This Couple Sacrifices Much To Build Successful Tech
By Carol Hymowitz
The Wall Street Journal
February 13, 2001
EIGHT YEARS AGO, Anousheh Ansari convinced her husband, Hamid, to cash
in their stock savings of $50,000 to launch Telecom Technologies, a telecommunications
Anousheh, who met her husband, a fellow emigre from Iran, while working
at MCI in Washington, D.C., figured they could be far more successful as
entrepreneurs than as corporate employees. They had already given up so
much, she thought, they should aim for a big success.
"If it had been up to me I wouldn't have started it," says
Today, the couple's $50,000 investment is valued at more than $600 million.
Telecom Technologies, which the couple sold last year to Sonus Networks
of Westford, Mass., a provider of voice infrastructure solutions, has become
a leading developer of so-called softswitch solutions, which unify separate
networks for telephone, Internet and wireless communication. Hamid reports
to his wife, who is a vice president at Sonus and general manager of the
softswitch business, now called INtelligentIP.
SOFT-SPOKEN AND reticent, Anousheh attributes her drive and her willingness
to take risks to her experiences as a teenager in Iran and a new arrival
in the U.S.
"It's like being thrown into the sea and realizing you can either
tread water to stay afloat or focus all your energy on moving forward and
swim to shore," she says of surviving in a new country. "I learned
to deal with problems as they came along, to find solutions and not panic."
Like many immigrants before them, the couple found that knowing how
to overcome obstacles and forge a new life path amid chaos gave them the
skills and confidence to succeed. But unlike the generations past, their
rise to the top was quick and well orchestrated.
Growing up in Tehran, Anousheh watched reruns of "Star Trek"
and dreamt of becoming an astronaut. She was a sixth grader when the Islamic
revolution began. Her father, a marketing vice president of a wine company,
was branded as the devil's doer and his concern was shut down.
Anousheh reacted by organizing fellow students to protest the new regime.
As a seventh grader, she put together a troupe of students to perform a
play that satirized Iran's religious fanatics. When school administrators
banned the production, Anousheh and her classmates launched a schoolyard
strike for two days -- and subsequently performed the play for fellow students
when teachers weren't around.
She realized she would have to leave Iran to pursue an education. "I
was strong in science and math, where university seats were very scarce,
and on top of that I was a woman and my family wasn't politically correct,"
She came to the U.S. when she was 17, lived with an aunt and uncle in
Virginia, and studied English eight hours a day. Within a few years she
had earned an electrical-engineering degree and landed a job at MCI.
Hamid Ansari, meanwhile, followed a similar path. He came to the U.S.
at 14 as a summer exchange student and stayed on when the revolution erupted.
For a year, he lived on his own while attending high school, until his
father and younger brother could join him. He earned degrees in engineering
and computer science and went to work at MCI in 1982 when the company was
first challenging AT&T's dominance in telecommunications.
AS CO-FOUNDERS of Telecom Technologies, the couple initially felt as
if they were repeating their early struggles of having to live with uncertainty.
Unable to get bank financing, they maxed out personal credit cards. They
garnered a host of big corporate customers, only to discover many were
slow bill payers.
"We had invoices of over 120 days and somehow had to make payroll,"
says Anousheh. Within a year, however, they got a line of credit and began
developing new software.
They also saw their talents "balance magically," says Hamid,
now 36 years old. He handles sales and marketing while she oversees finance,
personnel, engineering development and day-to-day operations. Hamid describes
his wife as "extremely organized, meticulous, technically proficient
When interviewing prospective employees, Anousheh, 34, says she "paints
a gloomy picture and tries to scare them a bit," telling them that
like herself and her husband they will be expected to put in 10- and 12-hour
workdays. "Some people run in the opposite direction, but the ones
who stay are committed and willing to do whatever it takes," she says.
She now oversees 200 employees, some of them relatives, such as her sister.
Anousheh tells the story of one new employee who ordered a bookcase
and asked who would assemble it for him. A colleague warned him, "You
better do it yourself or else Anousheh will bring her tool box and do it
Last year's decision to sell Telecom Technologies was another high risk.
The Ansaris had been considering taking their company public when they
were approached by Sonus, whose founder also is Iranian. They decided that
being acquired by a public company was the quickest way to grow, but insisted
on staying on in top jobs.
They're proud of their accomplishments but acknowledge the sacrifices
made. "We've given the best years of our lives to building this business,"