These are the inventors of 15 of the most popular websites and apps
Sure, most of us know by now who invented Amazon (Jeff Bezos), Facebook (Mark Zuckenberg), or Google (Larry Page)*. But who invented other popular websites and apps that millions of people use everyday, such as YouTube, eBay, WhatsApp, Duolingo, or Spotify? Well, these brilliant people. Here are the creators of 15 of the most popular websites/apps:
Who invented YouTube?
Steve Chen (Taiwan), Jawed Karim (Germany-Bangladesh), and Chad Hurley (U.S.) met while they worked at PayPal, in California. They became friends, and eventually left the company to launch a start-up of their own. Although they had not decided which.
They went through several unsuccessful ideas, until Janet Jackson’s mishap at the Super Bowl inspired Jawed. He had looked for clips of Janet’s incident online, but had found none. For at the time (early 2000’s) there where no websites where one could share homemade videos. He told his friends about this void, and the trio decided to launch YouTube.
Steve and Jawed, who had studied computer science, managed the technical part; while graphic designer Chad worked on the interface of the site. YouTube launched in April 2005. The first video uploaded was a short one that Jawed filmed at the San Francisco zoo.
The site grew rapidly. A few months later, in November, Sequoia Capital invested 3.5 million dollars in the project. And less than one year after its launch, YouTube had 25 million views per day. Google took notice and acquired the company for 1.65 billion dollars in October 2006.
Today, YouTube is the second most visited website in the world… after Google itself.
Who invented Instagram?
It was 2010 and an application called Foursquare was all the rage. It allowed users to “check-in” with their phones to tell their friends where they were dining, strolling, or shopping at that moment. So Bostonian Kevin Systrom created a prototype for a similar application. It was called Burbn.
In March, Kevin convinced investors that Burbn was a good idea and raised 500,000 dollars to develop it. After that, he quit his job and dedicated himself fully to Burbn. And he partnered with Brazilian developer Michel Krieger. Both had attended Stanford University, Kevin had majored in Management Science and Engineering and Mike, in Symbolic Systems. And both had worked for tech giants such as Google and Microsoft.
The pair upgraded Burbn giving it a lot of features, including photo-sharing capabilities. But then realized it had too many features and decided to concentrate on the photo-sharing aspect. The co-founders launched the app, which they renamed Instagram, in October 2010. Since iPhones with their built-in cameras were starting to make a splash, Instagram was an instant success. During its first week it was downloaded 100,000 times.
Two years later Instagram had 32 million users, and Facebook bought it for a billion dollars. The app now has more than one billion users.
Who invented eBay?
The founder is Pierre Omidyar. Pierre’s Iranian parents moved to France to attend universities there. Pierre was born in Paris. When he was still young his father earned a residency as a surgeon at the John Hopkins Hospital. So the family moved again, this time to Baltimore, in the U.S.
Pierre majored in Computer Science at Tufts University, and then worked developing software and writing programs. In September of 1995 he started one more of his private ventures from his living room in California. It was an online marketplace where people could auction their products. Pierre called it AuctionWeb.
The next year AuctionWeb hired its first employee. And by the end of that year 7.2 million dollars worth of sales had been made thanks to the site. So Pierre quit his day job and hired a business manager, Canadian Jeff Skoll. The following year they changed the company’s name to eBay and hired Meg Whitman as CEO and President. When the company went public, Pierre and Jeff became billionaires.
In 2018, $95 billion worth of merchandise was sold through eBay.
Who invented Skype?
Swede Niklas Zennstrom and Dane Janus Friis invented Skype. The pair met in the 90’s while working at Tele2, a Swedish telecommunications company. Niklas hired Janus as head of costumer service. Janus was a high school dropout who had worked in costumer service before. While Niklas had degrees in Business Administration and Computer Science from Uppsala University,
The pair began working in projects together both inside and outside Tele2. By 2000 they had left their jobs to work on a file-sharing program which allowed people to exchange movies and songs over the internet. It was called KaZaA. But the Scandinavians were hit by lawsuits coming from the music industry. So they sold the company and regrouped.
They still believed in the file-sharing system, though. So this time around they used it to make phone calls from one computer to another. And the idea for Skype was born. Next, they brought in four Estonian tech wizards they knew from their Tele2 and KaZaA days –Ahti Heinla, Priit Kasesalu, Toivo Annus, and Jaan Tallinn– to write the software.
Skype launched in 2003 and gathered 10,000 subscribers on its first day. Two years later eBay bought Skype for $2.5 billion. But soon (2009) sold it to Silver Lake Investor Group, which in turn sold it to Microsoft for $8.5 billion.
The Luxembourg-based company is used by 300 million people every month.
Who invented PayPal?
Ukrainian Max Levchin sold a company to Microsoft before graduating from the University of Illinois. After graduation, the computer scientist moved to Silicon Valley. He wanted to create a encryption company. So when Max met German investor Peter Thiel at an event, he pitched him the idea. Peter decided to invest. They co-founded FieldLink in 1998 and recruited four of their friends to help with the company: Chinese Yu Pan (developer), Pole Luke Nosek (marketing), and the Americans Ken Howery (finances) and Russel Simmons (developer).
The next year they changed the company’s name to Confinity. And the team created a division within the company which allowed people to transfer money online. They called it PayPal. Nokia and the Deutshce Bank invested 3.5 million dollars in Paypal. Interestingly, that same year, 1999, saw the birth of another online money transferring company: X.com, founded by South African Elon Musk. Confinity and X.Com started to compete mercilessly against one another, until they decided that the best solution was to merge under the name PayPal.
In the meantime, eBay needed to make its online payments easier and safer, so it acquired Paypal for 1.5 billion dollars in 2002. The companies split in 2015.
