In 1992, 16 year old Jan Koum moved from Kiev along with his mother and grandmother.
They lived in a small 2-bedroom apartment in Mountainview, California. His mother worked as a baby sitter and as a cleaner at a grocery store. At age 18, Jan Koum became interested in programming.
In 2014, Jan Koum sold Whats App to Facebook for $19 billion dollars.
That's an American success story.
Growing up in the Soviet Union under Communist control, Koum developed a deep desire to protect people's privacy.
Whats App is now used by more than 1 billion people. By the end of this year, the company predicts that its users will send more than 1.5 trillion (with a T) messages a month (with an M).
It is big.
As Twitter has apparently plateaued, Whats App seems to be headed for the stratosphere.
What makes Whats App partularly interesting to us is the unique space it has carved out for itself in the online world.
Whereas Facebook is for public announcements, Whats App allows you to create closed groups that can instantly share information. Twitter and Facebook broadcast to the world; Whats App narrowcasts to a very discrete group.
That does not mean that the group has to be small. In 2014, The BBC launched a public health information service during the Ebola crisis for users in West Africa using Whats App. The group was 25,000 people. And, of course, the model is infinitely expandable. Any number of groups, and size groups, and affinity that draws them together.
Whats App began as a text messaging service. In 2010 it added the ability to make voice calls. Now, some analysts think that Whats App could conceivable drive mobile phone companies out of business.
In the next year, Whats App is expected to add video.
It's an interesting idea. Imagine thousands of affinity groups, all sharing video about which they are interested (and making most of it), married to advertising geared to the specific interests of those users in that group.
Cable is broadcasting. It is forced to try and attract as many viewers as possible so that it can offer advertisers a reasaonable shot at finding a few people who are interested in their product. It's a messy, shotgun approach that also effects the programming. And, of course, the content is linear.
But with a video based Whats App (and a user base of 1 billion people and growing) I think there is a possible model for a very different kind of TV. Focused. And profitable.
Whats App may or may not be the ulimate platform for this, but it certainly presents an interesting alternative.