19 FEBRUARY 2014 by DAVID ROWAN
In early December, Wired’s editor David Rowan spent three days with the WhatsApp founders and was given unprecedented access to them and their business. His full feature appears in the next edition of Wired’s UK edition, published on 6 March (and with subscribers a few days earlier). Here are extracts from the feature.
When he was living on welfare, Jan Koum’s family collected food stamps a couple of blocks from the unmarked Mountain View office that now houses his messaging company, WhatsApp.
An émigré at 16 from Communist Ukraine — where phones were routinely tapped, and classmates questioned for mocking politicians — Koum and his mother could rarely afford to call family back home.
So when, at 31, he left a job at Yahoo! with enough cash to launch his own business, it made absolute sense that he would work on democratising phone-based communications. He had just three rules as he experimented with the early iterations: his service would defiantly not carry advertising, an experience satisfyingly absent from his Soviet upbringing; it would not store messages and thus imperil individual citizens’ privacy; and it would maintain a relentless focus on delivering a gimmickless, reliable, friction-free user experience.