In 2018, 9.9 billion payments were made through Paypal, earning the California-based company $15 billion.
Who invented WhatsApp?
Ukrainian Jan Koum emigrated to California in his late teens, along with his mom. In those years the Koums worked minimal wage jobs and lived on food stamps.
In high school Jan became interested in programming. Eventually, he enrolled at San Jose State University, but dropped out and worked as a security tester for Ernst & Young. Through his job he met Michigan-born Brian Acton, a computer-scientist that was working for Yahoo. Jan and Brian became friends, and soon Jan too was working at Yahoo, as an infrastructure engineer. The friends stayed in the company for a decade, until 2007. Then they quit and traveled to South America.
By 2009 they were back in California. And Jan had a brand new iPhone. One day he noticed that he had missed several calls while he was at the gym. So he decided to make an app, WhatsApp, that would let his contacts now when he was available and when he was not. He hired Igor Solomennikov, a Russian-based iPhone developer, to help him.
The app was still in its first stages when Jan’s Russian friends installed it in their phones to give him feedback. Turns out they were using it for instant messaging. Every time someone updated his status all the other friends commented, setting off a conversation. By November 2009 Brian Acton, Jan’s friend from Yahoo, was impressed with the potential of the app so he became a co-founder and raised 250,000 dollars for WhatsApp.
In 2014 Jan and Brian sold the app to Facebook for $22 billion. It now has 1.5 billion active users.
Who invented Duolingo?
Luis von Ahn was born and raised in Guatemala, where his family owned a candy factory. As a child he would go to the factory and try to figure out how the machines worked -he broke several in those early experiments. When he was eight his mom bought him a computer. Five years later Luis was writing his first computer program.
After graduating from a private school in 1996, Luis wanted to study Mathematics. Since the career was not offered in Guatemala, he enrolled in Duke University in the U.S. Then he got a PhD in Computer Science at Carnegie Mellon University. And it was at Carnegie that inspiration struck. Luis attended a lecture by Yahoo’s chief scientist who explained the 10 biggest problems the company was facing. One of them was that robots were signing up for millions of e-mail accounts and using them to spam other users. Luis decided to solve it. Luis and his PhD adviser, Venezuelan Manuel Blum, devised a system that could tell robots and humans apart: the famous (infamous?) CAPTCHAS -those blurry letters that appear on your screen when you try to sign-in to a site.
In 2007 Luis created another system called RECAPTCHAS, which helps digitize books and articles. Before turning 30 he had sold both companies to Google.
In 2009 Luis, who by now was a professor at Carnegie, wanted to start a project centered on education. With one of his PhD students, Swiss Severin Hacker (that is his real name), they decided to translate the contents of the internet into other languages, to give everyone access to the same information. Eventually the project morphed into a free website and app that actually focused on learning languages: Duolingo. Luis and Severin styled it as a game in which the user earns points, bonuses, and completes levels. Shortly after its debut in 2013 Duolingo was named App of the year by Apple.
In 2018 Duolingo had 30 million active monthly users and was valued at 700 million dollars.
Who invented Spotify?
Swedish inventor Daniel Ek comes from a musical family. Two of his grandparents are musicians and Daniel plays several musical instruments. When Daniel was little he used to listen to music while indulging in other of his passions: writing computer programs.
The future inventor wanted to be rich, and at thirteen began designing web pages for others. Soon the business took off, and he had to hire more programmers. The teenager was earning $50,000 a month. He applied to work for Google but got turned down for not having a university degree. Then he attended a Swedish university, but dropped out.
Daniel turned his attention to business again, and founded an online advertising company called Advertigo. Which, before turning 25, he sold to Tradedoubler, a Swedish company. Now, the owner of Tradedoubler was Martin Lorentzon, another Swede that grew up telling his school friends he was going to be a billionaire. Daniel and Martin became friends.
And in that same year (2006) the pair started working on a new project of their own: Spotify. Musical piracy was blooming at the time and buying music legitimately was expensive. So the duo decided to make music accessible to users while, at the same time, paying the music industry. They launched their website in 2008.
The Swedish company currently has 232 million users. And it is valued at $26 billion.
The inventors of other popular sites:
Invented in 2006 by Jack Dorsey, Evan Williams, Noah Glass, and Biz Stone, all of them hail from the U.S. Twitter is a social platform that allows to share short text messages and pictures. It has 336 million monthly users. And its market value is around the $30 billion.
LinkedIn was co-founded by five individuals: Reid Hoffman, a venture capitalist from the U.S.; Konstantin Guericke, a marketer from Germany; Allen Blue, a designer from the U.S.; and engineers Eric Ly from Vietnam and Jean-Luc Vaillant from France. The social media platform focuses on professional networking. It was launched in 2003. Microsoft bought LinkedIn for 26.2 billion dollars in 2016. It has 500 million members.
Co-founded by Stanford professors Andrew Ng (China) and Daphne Koller (Israel). Coursera is a learning platform that offers online courses from the best universities in the world… for free. Launched in 2012 it now has 33 million users.
Alibaba began as an online marketplace that later diversified. It is huge in China. It was founded in 1999 by Chinese Jack Ma along with 17 of his friends. The Chinese company is now worth some $480 billion.
*THE UNSUNG HEROES
At the beginning of this article we mentioned the public faces of Facebook and Google, but since both companies had co-founders, we thought we should mention the media-shy partners:
Facebook was co-founded by Brazilian Eduardo Saverin, plus Dustin Moskovitz, Chris Hughes, and Andrew McCollum (all three from the U.S.).
Google was co-founded by Russian Sergey Mikhaylovich Brin.
Amazon has no co-founders. All the credit goes to Jeff Bezos.