In April last year, Hitesh Saini gave up his Swedish start-up business after years of painstaking hard work. The business-savvy executive turned technology entrepreneur had been on the start-up grind since chucking a lucrative career with Capgemini Consulting six years ago.
Long hours have become the norm since Hitesh started ANEO AB in 2008. The business, which he launched with a Swedish angel investor after leaving London for the Nordics, operated in Stockholm for five years.
“In the first year, we had almost negative [revenues]; salaries and expenses had to be paid – and 2008 was not a good year to start any business,” says Hitesh, who now studies a full-time MBA at IE Business School.
The company provided outsourcing to the Nordic countries, as well as strategic insight into technology identification and integration.
Hitesh’s first foray into start-ups started with nothing. He had a plan, but zero revenue. And in those early days, he had no investor backing or funding.
He spent a year before that working for PricewaterhouseCoopers, the leading advisory firm, before climbing the corporate ladder to a senior consulting position at Capgemini.
“I found that there was a gap in the way that business was done, and I wanted to improve and help companies add value to their business by outsourcing,” says Hitesh, 37.
He couldn’t have picked a more difficult time. The financial crisis was in full-swing. Hitesh admits it was bad time for any business, but he saw opportunity in the darkness. “Especially in the Nordics. Outsourcing is still not that big there, it’s almost ten years behind the UK and the U.S,” he says.
Hitesh met an angel investor at a networking event. He pitched his outsourcing idea and secured capital investment. Between €150,000 and €200,000 has since been pooled into the business from a single investor.
“We had some problems initially; we struggled with helping companies. But once they understood, we did good,” explains Hitesh.
Sales grew exponentially over four years. In 2011 and 2012, ANEO AB was raking in more than €1 million in annual revenues. As managing director, Hitesh grew the business from zero to 14 employees over the same period.
“It went well,” he enthuses. “I had a plan in mind and I wanted to do something on my own. So I thought enough of consulting – let me add value to businesses.”
For many entrepreneurs, managing one start-up provides enough turmoil at any one time. As if that weren’t enough, Hitesh, who ran the entire business from Sweden’s capital city, juggled an I.T management consulting job with Ericsson. “I agree,” he responds to my shock-awe.
He scooped up an award for leading a 220-member team at the global telecoms corporation, across nine countries.
The challenge with ANEO AB, however, was running the show solo. “You’re a one-man army. You have to do everything when you run a complete business. I needed to know the nitty-gritties of all the small things,” says Hitesh.
“I needed to understand how a business can be scaled-up and I needed to understand, on a very professional level, how to maintain and lead teams, which was key.”
One of his large projects was for a supermarket chain in Sweden. Hitesh worked alongside three consultants from McKinsey and BCG, both top firms, who “changed the whole course of how a supermarket works”. He helped them with the tech side of things, but was inspired to achieve more.
“I said: I want to be a person who can solve problems of this magnitude. And I realized to get into that role I need to understand how business functions, I need to know the key strategies,” says Hitesh, who was raised in India. “That really intrigued me to do an MBA.”
At the same time, his wife gave birth to their first daughter – an excuse to have a good “one year vacation” at business school, Hitesh laughs.
He considered a bevy of top business schools in Europe, but IE, which has one of the highest-ranking MBA programs, was the star contender. After attending an open-day, Hitesh was sold. “It’s the most open school in terms of the way they organize themselves,” he says.
He linked up with the Spanish-based school in spring last year. Hitesh previously studied electrical engineering at Kakatiya University in Andhra Pradesh, India. His MBA majors include finance, capital markets and corporate strategy.
But Hitesh has no plans to return to ANEO AB, which he has turned over to his original angel investor. “I’m looking to do something different. I haven’t decided yet, but I will most likely go into management consulting, or I might start-up again with a friend,” he says.
“The reason is that I am sure I would not be able to balance my family, a young kid, an MBA and a start-up. We said I had to get rid of one thing to make life easier. So I got rid of the start-up.”