- This is the story of how one poverty-stricken immigrant built an app used today by 1.5 billion people worldwide.
The man is perched on the keypad typing briskly; from time to time he pauses for three seconds to check each paragraph.
It’s a cold February morning, but he doesn’t mind the snow falling outside his window. He is writing an article on his company’s blog letting the audience know about the latest milestone he and his team achieved. After pushing the publish button, he leans back on his seat, his face beaming with the satisfaction of achieving his dreams. He takes a moment to ponder the befuddling journey he had started out years ago.
He remembers how eight years earlier, he was discussing his idea he had for a new smartphone app with some friends meeting over pizza and drinks. They encouraged him to put his idea into practise so on his birthday that year he set up his company in California, USA. He was unemployed at the time so in the months following he hardly remembers doing anything else but endless hours of back-end coding to get his app running.
As any app in early developing stages, his platform kept crushing or getting stuck. He had almost given up when his long-time friend and university colleague told him to stay the course and keep working on it.
“You’d be an idiot to quit now,” he said. “Give it a few more months.”
His app received a surprising help from the smartphone developer and he made the most of it. He also updated it to meet the needs of its early users. The 2.0 update brought an unexpected increase of 250,000 active users. He looked at the user growth spike in amazement. His app was definitely promising to turn into a full-fledged success. His supporting friend shared his confidence and invested $250,000 in his developing app. He came on board the company as the cofounder.
The man stands up, walks to his window and watches the snow fall. He smiles briefly while comparing the warm winters in California with the especially hard winters he lived through in his birth country.
He spent his childhood in a communist-ruled country going to school in -20 C winter days. Using the bathroom meant strolling to the parking lot because the school didn’t have inside facilities. As he told his friends, he didn’t have to read the 1984 novel because he experienced it first hand.
When the political environment took a turn for the worse and it was increasingly dangerous for their family, they migrated to USA when he was only 16. He moved to freedom together with his mother and grandmother, his father vowing to join them later. Unfortunately, his father fell ill and five years later he died, breaking his promise to his family.
In the USA, his family lived on the brink of poverty. They survived mostly on food stamps while he worked as a cleaner in a grocery store supporting his mother’s income as a babysitter. His mother was soon diagnosed with cancer and passed away within a few years. He recalls the day of her funeral and lets out a deep sigh. His eyes look out the window with sadness. Years of hurt and sorrow ensued. However he managed to find the inner-strength needed to push through the grief and make a life for himself.
He learned English and became interested in programming. That’s the moment that changed his life. He didn’t have a computer until he was 19 and yet he taught himself programming by studying manuals he was buying from the local bookstore. His new-found passion for programming led him to enrol in university.
I want to do one thing and do it well.
Jan Koum via forbes.com
The man in my story is Jan Koum, founder of WhatsApp.
WhatsApp was launched in 2009 and as of 2018 there are 1,5 billion people using the app on a daily basis making it the no 1 messaging app in the world. According to analysts, the giant messaging app is currently worth $50 billion.
And it all started … when education happened.
Jan Koum is a world-changer. The next one could be YOU!
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This is the second article in our Success Stories Series. Read the first story here: