Thursday, February 20, 2014

As Ukraine burns, its former citizen Jan Koum becomes billionaire in America

Jan Koum
 By Emmanuel K. Dogbevi

The American dream just became real for former Ukrainian citizen Jan Koum.

In recent years the American dream seems to fizzle out for many just when they wake up from their sleep. The American dream that some successful immigrants love to tell with touches of intrigue and mystery making America look like 'the land of milk and honey'. They often begin by saying they entered America with just a dollar in their pockets and then worked their way up the ladder to become millionaires.

Koum doesn't seem to have that kind of story to tell, but he has just signed a deal for the biggest start-up snatch up ever in the history of Silicon Valley.

According to an exclusive report by Forbes, Koum came to the US at the age of 16 with his mother - that was 21 years ago. They were running away from "the troubling political and anti-Semitic environment" in that country. They lived in a small two-bedroom apartment through government assistance in the Mountain View area. According to the report his mother even carried Soviet issued notebooks to avoid paying for school supplies in the US. While his mother took to babysitting, Koum took to sweeping the floor of a grocery store to survive. The mother eventually died of cancer, his father never made it to the US. He went through High School and eventually went to college, but had to drop out. Koum even depended on food stamps at one point in his life.

Now 37 years old after building and running the mobile messaging App WhatsApp for some five years, he sells it to Facebook for a record $19 billion. A 45% stakeholder in the company he gets to keep over $6 billion. His other partner Brian Acton, venture capitalist Jim Goetz and others would keep the rest.

His journey was not uneventful, as he taught himself to write codes, held jobs at Ernst & Young and Yahoo. Together with Acton, they applied for jobs at Facebook but were rejected. He even at one point wanted to shut down the WhatsApp out of frustration but was dissuaded by Acton.

When the deal was being signed in the building where Koum used to go and stand in line for food, his native country Ukraine was literally on fire. A stand-off between opposition protestors and government security forces had exploded. Protestors set fires and police shot at them with water canons, stun guns and reportedly live ammunition. About 25 people are reported dead and over 400 injured.

Caught between the European Union and Russia, the Ukrainian government decided to go with Russia against the wishes of the people to join Europe and receive a $15 billion bailout. Most of the people believe that Russian president Vladimir Putin intends to have control over Ukraine so he could use the country as a pawn. Ukraine is located at a strategic position as a gateway between Europe and Russia.

The day Koum signed the deal February 19, 2014 and probably brought hope to many other believers in the 'American Dream', his original homeland, exploded following protests that went out of control - fire blazed the grounds, guns were fired leaving many dead and injured.

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