Leadership

How WhatsApp founder Jan Koum went from welfare to billionaire

Whatsapp CEO Jan Koum
David Ramos | Getty Images
Whatsapp CEO Jan Koum

Roughly one in seven people on earth have Jan Koum, and his company WhatsApp, to thank for their ability to call and text their friends and family free of charge.

Over one billion people use the free mobile messaging app worldwide; it is particularly popular across Europe, South America and Africa. To put the WhatsApp's monumental success into context, Twitter only has 313 million monthly active users.

Yet perhaps even more impressive than WhatsApp's popularity is the success of WhatsApp's CEO and co-founder Jan Koum, as detailed in this infographic, created by Funders and Founders designer Anna Vital.

Koum was born in Kiev in the Ukraine, and when he was 16, he and his mother immigrated, leaving his father behind, in the hopes of finding a better life. They moved to Mountain View, Calif., where a government subsidy helped them get food stamps and an apartment. To help make ends meet, Koum worked as a janitor and his mother babysat.

The young man worked his way through college but ended up, like many famous entrepreneurs, quitting. He taught himself programming and eventually landed a job at Yahoo. When Koum became disenchanted, he quit and traveled the world in search of inspiration.

Then Apple's app store launched in 2009 and Koum saw a golden opportunity. He poured his time, effort and resources into building what would become WhatsApp.

In 2014, Koum and co-founder Brian Acton, another former Yahoo employee, sold WhatsApp to Facebook in a deal worth $19 billion. Today Koum is worth $9.3 billion.