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On WhatsApp Deal: Who Dares to Be A (Young) Billionaire?

[THE NEW YORK TIMES, FORBES, LTTW, SAN FRANCISCO] Every one of us perhaps ever dreamed of success at relatively young age, by doing what we love. In today’s climate, having our own car, house, and years of savings might suit the dream perfectly. For some, dreams do come true; but what if it turns out to be much, much more than we expected? What if we’re talking millions to billions of dollars here? What if we’re talking seven generations of savings? Who dares to dream the dream anyway?

Speaking of whom, the WhatsApp pair of Brian Acton (at 42) and Jan Koum (at 40) are ones who dare. On recent news, the pair were selling their 5 year old mobile messaging company to Facebook for $19 billion!—a number worth more than long-established companies such as Gap, Harley-Davidson, and Xerox, to name a few. As expected, the Facebook’s acquisition of WhatsApp has freshly been discussed around the globe, from the suit-and-ties to the casuals, from the hardcore users to the non-users.

In a recent Forbes article, contributor Reuven Cohen stressed to one question: why? If Facebook already has a significant portion of the global instant messaging market through its own Facebook Messenger, what’s driving the gigantic valuation? Mr. Cohen analyzed this by emphasizing people’s ‘attention’ as the hard currency of cyberspace, which he quotes from Thomas Mandel and Gerard Van der Leun in their 1996 book Rules of the Net. At 450 million global users and growing, WhatsApp’s users—unlike many other mobile apps usage—actually use this service on a daily or even hourly basis.

To be brief, Mr. Cohen pointed out like this: the better Facebook gets at keeping your attention, the more valuable it become. Accordingly, this may very well be the fundamental value behind Facebook’s purchase—and yes, it worth billions of dollars.

On a different angle, a New York Times article by Nick Bilton was stressing out the deal’s correlation to the behavior among the Silicon Valley newly billionaires; as he wrote, “…these are heady times in technology — and everyone, it seems, is rethinking his or her number.” The mentioned number refers to how much money it would take for them to sell their start-up, quit their job or close their venture capital fund — or in some cases, just turn their back from it all.

Getting rich is somewhat common in circle of technology nowadays; and WhatsApp’s Brian Acton and Jan Koum are adding to the list of names of the people who become millionaire and billionaire at young age. We already have Google co-founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page, both at 40 year-old, whose net worth is about $24.4 and $24.9 billion; the wonderboy Mark Zuckerberg (at 29), co-founder and CEO of Facebook, whose net worth is about $19 billion as of September 2013; and Tumblr’s founder and CEO David Karp, a 27 year-old whose net worth exceeds $200 million.

For most of us who don’t live under the US dollar currency—far below in this case, the above numbers are almost unreal, even perhaps unimaginable. However, the big gasp also belong to the Americans such as John Gabbert, chief executive of Pitchbook Data (a database of private equity deals and industry players), who said that 10 years ago, entrepreneurs were more down to earth about their numbers. The founders of Plumtree (Software) probably made $5 to $10 million each from the I.P.O.,” Mr. Gabbert said. “That looked like success back then. That’s pretty good money. You could live forever on that.”

Mr. Bilton use Mr. Gabbert’s opinion to notify the possibility of changing behavior among today’s entrepreneurs, as WhatsApp’s Jan Koum will personally make about $6.8 billion on the deal— the rough equivalent of San Francisco’s annual budget—and how does he go about earning such ‘superwealth’ at young age, how would he make use of it, and how does it affect the people close to him and the rest of young generation worldwide.

If a large sum of money is considered as power, and such power to be possessed by individuals at young age, then how does the ‘youth culture’ around the world respond to this matter? On top of this, does culture matters in managing of money?


Aryo Adhianto

Author: Aryo Adhianto

A Former Chief Editor of Listen to the World

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