Henrik and his team launched Optimalprint in 2007 and as the business grew so did the idea on how to improve the profitability and efficiency within the printing industry. This led to the launch of Gelato in August 2012.
Previously, Henrik worked at Tele2, a telco challenging the traditional industry. Henrik held positions such as as CEO-assistant and Head of the Business Customer Area in Sweden. From 2003 to 2006 he was CEO of Tele2 Norway, growing the company from 1.5 billion NOK to 3.2 billion NOK.
Tell us about Gelato and how you came up with the idea for the business.
Gelato is a software company that connects digital print machines all around the world into one global print cloud. We don't own any print machines, our customers use our platform to print locally and in the exact amounts they need. Customers also receive the print material much faster - often within 48 hours. Gelato solves the problems that arise when printing is done centrally and globally distributed: we reduce shipping time and cost and we enable companies to print only what they really need.
So in short, Gelato is about sharing creativity in a more efficient and eco-friendly manner.
The idea came to me after leaving Tele2 Norway, where I was CEO. I wanted to start my own company. I came across an article that opened my eyes to the size of the digital print industry; just digital printing will grow to $300bn by 2024. To put that into context, the music industry is only a $15bn market. I learned that the industry was scattered and focused only on hardware, which had resulted in poor user experience. I thought “I can change that” and that’s how the idea was born.
What was the moment when you decided you wanted to work for yourself?
There wasn’t a specific moment but when you work as part of a big company like Tele2, you have certain limitations. I want to work in an organization that is always evolving and questioning existing assets and business models. To me changing direction does not necessarily mean bad planning – instead it shows a willingness to constantly seek the "right" path. Creating such a culture is much easier when starting without any history. In big companies, many people simply settle with the notion - “but we have always done it like this”.
In my previous roles, I’ve had great teams but now I have a great team and the freedom to execute on a game changing idea.
What challenges did you face when you were first starting out and how did you overcome these?
The biggest challenge has always been hiring the best and the brightest people. We look for people who are great at lots of things, love big challenges and welcome big changes. We look for people that increase the team's overall effectiveness and that we admire.
Hiring the wrong people can harm your business and your culture. We have therefore invested a lot of time and thought into our hiring process. We are very selective and have many applicants but make few offers. An assessment company even wrote an article about Gelato’s hiring process titled “The hardest job to land in the world”.
Business owners have to be great delegators. How do you do this effectively and what is your leadership style?
First of all, it comes back to whom you hire. Secondly, it's about the type of values that you all share within the company. With a great team and strong alignment on values and corporate culture, delegation becomes significantly easier.
For example, since we are building something new we are also very careful about the whole idea creation process. Building solutions that don’t already exist today is only possible if we remember that criticizing an idea is the easy part. Everyone is expected to act as a leader and to drive the ideas that we agree upon to reality. The best idea wins and not the most senior person.
Gelato's team is spread all over the world and thus without effective delegation or trust, could not move as quickly as we do.
In your opinion, what are the most effective marketing channels for business and why?
“The best marketing is education,” said Regis McKenna. I’m with him on this. In order to educate on a topic that interests people you have to spend a significant amount of time building and preparing. There are no short-cuts. This is where I think most companies go wrong – they stress the marketing part and deliver less than what customers expected. In order to educate, you simply need to have something valuable to say and that often takes a long time to build.
When you invest in branding it has to be bold and different. We do little branding and try to be creative when there is an opportunity. For example, after winning the Oslo Innovation Award, we placed full-page ads with open letters to the CEOs of major companies asking them to start working with innovative start-ups and sharing Gelato CMO’s contact details. It was especially effective as we entered the B2B market.
Many entrepreneurs say that they take calculated risks and they listen to their intuition when making business decisions. Does this apply to you and what do you take in consideration when making calculated risks?
There is simply no way of building a company and successfully avoiding risk, but you can learn to manage and control it. Entrepreneurship is about balancing – more often than many think – risk can be calculated. But it requires hard work and curiosity that translates into a constant search for information from good sources and a drive to collect facts, to discuss and weigh options. And while I do think that agility and speed are integral parts of entrepreneurship, they too come with certain risk.
In my world there two important risks that one needs to pay a lot of attention to when building a business. Firstly, you fall in love with product development and don´t ship your products to customers. Secondly, you run out of cash. These two are of course often linked, which amplifies the risk.
How do you keep a work life balance?
Taking decisions and executing is one thing, but you also need to think, assess, and constantly question. I don’t believe you can do that without balance in your life. With the high pressure and expectations to deliver, discipline is the tool you can access to free-up time for other necessary pillars such as your friends, family, health and personal interests.
That said, building a company or joining a company like Gelato is a deliberate and conscious choice. I view our team as athletes – they have an inner drive that goes beyond making money and that blends work and private life. In some sense the company is simply a part of you and your way of thinking. In sports, the importance of regeneration is obvious. I think the same is true for work, therefore I constantly remind people that we are running a marathon and not a sprint – asking them to go home and disconnect.
What has been an important career milestone since launching Gelato?
There are a few but what comes to mind is when we decided to transition from a B2C company to a platform company. This decision was taken almost 4 years ago and we are still on the journey. I am very thankful for that decision because it has made us less dependent on online marketing while being able to share what we have developed with both the printing industry and partners outside of the printing industry.
What advice do you have for aspiring entrepreneurs who wish to turn their vision into a successful business?
There is a great YouTube clip from a Stanford lecture held by Guy Kawasaki. He says that you should not set out to make money but set out to make meaning. If you do this successfully you will most likely end up making money. I believe he is very right with that comment.
Find something that you actually full hearted believe needs to be fixed. There are many problems around us and the solutions need to be developed by someone – being that someone, that’s entrepreneurship.