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How This $10 Billion Firm Backed By WhatsApp Billionaire Jan Koum and an Ex-Sequoia Partner Quietly Built a Startup Portfolio

The two-year-old firm holds billions in equities like Alphabet, Amazon, and Meta, with a few early-stage startup investments.
WhatsApp CEO Jan Koum during the Mobile World Congress 2014 | Photo by LLUIS GENE/AFP via Getty Images
WhatsApp CEO Jan Koum during the Mobile World Congress 2014 | Photo by LLUIS GENE/AFP via Getty Images

In the early days of the pandemic, Michael Abramson, a former partner at Sequoia Capital, quietly returned to Texas to plan his next career move. With a low public profile despite backing startups like Glossier and Rappi, Abramson sought to continue his discreet approach in a new venture. He reached out to WhatsApp billionaire Jan Koum, and together they are now steering Newlands—a rapidly growing firm that has quietly become one of the significant players in tech funding, per Forbes.

Image Source: Photo by Proxyclick Visitor Management System | Pexels
Representational image | Photo by Proxyclick Visitor Management System | Pexels

Abramson and Koum have kept Newlands under wraps, avoiding public discussions and maintaining a minimalist corporate website. Despite this low-key approach, regulatory filings reveal a financial powerhouse, holding close to $10 billion in tech-heavy public equities and venturing into early-stage startup investments. Dallas-based Newlands is seen by some as essentially operating as Jan Koum's family office, deploying a portion of his estimated $15 billion fortune. Although filings link Koum to Newlands, experts note that it doesn't fit the typical family office model based on public records.

While the exact size of Newlands beyond its public holdings is unclear, neither Abramson nor Koum, along with three other known investors, responded to requests for comment. Despite this, insights from industry peers and collaborators suggest that Newlands has built an impressive portfolio of notable tech companies and is actively supporting various startups to further expand. Known for its "great network" and diverse investments, Newlands aims to contribute to the broader tech ecosystem while strategically managing and growing its wealth.

Image Source: Jan Koum, Co-founder and CEO of WhatsApp, speaks during a Keynote conference as part of the first day of the Mobile World Congress at the Fira Gran Via complex in Barcelona, Spain on February 24, 2014. The annual Mobile World Congress hosts some of the world's largest communication companies, the show runs from the 24 to 27 February. Photo by Manuel Blondeau/AOP.Press/Corbis (Photo by AOP.Press/Corbis via Getty Images)
Jan Koum, Co-founder and CEO of WhatsApp speaks during a Keynote conference | Photo by Manuel Blondeau/AOP. Press/Corbis (Photo by AOP.Press/Corbis via Getty Images)

In 2013, when Sequoia Capital decided to double down on its early-stage investment in WhatsApp, Michael Abramson played a pivotal role as a key member of the team working closely with Jan Koum. Both shared a common aversion to the limelight, a sentiment that had them connect beyond business. Koum, who came from Ukraine, developed a messaging app that reached 200 million users. In a rare 2014 Forbes interview, Koum revealed his disdain for publicity, a sentiment Abramson shared.

Abramson, a Texas native and Harvard and Stanford Business School graduate, gained recognition for his dislike of public attention since his early days at Sequoia. Known as "a good guy" with a tight network, he operated on the extreme side of introversion, eschewing the spotlight. His role at Sequoia involved working with Rappi, a Latin American on-demand app he backed in a Series B funding round in 2016. Despite being seemingly ill-suited for the company politics of a large VC firm, Abramson made a strong impression with his sharp and engaged approach.

Image Source: Photo by cottonbro studio | Pexels
Representational image | Photo by cottonbro studio | Pexels

Abramson's low-key approach & investments

Abramson's signature investments included Rappi, Glossier, and Noom. While these companies have yet to go public or be acquired, they have faced challenges and controversies. Despite these outcomes, Abramson remained low-profile, even when he departed Sequoia in 2020 amid the COVID-19 shutdowns, a move that was communicated privately to limited partners. Sequoia acknowledged Abramson's departure, expressing gratitude for his contributions to the growth business. Reflecting on Abramson, co-lead of Sequoia's growth team, Pat Grady, described him as a great partner and a close friend, wishing him continued success.

Launching Newlands 

In 2021, Michael Abramson found himself drawn to the idea of reuniting with Jan Koum, a close friend since WhatsApp's $22 billion sale to Facebook in 2014. Alongside fellow SCGE alumni Andy Shah and Dominik Pasalic, they quietly launched Newlands with an initial plan for a $1 billion fund, later expanding its scope. The firm's intentions and activities were kept under wraps, with limited public documentation connecting Koum to Newlands.

While the firm's overall size and operations remain mysterious, public filings indicate a significant portfolio, primarily in public tech stocks. Assets include nearly $3 billion in Meta, a nearly $1 billion stake in Tesla, and substantial positions in Alphabet, Amazon, and DoorDash, among others. Newlands has also ventured into startup investments, maintaining a quiet approach. While PitchBook and Crunchbase lack entries for Newlands, reports suggest participation in Series A funding for Kloudfuse and Lightup.

Despite Newlands' growing activities, it has not formalized a startup investment strategy or hired a dedicated investor for this purpose. The firm has reportedly approached other funds for co-investment opportunities. The exact percentage of Jan Koum's $15 billion fortune managed by Newlands remains unknown.

Image Source: Pexels/CoWomen
Redefining the idea of a family office (representational image) | Pexels/CoWomen

Experts note that Newlands exhibits characteristics akin to a hedge fund or special purpose vehicle. The firm describes itself as a "global investment partnership" on LinkedIn, with a team featuring specialists in finance, tax, and accounting. The comparison to Iconiq Capital, a firm that managed Mark Zuckerberg's wealth and invested in startups, suggests a potential trajectory for Newlands. However, for now, the firm's activities and strategies remain speculative, emphasizing its unique and evolving approach to investment. According to an insider, Newlands is redefining the concept of a family office, focusing on the freedom to invest as they see fit.