Jan Koum: Tech Grants

NET WORTH: $9.7 billion

SOURCE OF WEALTH: Co-founder of WhatsApp


OVERVIEW: Koum is still relatively new to philanthropy, so it is difficult to say what causes he will support. However, in 2014, he put some $556 million into a donor-advised fund at the Silicon Valley Community Foundation. The full scope of his grantmaking through that fund remains unclear, but we do know that he has made at least $1.5 million in grants to support a free open source operating system that is used by startups.

BACKGROUND: Jan Koum was born in Kiev, Ukraine to a Jewish family. He moved with his mother and grandmother to the Bay Area in the early 1990s, where a social support program helped the family. Koum enrolled at San Jose State University while simultaneously working as a security tester at Ernst & Young. That led to a job as an infrastructure engineer at Yahoo. His work at Yahoo became all-consuming, and he dropped out of college to work at Yahoo full-time. He soon met Brian Acton, another early Yahoo employee, and in 2009, the pair started WhatsApp, a cross-platform mobile messaging app that allows users to send text messages for free. Facebook bought the startup for $19 billion in cash and stock in 2014. 


TECHNOLOGY: Koum gave $1 million to the FreeBSD Foundation through SVCF. He gave an additional $500,000 to the organization in 2016. FreeBSD describes itself as an "an advanced computer operating system used to power modern servers, desktops and embedded platforms." Koum has talked about how the FreeBSD Foundation has supported the operating system that allows "millions of programmers to pursue their passions and bring their ideas to life."

Koum then lists himself as one of the many programmers who have used FreeBSD. In fact, Koum credits FreeBSD for helping him get out of poverty and hopes that it will help other people in similar situations to do the same: "We’ll all benefit if FreeBSD can continue to give people the same opportunity it gave me—if it can lift more immigrant kids out of poverty, and help more startups build something successful."

LOOKING FORWARD: Koum is still young and still engaged in business, so he still has plenty of time to focus on philanthropy down the line. Koum's background might come into play; he could, perhaps, help immigrants or the poor. It is worth noting that Koum's mother passed away from cancer, so health might become a philanthropic interest too.

CONTACT: Jan Koum Twitter