Who’s Got the Next Business Idea? The Success Story of Brian Acton

Acton had been the 44th employee at Yahoo, but he’d lost millions of his dot-com fortune when the bubble burst in 2000. Despite the bright-sided nature of his Tweets, the 37-year-old didn’t know what was next.

He toyed with a startup idea, but it wasn’t going anywhere. And as Marc Cenedella–founder of The Ladders, and more recently, Knowzen–wrote on Medium a few days ago, Acton…

…was feeling a bit washed up. His 11 years as an early employee at Yahoo! was now two years in the past. He’d bounced from job to job in Silicon Valley’s startup land, and now he’d been turned down by both Facebook and, as he tweeted a few months prior, Twitter. It’s kind of scary to be pushing 40 and feel like you’re being pushed out the door.

But the most beautiful thing about Brian is the good grace and optimism with which he handled his rejection – ”It was a great opportunity to connect with some fantastic people. Looking forward to life’s next adventure.” The hurt radiates from those 140 characters. And also a strength of character.

The happy ending? Acton went to work with an engineer named Jan Koum, with whom he’d been friends for years, since the two had worked for Yahoo together. 

Acton got “the grand title of ‘co-founder’ and no salary for his efforts,” as Cenedella points out–and the two became co-founders of WhatsApp.

But he joined on in November 2009–three months after his Facebook interview. They launched officially in January 2010. Four years later, Facebook bought their company for $19 billion. Acton’s take? An estimated $3 billion at the time–now closer to $4 billion.

People noticed these tweets a couple of years ago, but I somehow missed them until Cenedella’s recent article.  

By the way, I’d be remiss not to repeat briefly the story of the other WhatsApp founder,Koum.

He  immigrated to the U.S. from Ukraine at age 16, worked at a grocery store, and eventually dropped out of San Jose State University before working at Yahoo. His stake in WhatsApp was even greater than Acton’s.

As my colleague Larry Kim wrote: 

“Koum signed the papers for Facebook’s acquisition of his company on the steps of the same welfare office he used to frequent for food stamps.”

How’s that for a happy ending?


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