If you missed it, Whatsapp was purchased by Facebook yesterday for $19 billion ($16 billion now plus $3 billion in stock to keep the employees around). Whatsapp had 33 engineers serving 450 million active users. That’s amazing and shows what the Internet has done to the structure of businesses. If you aren’t familiar — and I’m amazed at how many industry people admitted as much yesterday — Whatsapp is a mobile messaging service. (I have not used it but am familiar with the company.)
There are some great articles on the acquisition. I’m not interested in recounting those so here they are:
- Jim Goetz, Sequoia Capitol, recapping the investment by focusing on four numbers
- Benedict Evans discussing that the winner-take-all mentality of social on the desktop does not appear to be the case in mobile
- Michael Arrington on failure before success
- Om Malik on rational decisions that appear irrational
- bedhead, HackerNews, in his second paragraph discussing wealth inequality
What I am interested in is how the history of each of these two founders shaped the way they created and presented their service. Whatsapp does not store any data on their servers. Once the message is delivered to your phone, it is deleted from the server. Authentication is with a phone number, which means no login or password even. And the service is free the first year and a dollar per year after that. (Absolutely amazing if they figured out how to be profitable at that amount.)
Each of these are grounded in the founder’s personal stories. Jan Koum and Brian Acton both were laid off by Yahoo previously. Both hated ads and decided to go with a very inexpensive subscription, rejecting the standard way (ads) most of these messaging services made money. Jan was born and raised in a communist country. He is fearful of spying and oversight and thus made sure that they didn’t keep any information around. They rarely drew attention to themselves, apparently on purpose, letting their app speak for them instead.
These stories rarely ever get told — our personal narratives and how they are interwoven into the companies we found. It is amazing to see Jan’s and Brian’s stories so boldly displayed for the world with this acquisition. For whatever reason this acquisition feels less like the normal, faceless big dollar acquisitions we so often hear about.
Instead I felt like I got a sense for the people behind the company. I smiled at their success.