Everyone knows the famous names behind the world’s biggest companies like Steve Jobs, Elon Musk, Travis Kalanick, and many more. Meet Jan Koum, David Karp, Chet Pipkin, Ryan Smith, and Zhou Qunfei. These are the names of the wealthiest tech founders around the world.
Jan Koum is the CEO and Founder of WhatsApp. WhatsApp is a free messenger app for smartphones that was created by Koum. Now 37, Koum came from Ukraine at the tender age of 16 with his family who struggled to survive. The family lived off of food stamps in California before Facebook turned him into a billionaire. Here is a brief timeline of Jan Koum’s life. At age 16 he worked as a janitor and at age 18 is when he learned to code. He started college shortly after at 19 but quickly dropped out. At 21 he was employed by Yahoo and by age 30 he quit Yahoo. Fun Fact: Yahoo invested $250,000 into Koum’s idea of WhatsApp. At the young age of 32, he started to develop WhatsApp which he sold at age 37 to Facebook for $19 billion. That’s 1/10 of Ukraine’s GDP. In 2009 Koum bought his first iPhone when the app store was just a few months old. He saw this as an opportunity to start a new industry; he wanted to build an app. He was later introduced to a Russian developer who helped him along the way. Today, Koum has a net worth (according to Forbes) of $6.8 billion.
Everyone has heard of the website Tumblr but do you know the man behind it? Named the Best Young Tech Entrepreneur by Businessweek, David Karp sold Tumblr to Yahoo for $1.1 billion just last year. By the 8th grade, Karp was already designing websites for money. This made him drop out of school to be homeschooled in order to save time and work on his developments. At just 14 years old, he was interning at numerous software companies and a few years later flew to Tokyo in hopes to gain more skills; and that he did. Within the next few years after his return from Tokyo, he formed an independent consulting firm called Davidville. A few years after that, he developed Tumblr. Just a couple of weeks after launching Tumblr, there were already 75,000 users registered. Davidville had then become Tumblr Inc which was later sold to Yahoo in 2013. He is a self-taught billionaire that created a larger than life company.
Chet Pipkin is the founder and chairman at Belkin International which is a company based in Playa Vista, California. Belkin International makes computer and smartphone accessories. Belkin didn’t just pop out of the blue, he went through many other ideas and jobs before landing on his billion dollar idea. In high school, Pipkin had thoughts of starting a limo service, opening an ice cream shop, and even becoming a Santa Claus for hire. While working his minimum wage job at a wholesale manufacturer, he started dreaming about other legendary moguls who have made a substantial impact on the world. Once he started thinking the way these entrepreneurs did, it became obvious to him that PC’s were going to take off. Pipkin founded Belkin in the garage of his family home in the early 1980s. He didn’t know anything about hardware, software, or anything tech at the time but hopped right in. Statistics show that there is an 80-90% chance that if you own a laptop, it’s a Belkin product and if you own a smartphone, there is a 95% chance it is a Belkin product. Fast Company recently named Belkin one of the world’s most innovative companies in the internet of things. Today, Belkin is a leading brand in the technology sector.
Many people may not know the online survey software, Qualtrics, but you should. Ryan Smith, a co-founder and now CEO of Qualtrics, started in his mid 20s and still runs his software for businesses and academics. When he, his brother, and his father started Qualtrics, they decided they were not going to raise any funding. He never thought that an idea that started in his garage would expand to an 80,000 square foot building with 5,000 customers (some customers being 95 out of the 100 top business schools) in just eight years. They first targeted universities and their business and their business schools to use as an academic research assistant. He attended Brigham Young University in Utah and had a goal of making sophisticated research simple. Smith still has no plan to sell the company as he turned down a $500 million offer last year. Smith’s estimated net worth according to Forbes is $1 billion and growing fast.
The most intriguing of the five, in my opinion, has to be Zhou Qunfei who is the world’s richest self-made woman and the founder of Lens Technology. Lens Technology engages in research, development, manufacture, and sales of lens products. It provides and sells touch panel glass covers, touch sensor modules and touch panel covers. Her biggest customers are Apple and Samsung and created the super-slim glass screens for the iPhone. She works 18 hours a day and literally lives in her office. In her office, you will find a fridge, stove, and pot stored in the corner of the room with a small bed and rack of clothes right behind her desk. Ms. Qunfei became a billionaire just 12 days after her company went public. Here’s a little back story. She quit school at 15 and moved in with her uncle’s family after both of her parents passed away. While living with her uncle, she was a migrant worker. For a brief time, she considered a government job for stability but later discarded the idea since she was lacking a diploma. It was her cousin that encouraged her to start her own business and that’s where her idea started; in her 3 bedroom apartment. She took a hands on approach and involved herself in all aspects of the company. Over the years she started a total of 11 companies. Her estimated net worth according to Forbes is $10.8 billion.
These founders are some of the wealthiest entrepreneurs of our lifetime. Each of them has a story to influence an army of people and hopefully will shed light on many ideas in the making. They all had the drive and determination to create something bigger than themselves and were willing to do whatever it took to get to where they are today. What do all of these founders have in common you ask? Well to start, their willingness to start from scratch is motivation in itself. Passion is important. Each of these founders started from nothing and were motivated by their passion and confidence in their product. Secondly, they’re brave. In order to be successful, you need to take risks. Without taking risks, you will forever be at a standstill. You need to be able to push and have difficult conversations in order to excel. Bravery will take you a long way. Third, they’re enthusiastic for criticism both good and bad. Constructive criticism and just flat out criticism should not be the “end-all, be-all” of your company. Use the feedback to alter what you are doing to make your company more desirable to customers. Lastly, they know how to prioritize. In the beginning, it’s easier to test your idea first and then think about how you can change or build your business differently. Up until your company goes public, it’s important to prioritize and delegate so that you will be able to divide and conquer. With the right mindset, knowledge, and resources, you can achieve anything. Take a page from their book and be inspired by their stories in order to strive for greatness.