Swedish Startup Space

He quit his top job and sold everything – now his startup is worth $180 million

Written by on October 16, 2015

Swedish entrepreneur Henrik Müller-Hansen is getting $9 million for Gelato, which is like an Airbnb for the printing industry.

“We can’t live like this anymore, Henrik!” – One Sunday afternoon, spring 2008, Henrik Müller-Hansen wife was fed up. The Müller-Hansen family had forsaken enough due to the husbands entrepreneurial dreams.

Two years earlier, Henrik Müller-Hansen, who is born and raised in Ängelholm, quit his well-paid job as telecom carrier Tele2’s top executive in Norway. Since then, all his money have gone to finance the building of the own company with Oslo as base. The family sold their condo and moved into a rented apartment. They rid themselves of the expensive cars, in brief; they cut down on all glamour in life.

But this particular Sunday afternoon, it truly had reached a point beyond all reason. Henrik Müller-Hansen had an argument with his wife because she had treated herself with a latte.

“I had worked as hard as I could to avoid bringing in external capital and to keep as much as possible of the ownership, but that fight over the coffee made me realize it was not feasible anymore”, Henrik Müller-Hansen says.

He did not really have a clear idea regarding what kind of company he wanted to start when he left the high positioned job at Tele 2. But during a vacation to Portugal, where he ploughed through a load of business magazines while chasing a sustainable business idea, opportunity suddenly appeared.

“I read an article which stated that the printing industry is one of the largest in the world where growth was happening within the digital sector”, Henrik Müller-Hansen remembers.

But even though the digital part of the printing industry alone is turning over more than $120 billion, there was no common marketplace or platform which linked buyer with seller. And this is where Henrik Müller-Hansen noticed his opportunity when starting Gelato. He brought in Pål Naess from his former employer Tele 2 and even got Mike Arbuzov, software engineer at Skype at the time, to resign and start at Gelato instead.

“Roughly, we want to function as an Airbnb for printing where we connect buyer with printer. Us, on our behalf we will never own any printing machines, we only want to own the customer relation”, Henrik Müller-Hansen says.

It is not a minor task, trying to connect the world total of 400.000 printers, but there is after all an obvious potential regarding Gelato’s platform.

Initially, the traditional printing industry hesitated. But gradually more and more of them joined the platform. The development of the platform did however cost and when Henrik Müller-Hansen’s wife told him off, that Sunday afternoon during spring 2008, the bank account was almost empty.

“In total, there was about $4.000 left. We had given it everything we got and realized something had to be done”, Henrik Müller-Hansen says.

He was already acquainted with Swedish venture capitalist Harald Mix and Henrik Müller-Hansen got in touch with him.

“He liked our team and business idea when we met in Stockholm. Pretty soon, Harald Mix and some of his business acquaintance went in with capital”, Henrik Müller-Hansen says.

After the capital injection from Harald Mix and his friends, Henrik Müller-Hansen’s business really took off. Turnover was $12 million in 2013 and he is counting on sales being up to $36 million in 2015 (Turnover 2014 was $20 million). The company made a profit last year of $480.000 which is expected to increase to $14,5 million this year.

During the first year Gelato has focused on the private market, but they are now focusing their services towards companies as well. On top of that, they have recently breached into the American market.

To finance further expansion, Gelato is now making a second investment round where the well merited banker John Hepburn (on the Tele 2 board of directors and councilor to the Wallenberg venture capital firm EQT) is going in with $9 million.

Among other notable investors are SEB:s chairman Marcus Wallenberg and former Ratos-boss Urban Jansson. The entire company is valued at $180 million, in transactions.

“By all means, it is a lot of money but compared to, say Airbnb or Uber, it is not expensive. We turned down several investors which were readily willing to join at an even higher value, but we truly wanted to bring in John Hepburn who has tremendous experience”, Henrik Müller-Hansen says.

Henrik Müller-Hansen himself is selling off a small part of his equity but even after the investment round, he is the largest share holder with 28 percent.

“This journey has only begun. Our focus is not on positive cash flow, but on continuous growth”, Henrik Müller-Hansen says, who from now on can treat himself and his wife with a latte.

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