Brian Acton is an American Internet entrepreneur and computer programmer best known as the co-founder of WhatsApp. A graduate of computer science from the Stanford University, Acton began his career as a system administrator for Rockwell International. Moving on, he worked with companies like Adobe systems, Apple and Yahoo Inc. He invested in the dot-com boom but lost millions during the 2000 dot-com crash. He left Yahoo along with his colleague Jan Koum and eventually went on to develop the mobile messaging application WhatsApp with the latter. The duo, who once applied for jobs at Facebook but faced rejection, sold WhatsApp to Facebook in February 2014 for US$19 billion, the largest acquisition of Facebook till present. In September 2017, Acton left WhatsApp to start a non-profit organization with American computer security researcher Moxie Marlinspike, called ‘Signal Foundation,’ which was founded in February 2018.
Childhood & Early Life
He was born on February 17, 1972, in the US state of Michigan to a working middle class family. His mother who inspired him to start his own business ran a freight shipping firm.
He was raised in Central Florida where he attended comprehensive four-year high school called Lake Howell High School. He joined University of Pennsylvania after getting a full scholarship to study engineering, however left it a year later to attend Stanford University. In 1994, he completed his graduation and obtained a degree in computer science from Stanford.
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He started his career in 1992 being inducted as a systems administrator in the now defunct American manufacturing conglomerate Rockwell International. He then went on to work as a product tester in the American multinational technology company Apple Inc. as well as in the American multinational computer software company Adobe Systems.
He joined Yahoo Inc. in 1996 as the 44th employee to be inducted in the company. For the next eleven years he worked for Yahoo where Jan Koum also joined as an infrastructure engineer in 1998. Meanwhile Acton went on to invest during the dotcom boom. He had to incur losses in millions at the time of the 2000 dot-com bubble.
In 2007 he received the Yahoo Super Star award. He along with Koum left Yahoo in September that year. They then took a hiatus for a year during which time they travelled across South America and played ultimate frisbee. The two also faced rejection after applying to work for Facebook.
After Koum purchased an iPhone in January 2009, he realised the potential of the seven-month-old App Store in spawning an entirely new apps industry in the near future. He began meeting his friend Alex Fishman in West San Jose and along with Acton the three would discuss on developing an app. The app was named ‘WhatsApp’ by Koum to make it sound more like "what's up".
Koum then incorporated WhatsApp Inc. on February 24, 2009, in California. At one point when Koum got fed up of versions of the app getting crashed or stuck, he thought of leaving it and search for a new job. At that time Acton advised him to give it a "few more months” time.
WhatsApp 2.0 was released in August 2009 including a messaging component. A sudden upsurge in number of active users was observed reaching the count to 250,000. Acton who was till such time unemployed and was overseeing another startup, convinced five of his ex-Yahoo! friends in October that year to invest $250,000 in seed funding. He was given co-founder status as also a stake and joined the company officially on November 1 same year.
With time the app developed including new features and by early 2011, the app emerged among the top 20 apps in Apple's U.S. App Store. In April that year, American venture capital firm Sequoia Capital made an investment of around $8 million for more than 15 percent of the company.
Facebook made an announcement on February 19, 2014 that it was taking over WhatsApp for US$19 billion. Such acquisition not only marks the largest one made by the American online social media and social networking service company till present but also the largest purchase of any venture-backed company till such time.
Koum and Acton were granted $12 billion in Facebook shares, $4 billion in cash and an additional $3 billion in restricted stock units. According to an estimate of Forbes, Acton held more than one-fifth stake in the company which made his net worth to about $3.8 billion.
In September 2017, Acton left WhatsApp's parent company Facebook to come up with new foundation called the ‘Signal Foundation’. On February 21, the following year Acton along with Moxie Marlinspike announced the formation of the 501(c)(3) non profit organization ‘Signal Foundation’, which shares its name with Marlinspike founded Signal messaging app.
An initial amount of $50 million was funded by Acton to start ‘Signal Foundation’, the mission of which is to develop open source privacy technology that safeguard free expression as also provide secure worldwide communication. Acton serves as the Executive Chairman of the foundation with Marlinspike as its Chief Executive Officer.
He made it to several of Forbes lists including being seeded #76 in Forbes 400 2017, #38 in Richest In Tech 2017 and #251 in Billionaires 2018. According to a Forbes report on March 20, 2018, Acton tweeted publicly backing the #DeleteFacebook movement.
His wife, Tegan Acton, was the Director of Communications and Strategic Initiatives at Stanford and also served the Sundance Institute and Yahoo. The couple started a family foundation, ‘Sunlight Giving,’ in 2014. It is dedicated to aid families with low-income having kids between the age group 0–5 with basic services. While Acton serves as the secretary and treasurer of the foundation, Tegan acts as its President.
According to sources, Acton donated around $290 million worth Facebook shares to the Silicon Valley Community Foundation after WhatsApp was acquired by Facebook.
He had mentioned in one of his tweets that he was rejected by Facebook as well as Twitter in 2009.