Being someone who has always been more interested in sport and music than computers and technology, so far the world of phone apps and gadgets has passed me by. However, like everyone else it did catch my attention that the sale of mobile application WhatsApp to Facebook had generated a staggering $19 billion.
Having seen my friends’ endless streams of pointless gossip on the app, I have until now vowed to remain WhatsApp-less, and when I heard of the lucrative Facebook sale, I naturally assumed that this was another Silicon Valley sell-out story.
But then I heard about the back story of the company and the way it manages its PR. Rather than being yet another “cool but nerdy” student, WhatsApp’s founder Jan Koum is a Ukrainian former infrastructure engineer, who developed WhatsApp as a way to talk to talk to his family when he moved to America.
However, X-factor-style sob stories apart, it was the no-nonsense approach to PR that really attracted me to the Jan Koum story. Since founding the app, the company has paid for almost no marketing, relying simply on its own merits to attract users.
Just as laudable is its hatred of adverts interrupting its service. In a world where it is difficult to watch any internet video without having an opera man sing you the benefits of the Go Compare price comparison site, it’s a refreshing attitude.
Who knows whether, under the umbrella of Facebook, the company will continue to act in the same manner, but considering the single-mindedness of their founder, I wouldn’t bet against it.
Jan Koum has a note pinned to his desk from his co-founder Brian Acton which reads “No Ads! No games! No gimmicks!” It is advice that he lives by. It’s also a priceless PR message. If you want customers to sit up and take notice of your product or service, it is best to leave out the clutter and hype and get straight to the point. Otherwise you are simply wasting their time. $19 billion can vouch for that.