Facebook has never been a stranger to putting their money where their mouth is when it comes to purchases and bids for mobile apps, but with the $19 billion acquisition of WhatsApp, a five-year-old Silicon Valley messenger startup, jaws dropped across the world. Here was a startup with a subscriber base of 450 million users, but one that refused to rely on advertisements for revenue. A startup that was free to use for the first year with users charged 99 cents a year thereafter. And most intriguing of all, a startup with founders that made their brand much later in life.
Jan Koum and Brian Acton are 38 and 42 years old, respectively. They both took the plunge into entrepreneurship after years of working at Yahoo as engineers. Both had an extremely modest upbringing with Acton born in Michigan and Koum in a small village outside of Kiev, Ukraine, relocating with his family to Mountain View, California, when he was 16. And while Koum and Action are now both billionaires, they steer clear of the press for the most part – something many entrepreneurs operating at this level of success wouldn’t dream of doing.
I’ve always believed that age is nothing but a number when it comes to entrepreneurship and I’m excited to see a success story as big as WhatsApp’s play out (as well as pay off) in a big way! Entrepreneurs of all ages, lend me your ears. Here’s why it’s never too late to follow your entrepreneurial dreams.
You find out what you like and don’t like about business along the way.
Some people know from the minute they realize that a structured school system isn’t for them, that the corporate working world will probably also not suit them. Then there are some of us who complete school, have a couple of hands-on jobs in our chosen field, and realize a lot later on what it is exactly we’d like to pursue.
When Koum and Acton met at Yahoo, they realized that they disliked the way the company targeted users with advertisements. When they started WhatsApp they decided, prompted from the feelings they had about Yahoo’s advertising methods, that they would instead charge users right off the bat so as to avoid advertising later down the road. “No Ads! No Games! No Gimmicks!” That’s the note that stays taped on Koum’s desk as a daily reminder to keep focused on making the messaging service as true to the user experience as possible.
Not meeting your business partner yet? That’s okay!
We may not all be so lucky to not only find a business partner that we mesh well with in the boardroom and on the ultimate Frisbee field, as Koum and Acton were. But the older we get, the more we discover what kind of people we work well with. More often than not, these tend to be the same people who have skill sets we do not that also complement and balance the traits we already have. Be patient and avoid rushing into partnering with anyone too quickly. Get to know and work alongside them for awhile first and go from there.
Ideally, with age comes a sense of morality in business.
Koum especially has vowed to keep the morality high in WhatsApp, even going as far as referring to ads as interruption to our natural train of thought. Growing up in communist Ukraine with a secret police in play, he grew up appreciating forms of communication that weren’t bugged or taped, hence the strong wish to keep WhatsApp free of using and sharing user information, even to third parties for advertising purposes.
It’s a move that few, if any, social platforms are currently employing, but also one that the pair is sticking to their guns about. I have no doubt that by doing this, they are endearing themselves even further to their user base and continuing to spread even stronger word of mouth out about WhatsApp in the long run.