Wassup with WhatsApp's success story

WhatsApp for iPhone (Source - Apple App store)

WhatsApp for iPhone (Source - Apple App store)

Wired released a mini version (with excerpts) of an interview it did with WhatsApp's founder, Jan Koum last year, BEFORE THEY WERE ACQUIRED BY FACEBOOK and there are some really interesting points to note, regarding everything from rags to riches story to business models to acquisitions. First of all WhatsApp is a great success story for its founder in particular as he was literally living on food stamps as a teenage immigrant from Ukraine.  

When he was living on welfare, Jan Koum’s family collected food stamps a couple of blocks from the unmarked Mountain View office that now houses his messaging company, WhatsApp.
— Wired

Some of our personal experiences are what makes us what we are and influence what we deliver. And similar to that growing up in a Communist country with no privacy, even while talking on the phone (Hmmm... this is just a not a problem with Communist governments anymore, is it? cough cough NSA), he had three most important principles (below) before starting WhatsApp from the money he earned from Yahoo. Wow I don't know which one of the three points to appreciate more, all three are super important in this day and age and no wonder with his privacy concerns for his users, he chose iOS than Android (The Verge) to make his App. 

His service would defiantly not carry advertising, an experience satisfyingly absent from his Soviet upbringing; it would not store messages and thus imperil individual citizens’ privacy; and it would maintain a relentless focus on delivering a gimmickless, reliable, friction-free user experience.
— Wired

I use WhatsApp daily to message my family and friends and mostly to message people living abroad and those living local but do not have free messaging service (I pay $5 for SMS from AT&T, sounds ridiculous doesn't it). I think the $1 per year that WhatsApp started charging recently is nothing and as a satisfied user, I would have been willing to pay much more than that for the security, lack of irritating Ads and most importantly a simple working App. Finally on being asked about potential acquisitions, he did say that he is skeptical about being bought by a bigger company and feels that it might be ethically wrong towards his customer base. I am really curious, so as to what changed his mind now with Facebook acquiring his App. But at least thank god it was not Google that acquired WhatsApp!

We worked in a large company and we weren’t that happy. Facebook Google, Apple, Yahoo — there’s a common theme. None of these companies ever sold. By staying independent they were able to build a great company. That’s how we think about it.” Brian Acton adds: “I worry about what [an acquiring] company would do with our population: we’ve made such an important promise to our users — no ads, no gimmicks, no games — that to have someone come along and buy us seems awfully unethical. It goes against my personal integrity
— Jan Koum via Wired