Business Technology

The definitive business advent calendar: 19 December – The $19bn failure

2 min read

19 December 2015

Former deputy editor

As we look to Christmas, sometimes there's no telling what's in store for us when it comes to gifts. Indeed, life itself always has a few surprises up its sleeve for us, so imagine the surprise a pair of entrepreneurs had when the company that rejected their job applications later bought their firm for $19bn...

Of course, we are referring to WhatsApp and Facebook.

Back in summer 2009, Brian Acton and Jan Koum – friends who worked together at Yahoo – both applied for posts at social networking giant but found their applications were denied after interview stage.

For Acton, it was a double whammy because he also got snubbed by Twitter a couple of months before.

The pair went on to found mobile instant messaging app WhatsApp within months of the setback and in February 2014, Facebook acquired the business for $19bn – a combination of cash, shares and restricted stock units.

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“WhatsApp is on a path to connect one billion people. The services that reach that milestone are all incredibly valuable,” said Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg.

“I’ve known Jan for a long time and I’m excited to partner with him and his team to make the world more open and connected.”

At the time of the deal, WhatsApp had 450m monthly users, with 70 per cent of active on a daily basis. In September 2015, the figure had doubled to 900m – up from 800m in April.

The takeover came as Facebook concentrates increasingly on mobile developments as users shift away from the desktop, and built on the $1bn Instagram buyout from some two years earlier.

Read more on Facebook:

Jan Koum, WhatsApp co-founder and CEO, said: “WhatsApp’s extremely high user engagement and rapid growth are driven by the simple, powerful and instantaneous messaging capabilities we provide.

“We’re excited and honoured to partner with Mark and Facebook as we continue to bring our product to more people around the world.”

It was an even sweeter deal for Koum as he landed a position on Facebook’s board of directors.

Understandably, the duo can now look back on the situation as Acton has said: “We’re part of the Facebook reject club.”

Where do we sign?