhatsApp and transforming the communication landscape. In this blog, we go through his incredible story of starting WhatsApp and its subsequent sale to Facebook.

Early Life

Born on 24 February 1976 in Kyiv, Ukraine, Jan Koum grew up in Fastiv in a Jewish family. At 16, he immigrated to Mountain View, California, facing initial struggles with his family in a social support program. Tragically, Jan's father stayed in Ukraine and passed away in 1997, followed by his mother's death in 2000 after battling cancer.

Education and Career Beginnings

At 18, Jan developed an interest in computer programming and enrolled at San Jose State University. Simultaneously, he worked as a security tester at Ernst & Young, where he met future Napster creators. In 1997, Koum joined Yahoo! as an infrastructure engineer after completing Brian Acton at Ernst & Young. Both Koum and Acton took a year off in 2007, travelling and playing ultimate frisbee after leaving Yahoo!

WhatsApp's Genesis

In January 2009, Jan, inspired by the App Store, conceptualised WhatsApp as a simple messaging app. Naming it "WhatsApp" due to its phonetic similarity to "What's up," he incorporated the company in California on his 33rd birthday. WhatsApp's initial struggles transformed after Apple added push notifications in June 2009, boosting its popularity as a messaging alternative.

Acquisition by Facebook

Mark Zuckerberg proposed a deal to Jan Koum at a dinner in February 2014, leading to Facebook's acquisition of WhatsApp for $19 billion. Despite initial rejections at Facebook, Koum convinced Acton to join WhatsApp, making it a massive success with a large user base. In 2016, Koum sold more than $2.4 billion worth of Facebook stock, securing his position as one of the wealthiest individuals globally.

Departure from WhatsApp

In April 2018, Koum left WhatsApp and Facebook's board due to disputes with the company. Despite initial assumptions of forfeiting unvested stock, it was later revealed that Koum remained formally employed, earning through a method known as "rest and vest."


Jan Koum's philanthropic endeavours include substantial donations to The FreeBSD Foundation, the Silicon Valley Community Foundation, and various causes during the 2022 Russian-Ukraine war. His contributions reflect conservative political views, supporting right-wing Israeli causes and contributing to universities like Fordham and Stanford.

Personal Life

Koum, a proud Jew, dislikes being labelled an entrepreneur, emphasising his passion for building valuable products over financial gains. His past includes a restraining order in 1996, prompting Koum to express regret for his behaviour and actions.

Key Takeaways

Jan Koum's journey, marked by innovation, challenges, and philanthropy, is an inspiring narrative. From a challenging start to reshaping communication with WhatsApp, Koum's impact extends beyond technology into social responsibility and charity.

DISCLAIMER: Team Thrive Pty Ltd ABN 15 637 676 496 (Thriday) is an authorised representative (No.1297601) of Regional Australia Bank ABN 21 087 650 360  AFSL 241167 (Regional Australia Bank).  Regional Australia Bank is the issuer of the transaction account and debit card available through Thriday. Any information provided by Thriday is general in nature and does not take into account your personal situation. You should consider whether Thriday is appropriate for you.

Why waste time on financial admin when Thriday can do it for you?

Already have an account? Login here
Thriday Debit Card


Live demo this Thursday at 12:30pm.