Simple App Takes Entrepreneur from Rags to Riches

(p. B1) When Facebook bought WhatsApp for more than $19 billion in 2014, Jan Koum, a founder of the messaging company, arranged to sign a part of the deal outside the suburban social services center where he had once waited in line to collect food stamps.
Mr. Koum, like many in the tech industry, is an immigrant. He was a teenager when he and his mother moved to the San Francisco Bay Area in the early 1990s, in part to escape the anti-Semitic tide then sweeping his native Ukraine. As Mr. Koum later told Forbes, his mother worked as a babysitter and swept floors at a grocery store to survive in the new country; when she was found to have cancer, the family lived off her disability payments.
Tales of immigrant woe are not unusual in Silicon Valley. But Mr. Koum’s story carries greater resonance because his app has quietly become a mainstay of immigrant life. More than a billion people regularly use WhatsApp, which lets users send text messages and make phone calls free over the internet. The app is particularly popular in India, where it has more than 160 million users, as well as in Europe, South America and Africa.
. . .
(p. B7) One of the secrets to WhatsApp’s growth has been a focus on simplicity. The app is purposefully unflashy, and it does just a few things — texts, voice calls and video calls. As a result, it is supremely easy to use even for people who are neophytes to digital technology. This is one reason immigrants find it so powerful; it has given them access to a wider set of relatives who might have shunned the social networks that came before.
Adoption of WhatsApp often follows a curious pattern — older relatives often suggest it to younger ones, rather than the other way around.
“My aunt, who’s in her late 70s, was the one who really pushed me to get on it,” Ms. Reef said. Now, she said, she uses it nearly every day; lately she’s even gotten her children to use it.

For the full commentary, see:
Manjoo, Farhad. “STATE OF THE ART; A Shared Lifeline for Millions of Migrants.” The New York Times (Thurs., DEC. 22, 2016): B1 & B7.
(Note: eilipsis added.)
(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date DEC. 21, 2016, and has the title “STATE OF THE ART; For Millions of Immigrants, a Common Language: WhatsApp.”)

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