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How Whatsapp Started?

“No ads! No games! No gimmicks!” is a simple principle which helped a small messaging application win over the big ones like iMessage, WeChat, Facebook Messenger, LINE, and many others – while operating with a staff of just 50 employees.

Whatsapp was conceptualized because of an actual need which is democratizing phone-based communications, and it succeeded because it was able to capitalize on almost every emerging trend like push notifications and need like encryption.

The Founders

The founders of Whatsapp are Brian Acton and Jan Koum.

Acton graduated from Lake Howell High School and received a full scholarship to study engineering at the University of Pennsylvania but left after a year to study at Stanford.

He graduated from Stanford University in 1994 with a degree in computer science.

In 1992, he became a systems administrator for Rockwell International, before becoming a product tester at Apple Inc. and Adobe Systems. Four years later, he joined Yahoo Inc.

Jan Koum on the other hand is a Ukrainian American billionaire businessman and computer programmer. He is the co-founder and was the CEO of WhatsApp.

Koum was born in Kyiv, Ukraine, then in the Soviet Union.

By the age of 18, he had become interested in programming. He enrolled at San Jose State University and worked at Ernst & Young as a security tester.

He also joined a group of hackers that began in 1996 called w00w00, where he met the future founders of Napster, Shawn Fanning, and Jordan Ritter.

In January 2009, Koum bought an iPhone and realized that the then seven-month-old App Store was about to spawn a whole new industry of apps. He visited his friend Alex Fishman and they talked for hours about Koum's idea for an app.

A week later on his birthday, February 24, 2009, he incorporated WhatsApp Inc. in California.

How Whatsapp Was Created

WhatsApp was founded by Brian Acton and Jan Koum, former employees of Yahoo!.

The early versions of WhatsApp kept crashing, Koum considered giving up and looking for a new job. Acton encouraged him to wait for a few more months.

In June 2009, Apple launched push notifications, allowing users to be notified when they were not using an app. Koum changed WhatsApp so that everyone in the user's network would be notified when a user's status is changed.

WhatsApp 2.0 was released with a messaging component and the number of active users suddenly increased to 250,000.

In October 2009, Acton persuaded five former friends at Yahoo! to invest $250,000 in seed funding, and Acton became a co-founder and was given a stake. He officially joined WhatsApp on November 1.

After months at beta stage, the application launched in November 2009, but on the App Store for the iPhone. Koum then hired a friend in Los Angeles, Chris Peiffer, to develop a BlackBerry version, which arrived two months later.

Subsequently, WhatsApp for Symbian OS was added in May 2010, and for Android OS in August 2010

The Name Whatsapp

The reason why it’s named Whatsapp is that Koum wanted to see their statuses instead of having to ask, “What’s Up?”

The name itself came straightforwardly. WhatsApp is a pun on ‘What’s Up’.

During the early stages of ideation, Koum also considered the name “Zap.”

Why Whatsapp Is Successful

Whatsapp was a success because it was one of a kind messaging app with easy to use features back then.

The trick that WhatsApp did was to place a WhatsApp icon next to contacts who had WhatsApp installed. So, it's easy to know if your contact has WhatsApp installed.

This solved the biggest problem of discovery as the user did not need to ask if their contacts had WhatsApp. This discovery process made it super easy for the app to go viral.

WhatsApp's reliance on mobile numbers ensured that they could not be used for desktops or web browsers back then.

A mobile number is a must. So any user who would like to use it needs to disclose his mobile number to the app.

Therefore, WhatsApp let go of the desktop users and concentrated on the mobile-only world.

The app's simplicity, ease of use and contacts discovery made it super easy to use and gradually replaced SMS.

In 2015, Whatsapp launched Whatsapp Web, and in 2018, Whatsapp Business was launched for small businesses to use.

Whatsapp in the 2020s.

The demand and popularity of an app are never stable. However, Acton and Koum were able to keep their offering at the top throughout the history of WhatsApp.

This is due to their strategy of no-ads. Instead of running after the money by continuously interrupting chats with ads, they prioritized the user’s interest.

More than 1.5 billion people in 180 countries use WhatsApp today. The platform has already taken over SMS, MMS, and other obsolete features that its target market had earlier used to communicate with each other.


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