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From Ghana to Silicon Valley: One entrepreneur’s journey

Nyansa co-founder talks about success, fundraising and being an immigrant entrepreneur

Abe Ankumah, Nyansa co-founder, is photographed at his headquarters in Palo Alto, California, on Wednesday, Oct. 4, 2017. Nyansa is a network analytics software company. (Gary Reyes/ Bay Area News Group)

As he was growing up in Ghana without access to a computer — much less other high-tech gadgets — it wasn’t obvious that Abe Ankumah would go on to found a fast-growing Silicon Valley tech company.

But  fast forward a few decades, and Ankumah has joined the ranks of Bay Area entrepreneurs on the roller coaster startup ride. He founded Palo Alto-based Nyansa in 2013 with two other immigrant co-founders — Anand Srinivas was born in India and grew up in Canada, and Daniel Kan was born in China and moved to the U.S. at a young age. The company makes analytics software that helps businesses run their IT networks.

“What we’re doing is equivalent to what Google analytics does for the Internet. We’re doing something like that, but for enterprise computer networks,” Ankumah said.

The  concept isn’t as sexy a hot social media app or flashy meal delivery service. But Nyansa is the type of enterprise software company with a steady revenue stream that’s attracted investor attention. While IPOs from well-known Snap and Blue Apron fizzled this year, deals from lesser-known local enterprise companies like MuleSoft, Cloudera and Okta have done well.

Nyanss may be on track to join those successes. The company has more than doubled its customer base over the last six months, grown its revenue by 750 percent year-over-year, and landed contracts with big-name customers including Uber, Tesla, Nvidia and Walmart.

Ankumah sat down with this news organization to talk about building a successful business, navigating Silicon Valley’s sometimes treacherous funding environment and being an immigrant founder. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Q: What was it like moving from Ghana to the U.S. to go to college at Cal Tech? 

A: Being far away from home actually didn’t end up being as hard as people normally would have thought, because I went to an all-boys boarding school. Albeit this was 24 hours away by flight on the other side of the world … that part was actually not the harder part. I would say it was adjusting to a very academically rigorous environment where all of a sudden I wasn’t the best student — and I was used to being the best at whatever I did.

I felt like I was a kid in a candy store. Literally anything that I had dreamt of getting deeper insight into, I pursued. And being a kid who had grown up in Ghana, being able to actually have office hours with Nobel Laureates was unreal.

Q: Tell me about getting used to new technology in college. You hadn’t even used a computer before then, right?

A: That’s correct. I had to work 10 times as hard as the next person to wrap my head around it. It took a little bit of patience. It was an exercise in humility. But because I was really passionate about the general tech space and understanding how these things work, I ended up falling in love with it.

Q: As an immigrant founder, what are your thoughts on the administration’s stance on immigration — cracking down on illegal immigration and H1-B visas, and delaying the startup visa?

A: My personal take is ultimately we might not necessarily see it in the short-term, but I think it hurts the startup ecosystem. One of the things that Silicon Valley has going for it is it’s been able to attract the best of the best from around the world. If you talk to anyone around the world, and you say you want to do something in technology, where should you go? There was only one answer: move to Silicon Valley. I think the harder it is for people to feel welcome, ultimately the U.S. will suffer.

Q: Your company looked into raising a second round of financing earlier this year and decided to hold off. Tell me about that decision.

A: That was probably one of the best decisions we ever made for the company, actually, in hindsight. We talked to some very early investors and the general theme we got was, “you guys need to prove things out a little bit more.”

Now on the other hand, when we looked around, people appeared to be raising money left and right. A lot of the companies that did that so quickly actually ended up doing it under not-so-favorable terms.

We’ve done more business in the last 10 weeks than we did in the first 10 months of shipping our product. And in fact one of the things that’s starting to happen is investors are now coming to us, versus earlier in the year when we were having to make a case and explain.

Q: What are your thoughts on the broader fundraising environment?

A: I think good companies will always get funded. Investors tend to be thematic. As far as I can tell, several months ago, or maybe last year, consumer companies were the darlings of investors. And I think investors have pulled back on that a little bit. What you’re starting to see is people going back to business fundamentals and funding more enterprise companies, companies that are selling (business-to-business). I think those companies, they tend to be a little bit more predictable.

Q: What lessons have you learned so far from founding your first startup?

A: I would say recruiting good people. And that never stops, because good people recruit other good people. Sometimes people tend to think that innovation in startups only happens on the technical axis — building a cool widget. But where the most value in startups actually gets unlocked is coupling technology innovation with business model innovation.

 

From Ghana to Silicon Valley: One entrepreneur’s journey

Nyansa co-founder talks about success, fundraising and being an immigrant entrepreneur

Abe Ankumah, Nyansa co-founder, is photographed at his headquarters in Palo Alto, California, on Wednesday, Oct. 4, 2017. Nyansa is a network analytics software company. (Gary Reyes/ Bay Area News Group)
Abe Ankumah, Nyansa co-founder, is photographed at his headquarters in Palo Alto, California, on Wednesday, Oct. 4, 2017. Nyansa is a network analytics software company. (Gary Reyes/ Bay Area News Group)
PUBLISHED:  | UPDATED: 

As he was growing up in Ghana without access to a computer — much less other high-tech gadgets — it wasn’t obvious that Abe Ankumah would go on to found a fast-growing Silicon Valley tech company.

