FROM BUSTED TO BILLIONAIRE: WhatsApp Founder Went From Immigrant on Food Stamps to Co-founder of $19Bil App

Published on February 20, 2014

The creators of instant messaging service WhatsApp can now comfortably call themselves billionaires after signing a $19 billion deal with Facebook.

But the duo’s road to becoming billionaires several times over has been filled with humble beginnings and setbacks

Koum, 37, who co-founded the app with Brian Acton in 2009 co-founded WhatsApp in 2009, and five years later, is now estimated to now be worth about $6.8 billion. But at one point he was a teenage immigrant who lived on food stamps.

The ‘long time’-friend of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg was just 16 when he moved to the U.S. from Ukraine.

He was raised in a rural community, in a house with no hot water or electricity, and when the family moved overseas, his mother packed their suitcases with school supplies to save money.

As a young immigrant, Koum and his mother had to rely on food stamps, and in a poignant tribute to his humble past, he chose to sign the deal with Facebook at the same welfare office in Mountain View where he used to queue to get food stamps.

The offices for WhatsApp, an instant messaging service with 450million active users which Koum created with Brian Acton in 2009, are located only a few blocks from the welfare office.

On Wednesday, Acton and Koum stood outside the welfare building as they signed the deal with Facebook, only this time Koum was able to drive there in his Porsche.

His humble beginnings appear to have instilled in him a strong work ethic and dislike for egotism – WhatsApp may be a global phenomenon but it has no sign at its office.

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