| SAN FRANCISCO
SAN FRANCISCO Feb 19 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.
Founder and Chief Executive Officer Jan 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,
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.
Unlike companies such as Google and Facebook, which
try to learn as much as possible about each user, WhatsApp does
not collect personal information such as name, gender, or age,
Goetz wrote in a blog post, and messages are deleted from
servers once delivered.
"It's a decidedly contrarian approach shaped by Jan's
experience growing up in a communist country with a secret
police," Goetz wrote. "Jan's childhood made him appreciate
communication that was not bugged or taped."
Similarly, Brin's early childhood in Russia contributed to
its "Don't Be Evil" motto.
Koum's view was evident in a tweet he wrote last year about
Iran and Turkmenistan blocking WhatsApp.
"When government gets in the way, consumers and freedom to
communicate suffers," he wrote.
He also 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."
WhatsApp charges 99 cents a year, and that bargain-basement
approach extends to the WhatsApp's original office, according to
Yoav Leitersdorf of YL Ventures, who visited in 2010 in an
attempt to invest in the young company. He's still impressed by
both the founders and what he saw.
"It was like a car dealership with no cars inside and hardly
any furniture at all for that matter," Leitersdorf recalled. "I
remember parking my car and walking around the building for
about five minutes or more, looking for the office door." The
office contained a handful of desks atop a stained wall-to-wall
carpet, he said.
At the time, Koum mentioned that many of the engineers
worked remotely; today he provides recommendations for some on
his LinkedIn page.
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
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."