As a child Samuel Yeboah thought he would grow up to be an architect - he liked to build things. But as he grew up, he realised his love for building extended beyond houses. So instead of architecture, he thought engineering would serve him better.
On the summer vacation before he left for college in the US, Yeboah discovered an entirely new kind of building – business strategy. Dolly’s, the hip fast food joint of his era, was the place to hang out during the vacation. As long as you had the money to buy their delights, you were one of the cool guys.
Yeboah’s modest teenager’s stipend would not grant such delights as often as he would wish. Together with two friends he thought hard about doing something to earn an income large enough to finance their “high flying” lifestyle.
They decided they would make money off of their sharp brains and teach a vacation class. They rented a classroom, won over a teacher at GIS who helped them convince parents to put their children through their tutoring class. It was a pretty successful enterprise, they made a pile of cash. They paid off their rent and each took home a handsome $200 for their trouble – each month - till the end of the vacation. This was back in 1998.
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Life after Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
When Yeboah left for Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) in New York, US, this new way of building through business stayed with him and would eventually provide the drive for his life’s work.
Samuel left RPI with a biochemical engineering degree and went to work in the US for the next seven years.
First, it was at Merck Pharma, then for Amgen Biotech – both fortune 500 companies. In both jobs, Yeboah took advantage of the research & development budgets to do technology development research outside of his regular duties. This tinkering - looking for “the next big thing”, he says, stirred up his entrepreneurial juices. He wanted one day to return to Ghana to build a business.
Cashing in on the American dream
Yeboah cashed in on his bit of the American dream – quit his job, sold his house – and moved back to Ghana at the end of year seven. His first attempts at business didn’t turn out well though. Yeboah started a management consulting company that would use technology to help businesses grow. He believed he could bring true value to businesses, but businesses didn’t exactly see things his way. “I had no network locally, unlike most of my competition, and my approach to engaging the Ghanaian entrepreneur was totally wrong”. He was approaching the Ghanaian market the way he would an American one.
So in 2007, he decided to do a stint with Rancard Solutions, then a small start-up with a team of seven. His values aligned with the co-founder’s – they believed Africans could build world class businesses.
Yeboah’s stint with Rancard would last five years during which time he would help grow the company from seven to over 60 employees, with offices in Ghana, Mauritius and Nigeria as Chief Operating Officer. Yeboah had oversight of day-to-day business, including human resource, administration, and customer service; commercial strategy and sales, compliance and regulation across the firm and its operating entities. Rancard developed technologies that enabled them to provide value added services to telcos in Ghana and other operating markets, including the Middle East. He was only going to help out for a few months but ended up as part owner – when he was offered shares in the business to stay on. But Yeboah left Rancard in 2013, just as soon as he felt he’d done enough, to go pick up from his original plan.
With the blueprint of his successes at Rancard, he started ServLed Africa. ServLed was an experiment to educate and support entrepreneurs with services and the finances to help their businesses scale, financed out of Yeboah’s and his partner’s – Fitzroy Brown’s - pockets. Selected entrepreneurs got to meet older established business people to hear first-hand about their experiences. They also got training on practical business skills such as hiring, engaging suppliers and managing customer relationships.
Africa Entrepreneurs Hub and Mirepa capital
Yeboah later created Africa Entrepreneurs Hub and Mirepa capital to free ServLed to deal with its core business – holding the hands of early stage entrepreneurs and helping them through the tough first years of business. Africa Entrepreneurs Hub now provides mass mentoring through its entrepreneur meet ups, taking over from ServLed.
Now in his early 40s, Yeboah is still very much an engineer at heart and loves to build. His focus though is much wider – building an ecosystem to help turn viable SMEs into profitable and scalable businesses. And in the process, he’s becoming a restless builder of dreams. — GB