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Has Jan and Brian’s Simple Plan Turned into a Game of “WhatsApp, We See Your Bluff?”

Mar 12, 2014

Jan Koum and Brian Acton, Cofounders of WhatsApp, set out with a goal to create nothing more than a “simple messaging app where people can communicate.” An app with no games, no ads and no gimmicks.

What a humble beginning for an app that was just acquired by Facebook for $19 billion,  IMG_00000122

Known as the fastest growing startup in history, WhatsApp boasts 430 billion active users today, has been processing 50 billion messages daily since its inception in 2009 – and all at a cost of just 5¢per user.

Now that Jan and Brian’s simple plan has reaped gargantuan rewards, the inquiring minds at ThinkInk want to know about the company’s integrity. As a startup that prized itself with the ability to stay funded through its customer base, and not ads, can WhatsApp join one of the biggest collectors of consumer data in the world in favor of advertising and keep its vision intact and unsullied?

We’re not so sure.

In various interviews, both Koum and Acton have made it very clear they are avidly against incorporating sponsored advertising into WhatsApp. To them, third party advertising gets in the way of the only reason the app exists: communication.

“We think our product is a basic utility,” Koum says. “Our customers pay $1 each year for our service, and we benefit from that direct relationship with our users. We just want the pure messaging experience.”

Unlike other companies, what WhatsApp does have going for its ethos is the fact that its argument against advertising hits close to home for Jan. Coming to the United States from Ukraine at the age of 16 with nothing to his name, this Silicon Valley executive is the ultimate rags-to-riches story. Raised under a communist regime – where the ‘walls had ears,’ as Jan often says – privacy and security in conversation was hard to come by. And with strict rules in place about what information the public could be privy to, advertising suffered.

“I grew up in a world without advertising and I had a remarkable childhood,” Koum says. “The phone is too personal for advertising, and from day one, we always felt that it would be a very wrong thing to do for our product.”

…And then there was that time they said they were against building WhatsApp and selling it just one month before the acquisition.

Should we start counting down now?

Are you a WhatsApp user? Are you concerned about your data being utilized by Facebook (more than it already does)? How do you feel about ads popping up in your WhatsApp conversation threads? Share your thoughts with the ThinkInk community below. 

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