Jan Koum founded WhatsApp in April of 2009, and the earliest version of the app was available for download in Apple’s App Store the following month. WhatsApp is a cross-platform messaging app that serves as a reliable, affordable alternative to SMS and MMS—for which carriers often charge per-message.
Right now, WhatsApp is free for the first year and then just .99 cents per year after that. If it sounds overly simplistic, that’s not by accident. Koum has frequently been quoted as saying he wants to “do one thing, and do it well,” and keeping WhatsApp simple yet powerful has been the key to that.
In October of 2009, Brian Acton, Koum’s friend and former fellow Yahoo employee, rounded up $ 250,000 in seed funding for WhatsApp, earning him the title of co-founder along with a substantial stake in the company. As the app continued to gain traction, Acton and Koum were overwhelmed by attention from interested VCs, yet the pair was initially resistant.
By November 2011, WhatsApp had become the No. 1 paid social app for iOS, and had been downloaded 10 million times on Android. WhatsApp went on to raise another $ 50 million from Sequoia in July of 2013. And in February of 2014 the company was acquired by Facebook for $ 19 billion, the largest to date for a venture-backed company.
The acquisition, along with the 50 billion messages sent every day by the app’s more than half a billion users, and the addition of 1 million new users every day, all point to the fact that WhatsApps vision of replacing phone carriers’ expensive text messaging plans is becoming a reality.
So, in addition to their ruthlessly simple utility, what’s the secret to WhatsApp’s monumental growth? Find out what fueled their phenomenal success here.