This is how These 5 Immigrant Entrepreneurs Are Living the American Dream
By definition, entrepreneurs excel at starting something from nothing. For immigrant entrepreneurs,starting a successful business after emigrating to another country is a familiar experience.All of these founders did just that, moving thousands of miles from home to where their talents and drive would be most appreciated.Here are five Immigrants that have made it:
Dheeraj Pandey (Nutanix).
In 1997, Dheeraj Pandey arrived in Austin with two suitcases and $900 in his pocket. He had just taken the first flight of his life, from Bihar, “the most lawless and poorest state of India,” he says, to pursue a PhD in computer science at the University of Texas. But in his second year, Pandey dropped out to become an engineer instead. After nine years in Silicon Valley, including nearly five at Oracle–and surviving the bursting of the tech bubble in 2000–Pandey was ready to strike out on his own. With his green card and no more than $100,000 in savings, Pandey started Nutanix in 2009, with a goal to “make IT infrastructure simple and elegant.” Geared toward the world’s largest companies, Nutanix, based in San Jose, folds computing, storage, and virtualization resources–which allow customers to “see” their IT systems–into two standalone products. Today, he has more than 2,000 employees in 40 countries, and last December Nutanix filed to go public. “The biggest challenge is personal,” says the 41-year-old Pandey, who’s come a very long way since landing in the U.S. “Anytime I feel like there’s too much to lose, I feel like I’m not taking risks.”
Jan Koum (WhatsApp)
Co-founder Jan Koum grew up in a rural village outside of Kiev, Ukraine. When he was 16, Koum and his mother left to escape virulent anti-Semitism there. They packed 20 Soviet-issued notebooks in order to avoid paying for school supplies, and they moved to Mountain View, California. At first Koum’s mother worked as a babysitter, while he himself worked as a cleaner at agrocery. By the age of 18 he became interested in programming. He enrolled at San Jose State University and simultaneously worked at Ernst & Young as a security tester. In 1997, Jan Koum was hired by Yahoo as an infrastructure engineer, shortly after he met Brian Acton. In September 2007 Koum left Yahoo and took a year off. Both applied, and failed, to work at Facebook. In January 2009, he realized that the then-seven-month-old App Store was about to spawn a whole new industry of apps. He visited his friend Alex Fishman and the two talked for hours about Koum’s idea for an app over tea at Fishman’s kitchen counter. Koum almost immediately chose the name WhatsApp because it sounded like “what’s up“, and a week later on his birthday, February 24, 2009, he incorporated WhatsApp Inc. in California.
WhatsApp became popular in just a small amount of time, and this caught Facebook’s attention. Facebook’s founder Mark Zuckerberg first contacted Koum in the spring 2012. The two began meeting at a coffee shop in Los Altos, California, then began a series of dinners and walks in the hills above Silicon Valley.
On February 9, 2014 Zuckerberg asked Koum to have dinner at his home, and formally proposed Koum a deal to join the Facebook board – 10 days later Facebook announced it was acquiring WhatsApp for US$19 Billion USD.
Hiral Sanghavi (travel jacket)
He had launched three small startups in his native India before moving to the U.S. 3 years ago. Now, crowdfunding has put the 30-year-old entrepreneur on a fast track to the American Dream.
Sanghavi raised $11.5 million across a couple of ultra-successful crowdfunding campaigns — $9.2 million on Kickstarter and another $2.3 on Indiegogo — so that they could manufacture a jacket optimized for travel. “It’s just 3 years I am living in the U.S. and I am already living my American Dream,” Sanghavi says. Sanghavi designed and manufactured a travel jacket with more than a dozen features, including a built-in travel pillow, a koozie drink pocket and an iPad pocket, and they began distributing it through their Seattle-based apparel company BauBax. “Everything has gone so fast and happened so fast for us,” says Sanghavi, “I haven’t got the chance to take a holiday after the last campaign’s success.
That’s the magic of crowdfunding -you can go from zero to 60 almost immediately.Or, in the case of Sanghavi and Shah, from zero customers to 45,000 in 120 countries buying 65,000 jackets in two months.
To grow BauBax, Sanghavi left business school at the esteemed Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. He also turned down summer internship offers at Apple, Groupon and Cisco. He’s had a few confused comments from friends: “You turned down Apple and you launched a wearable technology startup?”But those comments can’t dampen Sanghavi’s excitement.
He says his American Dream is just getting started.“It’s been a great, great ride since last summer,” Sanghavi says. But “I am still at the beginning of the journey.”
Angela Romero (CentralCloseout.com)
“Being a woman is hard in this business. An immigrant? Even worse,” says Angela Romero, who founded CentralCloseout.com, which wholesales liquidated beauty and health products, in 2010. The Colombian native, 47, encountered suppliers who didn’t want to deal with her “simply because I’m a woman” and others who imposed strict two-week repayment terms on her business when competitors received 60 days. But Romero, who tapped her savings to bootstrap CentralCloseout.com from her tiny, one-bedroom apartment, no longer lets slights like those get to her. Today, she manages 14 employees and a 17,000-square-foot warehouse that holds everything from Almay Matte Finish Pressed Powder to OPI nail polish, which she sells to buyers worldwide, and especially in Latin America, her Hollywood, Florida-based company’s biggest market. A move into selling new cosmetics could further her reach. “You know what gives me confidence?” she asks. “Knowing where I am right now.”
Radek Maly (Highland Project Logistics)
Once Radek Maly understood that the profits at his job in Prague were supporting the Communist government, he knew he had to leave. “That was a deal I could not live with,” he says. At 23, he bought a ticket to Greece and never went back. His first job in America, in Atlanta in 1988, was washing dishes for an ice-cream shop for $3.50 an hour. Years later, after working for several freight- forwarding companies, Maly, who’s now 52, founded Highland Forwarding. It succeeded, and after recognizing a hole in the market for handling oversize cargo, he self-funded the startup of Highland Project Logistics, in Londonderry, New Hampshire, in 2011. “We’re dealing with international clients who deal with international businesses, so it adds credibility when you come from another country,” he says. There are flagpoles on Highland Project’s lawn, so Maly’s eight employees can fly their own flags, and foreign visitors are greeted by their country’s flag and a rendition of their national anthem. “That helps us get new business,” Maly says. “They see how much we value the partnership.”