WhatsApp founder Jan Kum: “Honestly, I didn’t even plan to build a company”

    In early 2014, the WhatsApp messenger was sold to Facebook for a record $ 19 billion. The deal went down in the history of the venture capital market. WhatsApp founders Ian Kum and Brian Acton became Facebook shareholders and stayed on WhatsApp.

    Ian Kum told RBC about the reasons for the popularity of WhatsApp in Russia, about the monetization of the messenger, about how Facebook helps him grow his business.

    "Megamind" gives the most interesting statements from the interview .

    About WhatsApp audience in Russia and in the world

    We do not follow the installations, this is absolutely not an important metric. We follow WhatsApp monthly and daily audiences. It seems to me that we never talked about this, but I’ll tell you: in Russia, our monthly audience is more than 25 million users. Russia is one of the most important countries for us. Large, many people have smartphones, many communicate with friends and colleagues abroad, and our product is great for this.

    The last figure that we announced publicly is 900 million users [worldwide]. But we want WhatsApp to stand on every phone, or rather a smartphone, because in the future there will only be smartphones. I don’t know exactly how many smartphones are in the world now - probably about 2-3 billion. And that means that while we are behind our target, we still have a lot of work to do.

    About what changed after the deal with Facebook

    We have full control over product development. Facebook helps in other areas - with finances, lawyers, public relations, recruiting ... When we were independent, we did not have a financial director. The bills just came to us, I or Brian clicked the “pay” button, and that was all. We were a small independent company, so we could afford it. Now we are part of Facebook, a public company, so the requirements are completely different. An employee has come to us from the social network, who is now engaged in finance at WhatsApp, and he reports to the CFO of Facebook.

    About competing with Facebook Messenger

    We have different niches, and these are two completely different products. Facebook Messenger is tied to contacts on Facebook, it works with friends who are on the social network. And WhatsApp works with friends from the phone book. These are two completely different contact lists, and people communicate with them in different ways. WhatsApp is very mobile focused, and Facebook Messenger is focused on working equally well on desktop, mobile and being part of Facebook.

    About WhatsApp Monetization

    I worked for a long time at Yahoo, so I had shares in the company, there were savings that I was comfortable living on. This gave me the opportunity to not worry about whether WhatsApp could bring me money tomorrow or not. I had a plan to work on WhatsApp for a year and see what came of it.

    When we built the product, and people started using it, we realized that we have a chance to work on it further. We received venture capital investments from Sequoia and realized that we should not worry about personal financial benefits.

    We do not have a task to make money. The Facebook deal allowed us to focus our resources on making us grow and make our product better. In the near future, we do not plan to focus on monetization.

    About the reasons for the success of WhatsApp in Russia

    Yes, we were one of the first, and it helped. But, firstly, we did one unique thing - we built a messenger that simply uses your contacts from the phone book. ICQ, for example, gave you a seven-digit number that you had to remember, write down on a piece of paper, share with friends: this is not very user friendly, to say the least. In Skype, you need to get a username that you need to give to a friend accordingly, get a username from him, add each other ... The same thing with Yahoo messenger and others. They were all not very comfortable.

    Secondly, when using instant messengers that were before us, a person does not know whether his message will reach, because Skype and the computer can be turned off. Finally, we have helped people save a lot of money on SMS and MMS.

    On the role of the head of the company

    Of course, I like the fact that I'm working on a product that I love, along with people I adore. But on the other hand, I very often have to resolve issues that I’m not very interested in, for example, issues with the building - when we move, where and how it will look. Permanent recruiting - who we hire, when, which budget is allocated.

    Business grew out of my hobby, which happened unnoticed by me. Honestly, I didn’t even plan to build a company, but wanted to make a product. But he turned out to be the man who stands at the head of the company.

    About "millionaires without a diploma"

    I was bored at the university, and when I got the chance to work at Yahoo, to earn enough money for a 21-year-old emigrant from Russia, I seized on this opportunity. In addition, I liked the work, the company, my colleagues. We still communicate with them, although more than 15 years have passed. Of course, it’s a shame that I didn’t graduate from the university, but the result of my career is not so bad as to be sad about it.

    It seems to me that having a university education is always useful and necessary. People often get hung up on this - they say that Bill Gates or Steve Jobs did not graduate from the university, which means they do not need to. But one can give one hundred thousand other examples for these two examples: when a person graduated from university and became successful. University education is a key building block, the foundation that all people need. If I or another person was lucky without him, then these are isolated examples, and not a standard.

    About his idols in the technology business

    I really like what Yuri Milner does - all his initiatives on science, on the development of research and innovation. He really does not do this to make money.

    He has an award for achievements in science, including mathematics: Breakthrough Prize, which he does every year.

    About dream

    The dream is quite simple - for people to use WhatsApp in ten and 20 years. That it was such a standard in the communication of people.

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