Chatting with Jan Koum of WhatsApp
In October of last year, WhatsApp Messenger achieved a milestone: Users of the social-messaging app sent a billion messages in one day. Considering that little number, plus the fact that more than 78,500 people follow the WhatsApp Inc. Twitter page, it’s safe to say WhatsApp is a popular social app.
It’s surprising, then, that the app’s developers, Jan Koum and Brian Acton, keep such a low profile. Koum didn’t even have his first newspaper interview until November of last year, according to the Financial Times article.
Here at The Recapp, we’re impressed by the modesty of such masterminds (the co-founders are both former Yahoo! Inc. employees), but we’re even more impressed by the service itself. WhatsApp eliminates SMS costs, providing users with a text-messaging service that doesn’t damage their phone’s data bill. It’s a simple concept, but as you’ll read in our interview with co-founder Jan Koum, simplicity is key.
- What was the original inspiration for WhatsApp?
We wanted to build something simple and, at the same time, something very useful for people.
- What have you learned about your app’s users since its inception in 2009?
Well, we haven’t really collected any personal user data or metrics to learn from—we are not an advertising business. One thing we did learn, however, was that building a reliable service and great product is something people appreciate and value highly.
- Despite the competition from other highly marketed mobile messaging applications (from GroupMe to Skype), why has WhatsApp remained dominant in its popularity?
There’s no simple, singular answer to this. We were one of the first to market this type of app, and now, we are available on six different mobile platforms. Up until very recently, both founders were answering customer-support emails. We focus a lot on user experience, simplicity of our product and listening to our customers.
- What’s your favorite thing about WhatsApp, and what do you hope to improve upon in the future?
My favorite thing about WhatsApp is getting emails from folks who tell us how WhatsApp has changed their lives. We get emails from people who tell us how WhatsApp has helped couples stay in touch and get married, and even from people who tell us how they have used WhatsApp to help manage a charity in Africa.
- What advice do you have for young app developers?
Focus on simplicity, listen to your customers and iterate if you fail.
Besides WhatsApp, what are some of your other favorite apps right now?
On my iPhone 3GS, I use Instagram, Twitter and Touch.
Apps I Love
Hollywood’s Heartthrob Turns App Investor
Photo credit: Frazer Harrison/Getty Images
Leonardo DiCaprio has been one of Hollywood’s biggest heartthrobs since his performance in Titanic, and he has preserved his reputation as a worthy actor with other hit films such as Inception, The Departed and Catch Me If You Can. But DiCaprio is switching gears from show business—whether it be for a side gig or a change in career—by investing $4 million in the app Mobli.
Going off of the tagline, "See the world through other people’s eyes," Mobli is a social network where users can share photos and videos, and the app automatically tags each post with a location or major event in the surrounding area. Users can also follow channels that display photos about a particular topic, such as Leo himself.
Mobli CEO Moshe Hogeg told The Huffington Post in October 2011 that Leo’s not much of a tech guy, but he is very excited to be involved in the marketing aspect of the app. “He believes in the vision of the company and thinks that this is the future of media. He wanted to get on board in the beginning, influence it, and give his input into the company.”