Village of Fastiv, Kyiv Ukraine-1992
16 year old Jan had not taken a bath in 2 weeks. How could he? When there was not a drop to drink, how can he afford a wash? The lakes had all dried up and his house did not have a water connection. His country was under the angry glare of Russia for initiating the collapse of USSR. Heart wrecking poverty, cruel economic blockades and rampant corruption had pushed the nation to it’s knees. Jan’s serene, calm rural life was all but in shambles. Jan Koum was from a Jewish family and nobody would give job for a Jew boy. With no bread to fill his stomach and water to quench his thirst, there was only one option left with his life…MIGRATE.
He had decided that he won’t beg in the streets of Kyiv like most of his friends did. Jan’s father sold all his properties for their family to migrate to USA. So Jan along with his 40 year old beautiful mother Jenny and his sick old grandma of god only-knows-how-old flew down to Mountain View California on December 16, 1992. Jan’s Papa was a civil contractor and the army stopped him from flying off. Papa promised he would join them as soon as possible but he never did. With hardly any money left, and with no connections the trio were virtually trapped in a new country with strange people. On top of all this they could not speak English. Their only belongings were a suitcase that had a stack pile of cloths, a bundle of 20 odd Soviet Union school note books and some pen. Jan’s mother wanted her son to study, whatever be the situation. But she was intelligent enough to understand that they did not have enough money to invest in school supplies. Finally a Social Support program helped them find a small two-bedroom apartment. Jan’s mother became a baby sitter in the affluent neighbourhood of Mountain View. Grandma remained in their home, stitching and praying all day. And Jan started working as a cleaner in a nearby grocery store. He enrolled in a local American High-school. Soon he learned English and got attracted to programming. He brought books from used-books store and started learning intently his area of interest i.e. networking. He hated the superficial friendship of American students and missed those deep countryside friendships he had back in Ukraine.
Jan’s passion with programming made him spend almost every penny on used-books in computer programming and networking. He became an active member of “woowoo”, a no profit hacker community and often squirrelled into networks. He even chatted with Sean Fanning, the Napster co-founder. Exactly a year after he landed in US, his grandma died. 5 years into Uncle Sam’s world i.e. in 1997, his father passed away back in Ukraine.
1997-Corporate Office-Ernst & Young, Silicon Valley California
Jan was working in Ernst & Young as a security tester when he first met a no-nonsense guy called Brian Acton. Brian was a serious guy and what more, he was the 44th employee of Yahoo!. But they found a strange connection and started meeting often. Brian, who had a degree in Computer Science motivated Jan to enrol for the same in San Jose State University, California. 6 months from then and still in University, Jan got placed in Yahoo as an infrastructure engineer. Two weeks into his job in Yahoo, Jan was sitting in his classroom when one of Yahoo!’s major servers broke down. David Filo, one of Yahoo co-founders worked with a set of server engineers to resolve the issue, but with hardly any progress. David kept looking for the new recruit, the pick of them all. But Jan was nowhere to be seen.
Jan was sitting completely bored out in his classroom listening to a lecture in Data Structures. That’s when his mobile phone rang. He picked the the call:
“Where the hell are you dude..??” David’s angry voice punched Jan’s eardrum.
“I’m in class David…” he answered discretely.
“What the fuck are you doing sitting in a class… Jan? Get your dirty ass back in the server room…quick!!!”
Anyway Jan had begun to hate the course. The way the curriculum seemed to teach him nothing new. simply seemed to piss him off. He dashed to the server room in his bicycle and resolved the issue in less than 15 minutes. On the very same day, he decided to drop out of college.
In 2000 Jan’s mother died of Cancer and he ran into depression. With no one left in this world, Jan thought a bounty full to commit suicide and leave the bloody world for everything it had thrown at him. But Brian reached out to him. Like a best friend he supported Jan and pulled him out from the deep, dark well of distress.They went skiing, played soccer and played ultimate Frisbee for long hours
Penniless and tired they came back. The first thing they did was apply for a job in Facebook. Both of them failed miserably and were disappointed to land up as entries in FB reject list.
But they did not give up and started Whatsapp.
They had a discreet office in California, just like Jan Koum who liked to maintain a low profile. His vehement distaste for advertisements was quite evident in everything he did.
During the entire negotiation process it is said that Jan Koum kept jotting down points in the good-old Soviet Notebooks his mom had given him.
And rest as they say…is history!!!
As of today WhatsApp has over 800 million active users and with over 10% of the total worldwide users, India is the largest single country in terms of number of users.
On February 19, 2014, the same company (Facebook) that deemed them unfit for a job vacancy, proposed to acquire WhatsApp for a mind blowing 16 Billion$. Jan Koum and Brian Acton choose a very strange place for signing the documents.
