WhatsApp co-founders Jan Koum (right) and Brian Acton.
WhatsApp co-founders Jan Koum (right) and Brian Acton. Image Credit: File | Signal

Dubai: If there's one app that rules the roost, it's got to be WhatsApp. Its 2 billion active monthly users outrank China’s WeChat at 1.2 billion users, Facebook Messenger at 988 million, and Twitter at 450 million global users.

Two computer programmers, Jan Koum and Brian Acton, launched it in 2009. In 2015, WhatsApp already became the world's most popular messaging application. That was just one year after Facebook bought it. By February 2020, WhatsApp had more than 2 billion users worldwide, a base it has kept till date.

Today, WhatsApp is the most widely-used global mobile messenger app.

Most widely used chat app

WhatsApp users swear by its ease of use, features, and cross-platform compatibility — reasons for its popularity and widespread adoption. More specifically, WhatsApp’s popularity comes down to the following reasons:

Ease of use: It's a user-friendly messaging app that is easy to set up and use, even for people who are not particularly tech-savvy.

Free: WhatsApp allows users to send text messages, voice messages, photos, videos, and documents for free, without incurring charges from mobile carriers.

Encryption: WhatsApp uses end-to-end encryption to protect users' messages and calls from being intercepted or read by anyone except the sender and the recipient.

Compatibility: WhatsApp can be used on a variety of platforms — smartphones, tablets, and desktop computers — making it easy to stay connected with friends and family across different devices.

Groups: WhatsApp allows users to create groups and communicate with multiple people at once, making it easy to stay in touch with groups of friends, family, or colleagues.

Gobal reach: WhatsApp is popular around the world and is available in over 180 countries, making it a convenient and cost-effective way to communicate with people in different parts of the world.

Who is Jan Koum?

Jan Koum, a Ukrainian-American entrepreneur born in Ukraine in 1976, is a computer programmer best known as the co-founder of WhatsApp.

At age 16, his family moved to the United States. He joined San Jose State University but dropped out before completing his degree. Koum then worked as a security tester at Ernst & Young and later joined Yahoo as an infrastructure engineer.

Jan Koum. Founder of Whatsapp
WhatsApp co-founder Jan Koum: When he was 16 years old, he immigrated to the United States with his family and attended San Jose State University but dropped out before completing his degree.

In 2009, Koum co-founded WhatsApp with Brian Acton, and the app quickly gained popularity for its simple and secure messaging capabilities. Koum served as the CEO of WhatsApp.

$ 19 b

Amount paid by Facebook to acquire WhatsApp in 2014

Who is Brian Acton?

Born in Michigan in 1972, Brian Acton is an American computer programmer and entrepreneur, best known as the co-founder of WhatsApp.

In 1994, he received a degree in computer science from Stanford University. After graduation, he worked at a series of tech companies, including Apple, Yahoo, and Adobe.

WhatsApp founder Brian Acton left WhatsApp in 2017 and donated $50 million to fund Signal.
WhatsApp founder Brian Acton left WhatsApp in 2017 and donated $50 million to fund Signal. Image Credit: File

In 2009, Acton co-founded WhatsApp with Jan Koum. Acton served as the executive chairman of WhatsApp after Facebook bought the company in 2014. In 2017, following reported differences with Facebook, Acton left the company to start his own foundation focused on promoting privacy and data protection.

Rejected by Facebook, Twitter
In May 2009, Acton applied for a job at Twitter. He was rejected. That same year, in August, he tried at Facebook; again, his job application was turned down.

“Facebook turned me down. It was a great opportunity to connect with some fantastic people. Looking forward to life’s next adventure,” Acton tweeted on August 3, 2009.

Almost five years later, the start-up founded by Acton and Ukrainian Jan Koum was sold for $19 billion to Facebook.

Why did they sell WhatsApp to Facebook?

Jan Koum and Brian Acton sold WhatsApp to Facebook in 2014 for $19 billion. The sale was one of the biggest tech acquisitions in history.

Both Koum and Acton became billionaires. Koum served as WhatsApp CEO until he resigned from the post in 2018.

The reasons behind the sale have been cited as a combination of financial gain and the opportunity for WhatsApp to scale its user base and technology with the help of Facebook's resources.

In a blog post announcing the acquisition, Koum emphasised that Facebook's commitment to user privacy was a key factor in the decision to sell the company.

Koum always keeps a note from Acton that says “no ads! no games! no gimmicks!”

The purchase of Instagram for $1 billion in 2012 was Facebook’s largest until the WhatsApp deal was consumated, which turned Acton and Koum into billionaires.

What did Facebook do to WhatsApp?

After Facebook acquired WhatsApp for $19 billion in 2014, Facebook has made several changes to WhatsApp:

  • New features were introduced
  • Integrated the app with other Facebook-owned products such as Instagram.
  • Introduced WhatsApp Business
  • End-to-end encryption

One of the most notable changes was the introduction of WhatsApp Business, which allows businesses to communicate with customers through the app.

Facebook has also added end-to-end encryption to WhatsApp, which helps ensure the privacy and security of messages sent through the app.

However, Facebook's integration of WhatsApp with its other products has been controversial, particularly in light of concerns about data privacy and the sharing of user data between platforms.

What co-founders Koum and Acton did next

The two founders reportedly had disagreements with Facebook — especially on how the social media giant wanted to monetise WhatsApp and integrate it with its other products.

Both Koum and Acton have since become vocal critics of Facebook's approach to privacy and data protection.

Koum resigned in 2018 reportedly due to disagreements with Facebook over data privacy and encryption. Koum has since dedicated himself to philanthropy and is known for his advocacy for online privacy and encryption.

For his part, Brian Acton has been a vocal critic of Facebook's approach to privacy and data protection.

In the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, Acton even advocateed for users to delete their Facebook accounts.

Acton has also donated $50 million of his personal money to the Signal Foundation, a non-profit organisation dedicated to creating open-source privacy technology.

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