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How to Build a Product IV - Jan Koum, Co-founder of WhatsApp - Stanford CS183F: Startup School

Stanford Online2017-04-28
Stanford#Y Combinator#WhatsApp#Jan Koum#CEO#Co-founder#How to Build a Product#Startup school#Startup#computer science#CS183F#cs#innovation#entrepreneurship
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💫 Short Summary

Jan Koum, founder of WhatsApp, stumbled into creating a popular product after leaving Yahoo. WhatsApp initially struggled but gained traction with push notifications and messaging features. The app revolutionized communication methods, focusing on reliability and user needs. WhatsApp's success was attributed to the timing coinciding with smartphone popularity. The speaker discussed competition in the messaging industry and the importance of understanding user behavior. WhatsApp aimed to provide efficient and reliable communication globally. The founder highlighted the importance of funding and partnerships in the company's growth. Localization and hiring strategies were key to WhatsApp's global expansion. The app prioritized simplicity, security, and user feedback, leading to its success.

✨ Highlights
📊 Transcript
Jan Koum shares the story of creating WhatsApp after leaving Yahoo.
Koum fell in love with his Nokia phone during a break in 2008 and later bought an iPhone to explore iOS SDK.
He built a simple app and discovered its full Internet connectivity capabilities.
WhatsApp quietly grew to over 450 million users and was eventually acquired by Facebook.
Koum credits timing and location, rather than a brilliant idea, for their success.
Evolution of WhatsApp Status Feature
WhatsApp started with a status feature similar to AIM and ICQ for user availability.
The app integrated with mobile address books but lacked Apple's Address Book APIs on desktops.
Despite early adoption, WhatsApp 1.0 failed to gain traction as users preferred traditional calling methods.
The team struggled to compete with native dialer apps and added unpopular features.
Apple's introduction of push notifications in 2009 revolutionized messaging apps like WhatsApp.
iOS limitations on background tasks prior to push notifications caused challenges for developers.
The threaded SMS feature introduced by iOS inspired creators to enhance messaging capabilities.
WhatsApp messaging launched in September or October with rapid adoption due to high international SMS costs and lack of real-time communication alternatives like Skype.
This marked a significant shift in communication methods.
Evolution of Messaging Systems.
Messaging systems evolved from unreliable SMS to more reliable platforms to overcome limitations such as cost, character restrictions, and platform compatibility.
Visual indicators and reliable message delivery revolutionized communication.
Challenges were addressed by hiring experienced engineers and expanding to platforms like Nokia and Blackberry.
The use of Python in building the Nokia client showcased the team's adaptability and innovation in meeting user needs.
Development process of adding features like group chat, multimedia, and voice messages to a messaging product using Python.
Importance of scaling the backend system based on experience at Yahoo and challenges faced.
Success of messaging app as a 'killer app' for smartphones coinciding with the rise of smartphones.
Focus on enhancing communication capabilities as a key factor in the app's success.
Launch of iMessage and Facebook Messenger in Silicon Valley.
Silicon Valley's iPhone dominance overshadowed the iMessage launch.
Facebook initially faced messaging struggles, acquiring Beluga for group messaging.
Transition to Facebook Messenger within the app improved messaging capabilities.
Difference between Facebook and phone contact graphs highlighted, with phone numbers indicating higher communication levels.
Evolution of communication towards online platforms like Facebook and chat apps.
Importance of focusing on product and users in the messaging app industry.
Contrast between various messaging apps vying for attention and staying under the radar.
Impact of social media on communication habits, leading to a decrease in calls and SMS in favor of online interactions.
Importance of simplicity and solving basic problems in app development.
The app aims to make communication easier and cheaper for users worldwide.
Emphasis on solving a global need and potential for scalability to billions of users.
Competition between Messenger and WhatsApp, each with strengths in different geographic regions.
Incorporating WhatsApp on founder's birthday in 2009 to submit an app to the Apple Store.
Seeking help from a friend who was an insurance broker to simplify the process of filing paperwork and paying a fee at the State Building.
Allowing submission of the app under the company name, WhatsApp, which led to approval from Apple.
Emphasizing the significance of building for a wide range of smartphone users to reach a broader global audience.
Development and growth of WhatsApp app.
The app was initially funded by the speaker's savings from Yahoo and ran on a friend's server to save costs.
Switched to their own servers as the app grew, managing expenses efficiently using experience from Yahoo.
Raised a small angel round and monetized the iPhone app to cover bills.
Initially declined funding from investors, which increased investor interest in partnerships.
Importance of Funding for Business.
Having money in the bank account is crucial for financial stability according to Jeff Who's advice.
Taking funding was decided to ensure financial stability for the company.
Adding messaging features to a product transformed user engagement and perception, leading to increased interest and positive feedback.
Shift in psychology within the company was observed when people desire and appreciate the product, resulting in a change in motivation and enthusiasm among employees.
Partnering with Sequoia for Fundraising
Sequoia's reputable brand and hands-off approach were key factors in the decision.
Sequoia promised financial help without interfering in management or operations.
Sequoia's assistance with recruiting and strong industry reputation were appreciated.
Seeking advice from a Sequoia partner highlighted the significance of being part of the Sequoia family for startups.
WhatsApp's strategy of building different platforms for countries with low iPhone usage contributed to their global growth.
The company emphasized localization by hiring multilingual employees to provide customer support in various languages.
WhatsApp founder shared insights on convincing early employees to join the company, many of whom were unemployed or seeking new opportunities.
The recruitment strategies of WhatsApp focused on attracting employees who were looking to move closer to family.
Anecdotes shed light on the initial team composition and recruitment strategies of WhatsApp.
Overcoming Hiring Challenges in Tech Startups.
The speaker discusses failed stock option promises and finding skilled engineers.
Recruitment strategies included referrals and personal connections, like Michael from Yahoo.
Emphasis on technical problem-solving to attract engineers, such as convincing Rick to join the team.
Successful onboarding of individuals through leveraging personal connections and technical challenges.
Importance of defining key features in product development.
Early feedback from users requesting features like groups and multimedia.
Sticking to vision led to decisions like using phone numbers instead of usernames or PINs.
Security measures implemented in Messenger app, including end-to-end encryption on a global scale.
Commitment to user satisfaction and strong belief in encryption technology evident throughout discussion.