As the euphoria that met the deal between Facebook and WhatsApp gradually ebbs, it is time to reflect on the deal and what it portends for large corporations, and what lessons employers, the workforce, job seekers and budding entrepreneurs can learn from Jan Koum’s tale of grass to grace.
1. Doomsday Looms for Corporations
With a service that allows users to exchange free instant messages and pictures, phone service providers must be bracing for the impact the popularity of WhatsApp will have on their bottom line. This is not the first time, and it will not be the last, that a small company has emerged with a free service that competes with a service hitherto provided by bigger companies at exorbitant prices to consumers. There is Google Voice which some households have used to replace their house phones. There is WebMD stopping people from going to their doctor’s to check out that red spot on the neck, not to mention attorneys who are losing their clients to websites peddling legal forms and advice.
Although it is obvious that some of the free services mentioned cannot compare to those traditional businesses and professional providers, there is panic in various industries and businesses are adjusting by buying their competitions and changing their business models so that they will continue to be relevant by offering affordable services to their customers. However, given how much innovation the internet has brought, time will come when traditional businesses, as we know them, will lose their relevance and be forced to close up shop(s).
2. Chance Favors the Prepared
Often, when news like the one of the Facebook-WhatsApp deal breaks, we are inclined to think of how fortunate and lucky the beneficiary of what we like to believe is a windfall is. However, it is much more than luck. It is reward for years of hard work and perseverance. In this article Forbes gives us insight into the many hurdles Jan Koum, WhatsApp’s owner, had to jump to get where he is today. Born in a small village near Ukraine, Jan faced hardship growing up and at 16, migrated to the United States where he and his mother lived on government assistance collecting food stamps. Remembering his roots, Jan signed his contract with Facebook in a building in Mountain view California where he once stood in line to collect his welfare. I know these rag-to- riches tale are becoming all too common but they go to show that the lion was once a cub and that it takes persistence to reach our goals.
Stories like this teach us that success is more like 90% hard work and 10% luck. Without hard work, one will have nothing to give in exchange for an opportunity when it presents itself.
3. For Some Professions, the Nerdier, the Better
The third lesson is that sometimes the most talented people do not know how to market themselves. Jan Koum, who is known to avoid the press and from all indication appears to be reserved, once applied for a job at Facebook and was rejected. While I do not know why Facebook didn’t offer him the job, it is apparent he didn’t market himself ‘good enough’ for Facebook to take notice of his capabilities. Getting a job requires the skills of a salesman because you have to effectively sell yourself to prospective employers before you can land that highly coveted job. In today’s economy, even with an impressive resume and credentials, talented but socially inept people may find it hard to get a job because employers fail to see beyond the weak handshake, lack of eye contact and slumped shoulders. The truth however is that for some professions, introverts, who by the way are more likely to display these body languages, fare better than their counterparts on the job. It is common knowledge that most computer geeks, writers, scientists and many people whose job requires some creativity are introverted and may not be able to impress employers during job interviews. While one cannot ignore that there are some jobs, like customer service jobs, that require people who are friendly and people-oriented, employers should know when a job doesn’t require social skills and give candidates who lack them but know their stuff a chance.
4. Courage to Budding Entrepreneurs
It is easy to get discouraged after months and sometimes years of tens of job applications that don’t get even as much an acknowledgement. Also, self-doubt usually set in, and job seekers may tend to think that they are no good. But sometimes, disappointment paves way for greater things. In fact, most great people were forced to greatness by harsh circumstances. When left with no prospects, we are more inclined to work harder than when we are in the midst of comfort and wealth. Jan developed his App during his period of unemployment. He didn’t give up. Is it not ironic that Facebook which was reluctant to offer him a job that may not have paid six figures now excitedly gave $19 billion dollars to him. Had Facebook hired Jan and he developed the App as their employee, what we know as WhatsApp may have been yet another feature on Facebook and Jan might not have received any personal credits, not to mention billions, for having developed it.
Having watched people I know go from being unemployed to building successful businesses, I have learnt that if we set our minds to it, we too can build something out of nothing and even become employers ourselves. And when we do, who knows who will come knocking at our doors?