SELLER’S RE­MORSE

Forbes - - FORBES 400 - by pArmy Ol­sOn

Face­book’s block­buster $22 bil­lion What­sApp pur­chase in­stantly made Brian Ac­ton one of the rich­est peo­ple in Amer­ica. But as with his In­sta­gram peers, his ide­al­ism clashed with Mark Zucker­berg’s fi­nan­cial jug­ger­naut, lead­ing to per­haps the most ex­pen­sive moral stand in his­tory. For the first time, Ac­ton ex­plains why he walked away from $850 mil­lion.

What­sApp co­founder Brian Ac­ton, 46, sits in the cafe at the glitzy Four Sea­sons Ho­tel in Palo Alto, Cal­i­for­nia, and the only way you’d guess he might be worth $3.6 bil­lion is the $20 tip he briskly leaves for his cof­fee. Stur­dily built and wear­ing a base­ball cap and T-shirt from a What­sApp cor­po­rate event, he’s de­ter­mined to avoid the trap­pings of wealth and runs his own er­rands, in­clud­ing drop­ping off his mini­van for main­te­nance ear­lier that day. An SMS has just come in from his lo­cal Honda dealer say­ing “pay­ment re­ceived.” He points to it on his phone.

“This is what I wanted peo­ple to do with What­sApp,” he says of the world’s big­gest mes­sag­ing ser­vice, which is used by more than 1.5 bil­lion peo­ple and pro­vides ad-free, en­crypted mes­sag­ing as a core fea­ture. “This was in­for­ma­tional, and use­ful.”

The past tense and wist­ful­ness hang in the air. More than four years ago, Ac­ton and his co­founder, Jan Koum, sold What­sApp, which had rel­a­tively in­signif­i­cant rev­enue, to Face­book for $22 bil­lion, one of the most stun­ning ac­qui­si­tions of the cen­tury. A year ago he left Face­book, say­ing he wanted to fo­cus on a non­profit. Then in March, as de­tails of the Cam­bridge An­a­lyt­ica scan­dal oozed out, he sent a Tweet that quickly went vi­ral and shocked his for­mer em­ploy­ers, who had made him a bil­lion­aire many times over: “It is time. #delete­face­book.” No ex­pla­na­tion fol­lowed. He hasn’t sent an­other Tweet since.

Now he’s talk­ing pub­licly for the first time. Un­der pres­sure from Mark Zucker­berg and Sh­eryl Sand­berg to mon-

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