5 things I have learned from Jan Koum, Founder of WhatsApp

Since Facebook offered $19 billion to buy the startup messaging service WhatsApp, Jan Koum has been a media darling as people everywhere are fascinated by his rags-to-riches story. Here are some takeaway business lessons from his amazing story:

Anything is possible.

Although it is statistically unlikely that any one person who is on food stamps will one day rise to become a multi-millionaire, it is possible. Jan Koum is a living testament to this possibility. The native Ukrainian was on food stamps as a teenager. Now, he is worth $6.8 billion.

The user is king.

That is, you need to be sure that your product is tailored to the user’s desire. Koum said, “We wanted to build a service where user and customer are one,” and because of that he created an app without an ads.

Venture capital is still cool.

For a while it seemed like venture capital was falling out of favor, but WhatsApp reminds us that venture capital is still cool. In fact, WhatsApp is the largest acquisition of a venture-backed company ever.

Passion and focus generate success.

Like many successful start-ups, WhatsApp focused intensely on one thing – consumer experience. That’s because they understood #2 on this list – the user is king.

Marketing isn’t the necessity it once was.

WhatsApp completely eschewed traditional advertising and marketing in building its customer base. Viral is the new form of marketing, and WhatsApp targeted that by creating the best user experience that it coul.

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Rags to riches stories like Jan Koum

Ever since Facebook announced its decision to buy WhatsApp for $19 billion, the rags-to-riches story of its founder has been all over the news.

Howard Schultz. The long-time Starbucks CEO now worth $2 billion dollars says he grew up “on the wrong side of the tracks.” He lived in a housing complex made for poor people and managed to make his way through college by dint of receiving a football scholarship.

Ken Langone. The Home Depot Founder is now worth $2.1 billion, but in order to make it through college at Bucknell, his parents had to mortgage their home.

Oprah Winfrey. Before becoming the first African American TV correspondent in Tennessee at the age of 19, Oprah grew up dirt poor in Mississippi. She’s now worth $2.9 billion.

Shahid Khan. Khan immigrated to the U.S. from Pakistan and started off by washing dishes for $1.20 an hour. Now he owns Flex-N-Gate, one of America’s largest private companies, the Jacksonville Jaguars, and the Premier League soccer club in Fulham. He’s worth $3.8 billion.

John Paul DeJoria. Today, DeJoria is worth $4 billion and owns Patron Tequila. As a youth, though, he was sent to a foster home. He briefly joined a gang before joining the military and afterward he lived out of his car while launching his product line.

Do Won Chang. Chang and his wife Jin Sook launched the clothing line Forever 21 in 1984 and today they are worth $5 billion. When they first moved to the U.S., though, Chang had to work three jobs to pay the bills.

Ralph Lauren. Lauren is now a household name and he’s worth $7.7 billion, but in the 1960’s, he was just a college dropout working a low-paying job at Brooks Brothers.

Leonardo Del Vecchio. Del Vecchio is worth $15.3 billion thanks to his sunglass-making empire. As a youth, though, he got sent to an orphanage because his family was so poor they couldn’t care for him.

Harold Simmons. Simmons was estimated to be worth $40 billion at the time of his death. He made his fortune in purchasing a drugstore chain and later multiplied it by becoming an expert in corporate buy-outs. Growing up, though, he lived in a shack without plumbing or electricity.

Larry Ellison. Ellison is now famous as the founder of Oracle, a software development company. Before founding Oracle and raising his net worth to $41 billion, though, Ellsion

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