International IT: Interview with Himanshu Sareen

Manhattan-based technology company Icreon, which was founded in 2000 in India by Himanshu Sareen, works with small to medium-sized businesses with revenue between $30 and $200 million, helping them to identify and solve almost any and every IT problem. Since setting up their NYC headquarters in 2010, the company has grown from a half million to six million dollars in revenue. Here Sareen talks to our Michelle Court about recovering from bad hiring decisions, acclimating to New York City, and more plans for international expansion.

Michelle Court: You have more than 400 employees in offices in the US, the UK, and India. What are your hiring strategies for bringing the right people on board, and how do you manage them?

Himanshu Sareen: In every part of the world that we’re in, we’ve been fortunate to be in a consistent growth phase. We look for people who are ambitious, curious, and want to learn and want to grow. I think a huge part of our hiring has to do with matching the skills and the experience that we’re looking for, but also a very important aspect of it is cultural fit. Would they fit in the culture of the organization , and do they absolutely love what they do? That’s a huge centerpiece of our hiring strategy. Depending on the positions we’re recruiting for, we’ll ask specific questions and we have evaluations, but to establish if they’re going to be a good cultural fit for us, we definitely ask things like, ‘What keeps you up at night?’ and ‘What’s your ambition?’” When dealing with international offices, I think the biggest challenge is, do we hire local managers who are obviously better equipped to deal with the local culture and some of the cultural nuances of the region we are operating in? Or should we bring in people from overseas who are more familiar with our business? What we’ve seen is that it’s a mix of the two that works best for us. So we’d have people that we’d relocate, but at the same time, we’ll team them up with local hires who understand the local culture and the nuances that we need to be mindful of as we work in that country. And then we try and facilitate a lot of back and forth. I think we have a lot of cross managerial interaction across regions, across countries. And we create forums for our management teams to physically get together in each of our locations. I think that’s been fairly successful for us.

MC: What’s been the most challenging aspect of building your company so far?

HS: Actually, there are two. One is, we’ve made hiring mistakes, and I think we’ve learned. If you meet someone who checks all the boxes and is perfect for the job in every way, except that it’s a bad cultural fit, I think that’s something that harms us, that sets us back, sometimes several months altogether. Those have been some of the most expensive mistakes that we’ve made. Within the hiring teams, we’ve tried to create some training around it, and we’ve tried to talk about some of the mistakes we made and why we made them. I think it’s not necessarily a reflection on the person who we are hiring, but also on our inability to be able to prevent it. I think we have to take responsibility for a wrong hire as much as we can, so that we can learn from past experience and past mistakes.

The second, of course, is client acquisition, especially in a new region. I think it’s one of the biggest challenges we faced when we set up office in New York—we’re here, but how do we get in the right circles? How do we reach out to the right people? How do we create opportunities for ourselves? Every time we expand into a new region, that’s one of the biggest challenges we face. And then again, how do we sort of adjust ourselves to local expectations while leveraging our strengths that we’ve built over the years? A lot of those strengths are overseas. So how do we sort of combine that with what we are trying to do locally?

MC: Do you have specific marketing strategies?

HS: In the first few years, we were sort of the pioneers on online marketing, and that was a huge driver for clients. We were on Google, as well as some search engines that don’t exist anymore. We realized that we wanted to work within the international market, and that was the most cost effective way for people to find us. Of course, over a period of time, that’s become commoditized and our marketing strategies had to evolve. Now, we do a lot of ad spend online, as well. So at this point, we sponsor and participate in a lot of events. We get integrated in the local communities.

MC: Why do you think that New York City is a great place for a tech companies?

HS: I’ve spent some time in the Silicon Valley on the West Coast as well as in Texas; Austin specifically. And I think with New York City, it’s the people. There’s a lot of venture capital, seed capital, and start-up money that has become available in New York, and I think that’s attracting a lot of excellent talent to the city. There are more and more start-ups setting up shop, which of course means that there are more and more people relocating to the city to work for them. And I think it’s created a very vibrant tech community where not only are there great resources available, but you also see great products coming out of the city.

MC: Where do you see Icreon five years from now?

HS: We have plans to set up additional offices in Chicago and Austin, Texas, in the next year or two. In the next five years, we also see an office in Japan and a couple of different offices in Europe. There are initial conversations that we’ve had with businesses that we may be partnering with or acquiring in Cologne, Germany. I think our growth is going to be driven through a series of acquisitions as well as ground-up operations that we set up in some locations. We see an on-ground presence in at least seven to eight countries in the next five years, given that we are in three right now.