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Jan Koum - Talent is as Talent Does

Updated on February 22, 2014

Overlooking Talent Will Cost You Billions

This week Whats App founder Jan Koum and his partner Brian Acton signed a $19 Billion Dollar deal to be acquired by Facebook.

While this story makes me weep and cheer loudly for the little guy or the underdog, I can't help to at least for me, see a bigger picture emerging here.

The media reported that Koum, signed his agreement at the County Welfare office, where he received Food Stamps and cash aid as a young teen, after his mother became ill.

It strikes me to the core that more people in the country are so polarized by this story and the many people who are essentially like Koum, in more was than many people are willing to admit or even realize.

Koum came to this country as an immigrant from the suburbs of Kiev and moved with his mother and grandmother to Mountain View, where a social support program helped the family to get a small two-bedroom apartment.

Koums' father had intended to join the family later, but finally remained in Ukraine. Initially Koum's mother worked as a babysitter, while he himself worked as a cleaner at a grocery

Koum came to face a fact that everyone in the United States already knows. Nothing here is promised and more often than not, you have to work harder than the next guy just to get by.

Nobody wants to be on public assistance, if there is an alternative. Public assistance can feel demeaning and humiliating.

Some of you may be thinking, if you really wanted something better, than you'd do something about it.

To a large extent, I agree with you and clearly, so did Koum and Acton. Facing a difficult living situation, you have two choices: Wait and see what happens, like a wave washing over you at the beach or learn to swim and navigate the currents.

Yes, some people are content to sit on the beach and wait and to see what happens. That is not the majority of people. Most people prefer dignity and the ability to take a job that is worthy of their skill sets and time.

On the flip side of the coin, in this country we see people everyday who have been at the same job for 15, 20 or even 25 years being laid off.

Getting a job after the age of 40 is becoming increasingly difficult to do. So, what happens to talented people who need a job and have much to offer?

I'll tell you. They get passed over. Koum and Acton are a perfect example of just two unbelievably talented individuals who couldn't pass muster at Facebook or Twitter.

If they aren't Facebook or Twitter recruiting material, then the rest of us are doomed...or are we?

It's been widely reported that Acton and Koum both worked at Yahoo for several years before becoming bored with the day-to-day and more than likely office politics that play a heavy hand in the corporate environment today.

I too, worked at Yahoo for several years. While I enjoyed the work and the people, at least most of them anyway, I can tell you like most offices, politics, nepotism and stupidity were alive and well.

It's amazing to think that people can lose a job, no matter how talented they are, just because someone doesn't like you or want's to bring a friend along with them.

This is where, I cheer the loudest for Koum and Acton. While they left their jobs and most of us are downsized or forced out, they were and are still talented individuals, like most of you who are reading this are.

Facebook chose someone else. Someone who was more closely aligned with their vision of the ideal candidate.

I'd be willing to bet, that the candidates that were chosen over Acton and Koum are still working at Facebook and doing an outstanding job of being the quintessential candidate that best meets the Facebook culture.

Koum and Acton started their own company, "Whats App"

Any chance of those two people selling something anything to Facebook for $19 billion? I doubt it...but hey, it could happen.

So, what am I saying here? I am politely saying to corporate America, the people that don't match your ideal or look thin enough, or have been out of work longer than 6 months, or happen to have a bit more gray, than the last 45 candidates you interviewed for a job that paid less than they made 10 years ago, are taking note.

They will remember you, long after you've forgotten them.

If employers are too stupid to recognize talent where talent is, then to hell with them! $19 billion will be a drop in the bucket in 5 years.

There are countless examples of people on public assistance or where so poor, some of them spent time being homeless.

J.K. Rowling, Oprah Winfrey and John Paul DeGoria are just a few. Some of you may say, in the face of adversity, these people worked harder and they persevered.

But, while this is true, each one of these people needed a break. They needed an employer to see, talent where talent is and not a candidate that was good at coding or beer pong and looked the part, of some unreal idealistic and moronic clique.

For my money, I am willing to bet, that there are many more Jan Koums' out there, whereas Food Stamps and public assistance, may just be the catalyst the pushes your acquisition cost into the stratosphere.

Think I'm kidding? Facebook said no to Google and Groupon..said no, well Groupon is still a good example, but Groupon and MySpace and AOL forgot that beauty fades but talent goes on forever, just ask PayPal co-founder Elon Musk.

I specifically remember an idea building strategy at Yahoo, long before Marissa Mayer arrived.

The setting was In one of the community kitchens, where an idea box with a bit of information with a link to a page on the company intranet was in view of the staff.

The company was asking for ideas to help promote the company. Ok, that seems well and fine and within reason. The information laid out how you could submit your ideas for growth and how they could be implemented.

If the company decided to "try out" your idea, you could win a gift certificate to the company store for $25... "wait..what?"

Let me see if I can understand what I believed, I was reading: Submit an idea that grows the business, presumably by millions (otherwise, why adopt it) and win a $25 gift certificate! Yeah, let me get right on that!

I had ideas, plenty of them but, they were not for sale at the low, low price of $25 and ONLY at the Yahoo gift store.. I'll take the license plate frame please! Not!

Wake up Corporate America! Forrest Gump had it right on so many levels: "Stupid is as Stupid Does".

Talent is as Talent does. Job seekers over 40 are like a box of fine aged chocolates or delicious fine wine. Choosing not to vary your talent pool is a fiscal risk, that I am personally betting will cost you financially and possibly even your own job or economic corporate standing.

I may take up a new mantra: Ignore me now, pay me later!

Book writers no longer need publishers, they can self publish, sell their own rights and scripts all after being rejected by big publishing companies.

Remember when ABC passed on the Cosby Show in the 1980s and NBC picked them up.. ever wonder whatever happened to the guys that made that "worst-ever" TV gamble?

"According to TV Guide, the show "was TV's biggest hit in the 1980s, and almost single-handedly revived the sitcom genre and NBC's ratings fortunes". Originally, the show had been pitched to ABC, which rejected it."

Instead of asking "does this candidate match my ideal?" employers should be asking, "What am I potentially risking by letting this candidate walk away?"

Yes, candidates are like a box of chocolates, you never know what you're gonna get (thank you, mama) but, if you only eat the chocolate the you've always eaten, you're destined to miss out on something truly amazing.




Employers Have No Idea

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