Lady-Omega Naa Adei Hammond
rom an early age, Lady-Omega Naa Adei Hammond used computer programs to solve problems. She wanted to be a doctor, but traditional teaching methods didn’t match her practical style. In her final year at university, she considered pivoting from geomatic engineering to another field and applied to MEST’s one-year entrepreneurship program. To her surprise, she was admitted and quickly discovered an aptitude for software development and tech entrepreneurship. In 2015, Lady-Omega and three of her peers from MEST founded the tech consultancy Ampersand Technologies. Since then, Lady-Omega has used her discipline, passion and grit to overcome many challenges as a founder, and she continues to aspire to new heights for herself and Ampersand.
What were some of your early struggles as a founder and how did you overcome them?
My first problem was accepting the role of CEO. Being a woman, the youngest out of the four cofounders and thinking I wasn’t the smartest took a toll on me. It took me almost a year to fully accept and function in my leadership role. The second struggle was in managing finances. We didn’t know when we’d be getting new projects to bring in cash. We decided to save around 30 percent of our money to live a bit more comfortably and grow the business, but also to make sure we could pay taxes and have a five-year runway. This really helped us when we left the MEST incubator and had to pay for our own office space. The next thing was figuring out how to grow our skill sets. There was a huge demand for our services, and different clients wanted different solutions. It was like we were doing anything and everything, which was frustrating because we were such a small team. So, we stopped building our own products and focused on making Ampersand more of a tech consultancy.
What do you believe was your biggest mistake as a founder, and what did you learn from it?
One mistake was hiring people because they sounded like they could do the job, instead of focusing on the exact skill sets we needed. We weren’t a big company that could hire lots of people to work on all the different tasks – we were literally subsidizing their salaries from our own – and we couldn’t assess clearly whether they were getting everything done.
When deadlines are being missed, when work is not being scrutinized, it gets overwhelming and then you lose the joy of building with a small team. Right now our team is a select group, and everybody’s efficient. Another mistake was being very afraid at the beginning. I was always afraid to put myself and our innovations out there. This fear prevented us from exploring the innovative ideas we had. Now we’re confident enough to release products or create solutions, even if only five people are using them.
What do you believe your best decision was?
My best decision was saving for the future. The 30 percent of income we were saving really came in handy. Also, it was a good decision to leave the MEST incubator early. Incubators give you a good environment to connect with people and let your ideas grow, but you must try to grow out of them. When we left, we started to make more realistic decisions because we knew that there was nothing we could fall back on. Another good decision we made was taking the time to really work on our communication as cofounders. We did have fights and we didn’t always agree on things, but we tried to keep it internal and not portray a divided front externally. A lot of companies don’t survive because of the relationships between cofounders, and we didn’t want that to happen to us.
How did you craft your team culture? What are your pillars for hiring the right players for Ampersand?
A key thing for me was to find team members who could do things I couldn’t do. I wanted people around who were disciplined not only in building products, but also in other aspects of their lives. I wanted to see people putting in effort to be presentable, speak politely and make an effort to write and communicate well. You also want to look out for how potential team members learn and grow – that’s sometimes not so easy to tell from the beginning. When we meet people in person, we delve into their weaknesses. I feel like if you were able to overcome these weaknesses, that’s how you can measure your growth. Your integrity, commitment, truthfulness and honesty are all very key for me. We believe that if you have a belief system, you can uphold how you treat discipline and honesty and still be yourself.
What kinds of activities do you do with your team to retain the environment you’ve created?
The office is informal and open. Every morning we have devotions together, where we share scripture and encourage each other. We also do stand-ups where team members share what they’ve done the previous day, what they’re struggling with and what they’re aiming for. We like to pitch in ideas and see how we can help. We also like to have fun and grow our knowledge, while also keeping everyone on their toes. As founders, we go out at least once a month. We have a list of nice restaurants and places we’d like to visit, so when we make enough money, we can cross one off our list. It’s a good way to bond and still meet our goals. We always aim to try out new places and reflect on our progress.
You should also give opportunities to other people, so they can walk the path that you walked but in a better way.
What personal work habits have you cultivated as a founder?
One personal habit I’ve built is speaking up. I openly ask questions in the office, like what my team would do if they had to go three months without a salary. We are able to have these open conversations about the worst case scenarios. When we’re actually faced with problems, we’ve spoken about them and don’t have to struggle as much. I like to speak my mind and not be afraid of how people will react.
What advice do you give to entrepreneurs and startups still in their early stages?
One thing I always say is you are what you envision. You should continue to invest in yourself and your knowledge base. If you ever realize that you are not as excited as you were in the beginning of being an entrepreneur, it means you’ve stopped growing. Don’t let your mindset stagnate. Invest in yourself, read books, meet people, go to events and make connections. You should also give opportunities to other people, so they can walk the path that you walked but in a better way. I always tell my team to think about the impact of their decisions twenty years from today. You’re not growing your businesses just so you can say you raised a million dollars. You’re growing your business so you can see a million people benefit from your business.
What has been your experience of being a founder in Accra? What has been positive, and what do you hope is coming in the future of the ecosystem?
Accra is a good city for software companies. The city has people from all walks of life, flying in from all over Ghana and the rest of the world. Every great thing is happening in Accra, because it’s a big, busy city. I feel that more could be done to provide infrastructure for smaller companies, and having affordable services like accounting, legal services and utilities would be helpful. I think that we in Africa have the aid mindset so we don’t create systems to create sustainable financial growth. We need to know that financial independence comes with a certain freedom that enables you to innovate at your own pace. For those who are thinking of investing in companies in Accra in the next ten to twenty years, think about how you can build people up beyond funding. If you can, buy an office space and open it up for young people. Pay for internet and data, pay for water and electricity and let them innovate and build local solutions that work. We don’t have the money to build companies as fast as in Silicon Valley, but we have great people with talent and tenacity who can grow sustainable companies to make more money in the future. In our case, our Silicon Valley is in how we think. We believed we could do it and we created the conditions to help ourselves thrive. The young generation of Africa will be at the forefront of innovations where passions are diverted into businesses that will create wealth, provide infrastructure and improve productivity.
What are your top work essentials?
My laptop, a whiteboard and books.
At what age did you found your company?
What’s your most used app?
Google Drive, WhatsApp, Trello, the Holy Bible and Slack.
What’s the most valuable piece of advice you’ve been given?
You are what you envision.
What’s your greatest skill?
Critical thinking and communication.