But fast forward a few decades, and Ankumah has joined the ranks of Bay Area entrepreneurs on the roller coaster startup ride. He founded Palo Alto-based Nyansa in 2013 with two other immigrant co-founders — Anand Srinivas was born in India and grew up in Canada, and Daniel Kan was born in China and moved to the U.S. at a young age. The company makes analytics software that helps businesses run their IT networks.

“What we’re doing is equivalent to what Google analytics does for the Internet. We’re doing something like that, but for enterprise computer networks,” Ankumah said.

The concept isn’t as sexy a hot social media app or flashy meal delivery service. But Nyansa is the type of enterprise software company with a steady revenue stream that’s attracted investor attention. While IPOs from well-known Snap and Blue Apron fizzled this year, deals from lesser-known local enterprise companies like MuleSoft, Cloudera and Okta have done well.

Nyansa may be on track to join those successes. The company has more than doubled its customer base over the last six months, grown its revenue by 750 percent year-over-year, and landed contracts with big-name customers including Uber, Tesla, Nvidia and Walmart.

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Ankumah sat down with this news organization to talk about building a successful business, navigating Silicon Valley’s sometimes treacherous funding environment and being an immigrant founder. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Q: What was it like moving from Ghana to the U.S. to go to college at Cal Tech? 

A: Being far away from home actually didn’t end up being as hard as people normally would have thought, because I went to an all-boys boarding school. Albeit this was 24 hours away by flight on the other side of the world … that part was actually not the harder part. I would say it was adjusting to a very academically rigorous environment where all of a sudden I wasn’t the best student — and I was used to being the best at whatever I did.

I felt like I was a kid in a candy store. Literally anything that I had dreamt of getting deeper insight into, I pursued. And being a kid who had grown up in Ghana, being able to actually have office hours with Nobel Laureates was unreal.

Q: Tell me about getting used to new technology in college. You hadn’t even used a computer before then, right?

A: That’s correct. I had to work 10 times as hard as the next person to wrap my head around it. It took a little bit of patience. It was an exercise in humility. But because I was really passionate about the general tech space and understanding how these things work, I ended up falling in love with it.

Q: As an immigrant founder, what are your thoughts on the administration’s stance on immigration — cracking down on illegal immigration and H1-B visas, and delaying the startup visa?

A: My personal take is ultimately we might not necessarily see it in the short-term, but I think it hurts the startup ecosystem. One of the things that Silicon Valley has going for it is it’s been able to attract the best of the best from around the world. If you talk to anyone around the world, and you say you want to do something in technology, where should you go? There was only one answer: move to Silicon Valley. I think the harder it is for people to feel welcome, ultimately the U.S. will suffer.

Q: Your company looked into raising a second round of financing earlier this year and decided to hold off. Tell me about that decision.

A: That was probably one of the best decisions we ever made for the company, actually, in hindsight. We talked to some very early investors and the general theme we got was, “you guys need to prove things out a little bit more.”

Now on the other hand, when we looked around, people appeared to be raising money left and right. A lot of the companies that did that so quickly actually ended up doing it under not-so-favorable terms.

We’ve done more business in the last 10 weeks than we did in the first 10 months of shipping our product. And in fact one of the things that’s starting to happen is investors are now coming to us, versus earlier in the year when we were having to make a case and explain.

Q: What are your thoughts on the broader fundraising environment?

A: I think good companies will always get funded. Investors tend to be thematic. As far as I can tell, several months ago, or maybe last year, consumer companies were the darlings of investors. And I think investors have pulled back on that a little bit. What you’re starting to see is people going back to business fundamentals and funding more enterprise companies, companies that are selling (business-to-business). I think those companies, they tend to be a little bit more predictable.

Q: What lessons have you learned so far from founding your first startup?

A: I would say recruiting good people. And that never stops, because good people recruit other good people. Sometimes people tend to think that innovation in startups only happens on the technical axis — building a cool widget. But where the most value in startups actually gets unlocked is coupling technology innovation with business model innovation.


Abe AnkumahTitle: Co-founder and CEO at Nyansa

Age: 39

Hometown: Accra, the capital of Ghana

Residence: San Mateo

Family: Ankumah is married and has two children, a 7-year-old boy and 5-year-old girl.

Education: Bachelor’s of science in electrical engineering from Cal Tech, and a MBA from Harvard Business School

Five facts about Abe Ankumah

1. He’s the youngest of five kids.

2. He knows how to cook. Ankumah has taken cooking classes in almost 20 countries, and knows how to prepare a variety of different cuisines.

3. He once thought he would make the Ghana Olympic team in track and field

4. Ankumah mostly listens to books instead of reading them these days. The last one he listened to was “Zero to One” by Peter Thiel. One of his favorite books is “Radical Candor: be a Kick-ass Boss Without Losing your Humanity,” by Kim Scott.

5. He loves spicy food, and even participated recently in a spicy food eating contest at Dave’s Gourmet in San Francisco. “I could not feel my tongue when I left,” he said, “but at least I can say I kept up with the best of them.”

Source: Mercury News.com

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