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WhatsApp's Jan Koum Has No Plans to Make Money (Video)

With Facebook footing the bill, WhatsApp has no pressure to monetize anytime soon.

Asa Mathat

WhatsApp CEO Jan Koum doesn’t care much about making money with his messaging app now that it’s owned by Facebook.

“Before [the acquisition] we experimented with monetization, we tried to charge in some countries,” Koum told Re/code’s Liz Gannes at the Code/Mobile conference Tuesday. “We didn’t have the long-term financial support of Facebook.”

Facebook snatched up Koum’s messaging app in February for a cool $19 billion and made Koum a board member. Onstage he discussed other topics, including plans for bringing voice call technology to WhatsApp by the first quarter of next year. Mainly, however, Koum has no real immediate plans to make money at WhatsApp.

“For a bit, we can focus on growth only and not have to do any kind of experimentation with monetization,” he said.

Koum’s comments echoed what Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has said on numerous occasions: Revenue won’t be a priority for WhatsApp for the next few years.

WhatsApp has never been a big revenue driver as we learned Tuesday. They tinkered with charging users in a few countries before the acquisition, but the company generated only $10 million in revenue in 2013. That revenue came from user subscriptions, not social ads which drive the bulk of Facebook’s revenue. Koum says WhatsApp has “no plans” to bring advertising into its app down the road, although it’s likely a Facebook-owned product with more than 600 million users will be tempting for advertisers.

For the time being, however, Zuckerberg and Koum are poised to wait. On Facebook’s Q3 earnings call Tuesday, Zuckerberg preached patience for WhatsApp. “Products aren’t really interesting as a business until they have a billion people using them,” he said.

Koum also addressed a story that surfaced last week that highlighted a restraining order filed against him nearly 20 years ago by an ex-girlfriend. Koum has already apologized for the incident, and pointed to that apology Tuesday. He also said that tech personalities in Silicon Valley are coming under increased scrutiny given their high profiles.

“It’s depressing and disappointing. It’s something that happened a long time ago,” he said. “It’s also a little bit of an indication of how Silicon Valley has become a little bit more like Hollywood where people are just a little too gossipy and not really focused on necessarily the product or building a company or innovating.”

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