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SA founders who’ve sold their startup to a Silicon Valley firm

Hitting it big in Silicon Valley is every South African tech entrepreneur’s dream. What better way than to sell your startup to a Valley-based firm.

But it’s not easy to come by. Only a select few make it.

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Ventureburn highlights five startups you should know about that have been acquired by Silicon Valley based firms.

To be fair quite a few SA tech companies have been acquired by US companies. However, not all these US firms are based in Silicon Valley (San Francisco and the surrounding Bay Area).

For example in the below list we didn’t include Getsmarter (acquired in 2017 by Maryland-based 2U), Vinny Lingham’s Gyft acquired in 2014 by Atlanta-based FirstData, C-Sense’s 2011 exit to Virginia-based GE Intelligent Platforms, Twangoo’s 2011 exit to Chicago based Groupon and Mark Shuttleworth’s Thwaite acquired in 1999 by Virginia based Verisign (see more in this list).

Nimbula to Oracle

Cloud computing startup Nimbula, which was founded in 2008 by Chris Pinkham and Willem van Biljon (pictured above) and was headquartered in Silicon Valley and Cape Town, was acquired in 2013 by software titan, Oracle for $110-million (see this story).

While Pinkham currently serves on the board of SA fintech Jumo and previously served as Twitter’s VP of engineering, van Biljon has since 2014 served as co-CEO at SA ecommerce site Takealot.

Van Biljon, a former CSIR employee, co-founded Mosaic Software which he sold to S1 Corp in 2004, before starting Nimbula.

But perhaps South Africans shouldn’t just be looking at Silicon Valley as a place to sell their startup.

Van Biljon, who is a former Silicon Valley resident himself, in 2017 told a Startup Grind event in Cape Town that the monopoly that Silicon Valley has long held in technology innovation is “largely” over (see this story).

WooThemes to Automattic

A maker of themes and plugins for microblogging site WordPress, Woo Themes was started in 2008 by Adriaan Pienaar, Magnus Jepson and Mark Forrester (pictured above) (see this story).

The Cape Town-based startup, together with its sister site WooCommerce, was sold in 2015 to web development company Automattic in a deal estimated to be worth over $30-million, according to a Techportal article at the time.

Forrester is an investor in various South African tech companies and startups. He lists these on his LinkedIn profile as Over, Jonga, Yebofresh and Sentian.

Fundamo to Visa

Mobile financial service provider Fundamo founded by Hannes Van Rensburg in Cape Town in 2000, was bought by credit card company Visa, which is based in the Bay Area, in 2011 for $110-million (see this story).

Van Rensburg, who is also a trained nuclear physicist, authored a book called Cash in, Cash out, which documents the story behind Fundamo.

Today based out of Naples in Florida in the US, he serves as chief commercial officer at Clickatell.

The company claims its bulk SMS platforms have served billions of messages for over 15 000 customers, serving leading brands such as Visa, IBM, WhatsApp, Avaya and McKinsey.

The former Fundamo founder in 2017 gave some further insights on entrepreneurship at StartupGrind Cape Town’s event held during the SA Innovation Summit at Cape Town Stadium (see this story).

OrderTalk to Uber

In May last year Uber’s food delivery business Uber Eats acquired SA tech company orderTalk from Cape Town venture capital (VC) company Knife Capital (see this story and this one).

OrderTalk provides online ordering software to restaurants that integrates with a restaurant’s point-of-sale system.

The company was founded by Hilton Keats in 1998. In 2004 lawyer Patrick Eldon (pictured above) joined as CEO and opened the Cape Town head office in 2005. The company later relocated to Dallas, Texas.

Knife Capital invested R9-million in the company in 2008 and took a “significant minority” stake in the business. The terms of the deal — including how much Uber Eats paid Knife Capital and orderTalk in the deal — were not disclosed.

Cape Networks to Hewlett Packard

In March last year Cape Networks (the founding team is pictured above), a software as a service and hardware startup based in Cape Town and San Francisco, announced that it was set to be acquired by IT giant Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) for a yet-to-be-disclosed price (see this story).

Cape Networks uses Internet of Things (IoT) sensors to monitor and optimise Wi-Fi networks. The acquisition involved Cape Networks merging with Aruba, an HPE subsidiary which specialises in data networking solutions.

Cape Networks was founded in 2013 by David Wilson (pictured above, second from left) under the name Asimmetric. Wilson was later joined by Ross Douglas, Fouad Zreik, and Michael Champanis the following year. In 2016 the company underwent a name change to Cape.

According to his LinkedIn profile, Wilson is based in San Francisco where he works for Aruba as a product and engineering lead, with teams in the Bay Area and Cape Town.

Cape Networks’ previous investors include Silicon Valley venture capital firms Highway1, Autonomous Ventures, Haystack, Bolt and Root Ventures. Last year the startup was crowned the best Wi-Fi Startup of 2017 at Wi-Fi Now Europe in the Hague.

Read more: 10 steps to setting up an office for your startup in the US [Opinion]
Read more: Are these the four biggest SA tech acquisitions of 2018?
Read more: Here are the SA tech startup acquisitions that were concluded in 2017
Read more: Are these the 10 all-time biggest exit deals for SA startups?
Read more: What entrepreneurs should expect when moving to Silicon Valley

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