The old social service community building that once helped Jan with housing and a job, was chosen for signing the deal. They did not do it in a 7 star hotel, under the flash lights of a 1000 cameras and a global media stage-up.
Jan Koum is today worth a whooping 7.2 Billion US$ (with 45% stake in the company) whereas Brian Acton is worth a staggering 2.7 Billion US $. Even though this is the case, WhatsApp still does not have a sign board in their office premise. Ask them why and they would simply say:
“We all know where we work… A big sign board is nothing more than a ego boost and a show off…” 🙂
Why this story? And you may wonder why this blog?
I felt like telling you the story behind something that has become an integral part of our day-to-day lives. Many still wonder how an Application, which can be downloaded freely and a few Mb in size went on become a $16 Billion procurement phenomenon. I mean, Microsoft procured Nokia for $4 Billion. That is including their technology, hardware and the manufacturing units with the manpower combined. But WhatsApp with just over 55 employees went out for a mind blowing 16 Billion dollars.
At the end of the day it is the idea that matters. It is the vision that counts. It is the philosophy that wins!!!
I will run you through some of the great success stories. And you will realize that none of them were born with silver spoons, instead most of them came from a background far inferior to many of us.
Are we in a better position than any of them? Yes most of us are. Then what stops us? Fear of failure? Insecurity?
We always blame the government, the system and our parents for all our dissatisfactions. We expect the government or our college or our company to tiurn us into overnight millionires. Well that is never gonna happen. Our destiny is solely dependant on one thing and that is our actions. If we dream big and work hard towards it we can definitely be where we want to be.
If you are a teacher and if you want your students to be achievers, motivate them to do things that they love doing. Now do not get me wrong…I’m not talking about toppers, but achievers. They sound similar, but are quite different.
A topper may be one who scores in exams and has his name put on a wooden board for his examination answering skills. But an achiever is the one who has made a mark in his life by doing something different. I’m sure every school has a Toppers List but hardly any Achievers List. If you happen to pass by the Toppers List, just take a few minutes off and look at it. Then I would urge you analyse that list well. How many toppers really achieved something big? Yes most of them would have secured admissions in top colleges, got great jobs with a salaries just a notch higher than the rest and by now 90% of them are not even in this country 🙂
But you will also realize that there are some other students…who always stood outside your classroom. Who hardly came to class on time and never did home works. But who started off a business or became great actor or a singer or a musician. Some one who really touched / changed thousands of lives. They would simply call you up and ask “How are you teacher?”. Now, I call the earlier ones as toppers and the latter ones as achievers.
Stop glorifying toppers…start motivating achievers.
If you are a parent never do the 3 C’s.
Never compel your child to learn skills/subjects that he has no liking or aptitude for. From an early stage of his development the child in itself will send out queues as to what he/she loves doing.
Often parents are the biggest naysayers as far as children are concerned. If you are a parent or a teacher, keep telling your kid that “Yes…you can…the dream is your limit…” keep building confidence in them and guide them in the right path. Success will follow.
Most important, never compare. The words of Albert Einstein makes it clear:
“Everyone is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”
And do not crucify him/ her for the mistakes they do. Remember the greatest teacher is nothing but mistakes. Well who does not make a mistake. You have any doubt? Read the life history of Thomas Alva Edison!!!
This is my question to you my dear reader; the answer for which only you can give:
“You are lying in a coffin. You just got 5 more seconds to live. What will be your greatest regret?”
I’m sure something flashed in your mind with a sharp pang of repentance. Well, you are destined exactly for doing that!!!
With the 2-penny-worth psychology trapped in my stupid brain, I can make a wild guess. Most probably you will be regretting about something you have not done till now. Something that you always wanted to do each second of your life but you were so busy trying to meet both ends, you seldom got a chance to do it.
Another possibility is- regretting doing something you loved in the worst possible way. You loved doing it but your means to that end got screwed up. But its OK, it is somewhat less painful. Since you can go to heaven and boast to your inmates there – “I died doing what I loved…Grrrr”. Funny yeah…’coz it’s less painful.
Now wait… its not over yet my dear. There is this third kind of “YOU”.
You will be happy since you made a successful career out of doing what you loved. You tried but failed, but you kept trying and failing until you met with what you dreamed of becoming in life. People simply adore you for what you contributed to the society/art/science/literature/politics/business. But still you regret being a bit to early in your journey to heaven. Yes…you were late into the business of doing what you love. You will still feel repentant over lack of time to do more.
The most glorious remorse of all is when you think that you had so little time left on earth when there was a so more to be done.
Yes regret it is…but a dignified one…a happy one… and most importantly a meaningful one.
So if you think you can really make a change in your life or motivate some one else to do so…start right now!!!
Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org