Brian Acton

WhatsApp Cofounder Felt ‘Numb’ Walking Away from $850M at Facebook

WhatsApp co-founder Brian Acton opens up about walking away from Facebook, and why time is his most valued asset.

Read an edited transcript below, or listen to the full interview on the First Contact podcast.

I’m not your 20-somethings startup founder, you know, and so for me, time is actually more of an essence.

Brian Acton:  I could have sucked it up and stayed. But it’s also not my DNA to phone it in. And you know, I could have done a mix of trying to have phone it in and kind of limp along and kind of half do my job. And that’s just not me.

Laurie Segall: So you could’ve stayed a year, but instead but instead you walked out the door and left $850 million on the table. Right?

Brian Acton: A little bit more. Yeah. … 

(Laurie pauses)

Brian Acton: She’s pausing for effect.

Laurie Segall: I’m trying to think in my head … It must have been hard.

Brian Acton: But how much money do you need? Money and wealth does not buy immortality. I’m not your 20-somethings startup founder, you know, and so for me, time is actually more of an essence. How can I contribute to this world while I’m still on it? So a year is a lot of time…

Laurie Segall: How did you feel walking out of there?

Brian Acton: Um, numb. A little numb. Yeah. I mean it’s… for me, you know, it was the end of a really wonderful time and you know, it was eight years almost to the day that I was part of WhatsApp and I saw so much. Met, you know, some great people saw so much. 

Laurie Segall: What were the months after like for you emotionally?

Brian Acton: You’re actually asking me something I haven’t really thought about. It was more just sort of internalizing and grokking and really understanding, sort of what I had done, um, in the- in the impact of it. I mean, I’m a fairly sort of even-keeled person. I didn’t have any sort of freak out moments or anything like that, but it was like, you know, occasionally you second guess yourself, it’s like, did I really make the right choice? Should I have stayed longer? You know, am I doing the right thing going forward? That, you know, those are some of the things where you, you sort of, you know, just sort of mentally debate yourself.