From the founder of an e-discovery firm to restaurateurs, foreign-born business owners explain how they have made it in America.
JACQUES NACK NGUE
Chief Executive • eClaris Inc.
When did you arrive in the United States, and why did you come?
I came to the United States in September of 2001, 10 days after Sept. 11. I’m originally from Cameroon. I had just completed undergrad course work at the University of Cheikh Anta Diop in Dakar, Senegal, and wanted to get an M.B.A. I wanted to go to the University of Montreal in Canada like my father, but my now-wife convinced me to come to the United States instead.
Did you intend to return to your native country at the time?
I wasn’t sure about that. There were a lot of unknowns, and I thought I would give America a try. I know that I miss my siblings. We are now scattered across different cities and across different countries. I wish they were close by. That might have been the case regardless of what country I ended up living in.
Do you now?
Yes; my wife and I are hoping to share our time between Cameroon and the United States. I really hope my daughter gets where I come from.
Why did you start your business in the United States instead of your native country?
I started a family here in the United States, and I would like to raise my daughter here.
What’s the worst thing about starting and running a business in the United States?
It can be very hard. Foreign-born entrepreneurs have more trouble lining up funding through traditional sources. In most cases, you won’t have an established credit history. It is difficult to find backers or lenders for traditional financial options. Also, foreign-born entrepreneurs usually lack a social network here, such as friends and family who can help them get started. Going into business as a foreign-born entrepreneur can be a lonesome path.
What’s the best thing?
I love having my own business. I set my mind on building an affordable electronic discovery portal for law firms and corporations. I am thrilled by every inch of progress we make, with every new account we close. It’s a warm feeling to know you are building something you imagined, thought of, and then get to see people use it. I am really hopeful our application will help attorneys better manage e-discovery.
What were the biggest surprises?
I thought I would have to work a lot more hours. I found out that I had to work a little more than I thought. But I was also surprised by the help I got from other business owners, whether it was a piece of advice or a message of encouragement. Other people really wanted to help me achieve the American dream. I didn’t expect that.
Would you tell someone from your native land to start a business there or here?
Well, it depends on the type of business they are trying to build. Perhaps what’s most important is to have a good support system to rely on when things are bad, and which will cheer you on when you close a business deal.
What advice would you give someone from there about starting a business here?
I would tell them to stick to the basics. Avoid loans if possible. Plan for growth and for bad times. A good financial base is what will enable you to take advantage of opportunities. You’ve got to pick something you love doing because it may take a while to actually work.
Do you go back often?
We go back every three years or so, but we are lucky because my mother is able to visit us every other year.
What was your view of the United States when you were growing up?
I thought everyone could have a job, a place to sleep, enough food to eat and clothes to wear. I thought in America, everyone had a chance to achieve something.
Did reality match your expectations?
In Africa, education options are limited for the majority of the population. It is difficult to access unbiased information, corruption is rampant, and most Africans have lost hope and feel they do not stand a chance. The first thing I felt when I got to the United States is the feeling of hope. I felt that I could do whatever I set my mind to. So in a sense, the reality matched my expectations.
What’s the funniest thing that’s happened to you as a foreign-born entrepreneur?
Once a customer detected a little bit of French accent and insisted to converse in French during a needs analysis conference call. The two other parties on the conference call had stated they spoke French. We ended up reverting to English when it was clear everybody wasn’t following.
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