BALANCING ACT E-TREPRENEUR: boo.com co-founder Kajsa Leander worked an 11-hour day before her company went to the wall. She had hoped success would bring leisure. Perhaps failure will instead

BALANCING ACT E-TREPRENEUR: boo.com co-founder Kajsa Leander worked an 11-hour day before her company went to the wall. She had hoped success would bring leisure. Perhaps failure will instead - After five years working so hard that she had no time for a h

by ALICE RAWSTHORN, the FT's architecture and design critic
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

After five years working so hard that she had no time for a holiday, Kajsa Leander finally succeeded in taking a week off in March to go to Mauritius with her boyfriend, Joel, and their two-year-old daughter, Alva. 'I was so looking forward to it,' she recalls, 'but when we got there, it rained every day.'

Holidays were not the only sacrifice Leander had to make in her dual role as a mother and co-founder of boo.com, the online sportswear store.

Not only did she have no time for herself, but she often had to leave Alva at the family home in London's Primrose Hill for a large part of each month to travel in Europe and North America.

To make matters worse, Kajsa also had to synchronise her schedule with that of Joel who, as creative director of D, the hip Italian magazine, and H&M, the Swedish fashion chain, is away even more often than she is.

'Our rule is that at least one of us should be in London with our daughter, and that's really difficult,' says Leander. 'Every weekend, we compare schedules and he'll say: 'I've really got to go to Mexico next week,' and I'm the same.

'Our lives are very hectic, and we try to make Alva's very organised because children need a routine. She always eats at the same time and goes to the park every day. But I miss not being able to do those things with her. It's very hard for me.'

Now 29, Kajsa Leander has always led a hectic life. Born in Sweden, she also lived in Denmark and Spain before studying art history and modelling in Paris, New York and Milan. After a chance meeting with Ernst Malmsten, a friend from kindergarten, Leander helped him to organise a Nordic poetry festival in the US. She then returned to Stockholm, where they set up a publishing house specialising in new fiction and poetry.

'That's my passion,' she says. 'But publishing is such a tough industry and it was really, really hard to make money from it.'

Having observed Amazon.com's early progress, they decided to launch a Swedish version; Bokus.com went online in 1998, three days before Alva's birth. Leander then took four months off before working part-time.

This might seem reasonable by British standards but not in Sweden, where most women take a year off.

By the end of the year, Leander and Malmsten had sold 50% of Bokus to KF, the Swedish media group, which bought the remaining shares 18 months ago when the pair were setting up boo with another friend, Patrik Hedelin.

Raising dollars 125 million in launch capital - then a record for a European internet start-up - was relatively easy, but the company struggled under a very public eye with technical problems that delayed the launch from May until November. The agony got worse until investors finally lost faith last month.

'We had so much hype and it's been very hard to live up to because people have such high expectations,' admits Leander. boo had 350 employees selling sportswear and streetwear in seven languages to consumers in 18 countries, each with its own currency. With headquarters in London, a New York buying office, smaller offices in Paris, Amsterdam, Munich and Stockholm and new offices opening in Italy and Spain, the pressure was unrelenting.

'It's been so intense,' says Leander. 'If it wasn't for my daughter I'd probably have worked round the clock.

Having a child is great. When you're working so hard it's so easy to get obsessed by your job and everything revolves around you. It's me, me, me. Because of Alva, I've had to think about other things.'

Even so, she usually arrived at boo's headquarters at 8am and rarely left before 7pm. Sometimes, Kajsa had to work late into the night and once or twice a week had to go to a work-related dinner or evening event.

'My schedule is very irregular,' she says. 'If I work very late for a few days, I'll try to take an afternoon off to be with my daughter, but I don't manage to do that very often.'

She travelled to Europe two or three times a month, usually for day trips or overnight stays, and spent three or four days in the US. 'I give myself a really tough schedule so I can squeeze everything in and come home, because I worry so much about Alva when I'm away. It's straight off the plane and into meetings and back on the red eye. There's never time to stay on for shopping or museums.'

Nor does she have time for that in London. 'I do try to go to art galleries at weekends but I'm usually so tired that all I do is go to the park and home to cook,' she says.

'I'd love to do yoga or exercise regularly but I don't have the time and I never know when I'll be in London. I've bought a bike to cycle into work but that's it.'

Does she manage to spend time with Joel on their own without Alva? 'We're always talking about going to a fantastic hotel on Lake Como for a weekend,' laughs Leander. 'But we haven't done anything like that for ages.' Now's her chance.

She and Joel would love to have another child - 'although we don't know when,' she says. 'There's never a good time, so if it happens we'll just have to work something out. It is really tough for women to have children between 25 and 35 because those are the years when you work the hardest.'

Leander would like to see more of her family in Sweden.

'I haven't been there since Christmas,' she says. 'But even when I lived in Sweden I hardly saw them because I was working so hard. When I told my sister we were setting up boo, she said: 'Not another new company. That means I won't see you for years.'

'Another thing I miss is having close friends. My sister has a fantastic network of people she's known for years. They'll meet for brunch and go out with their kids together. It takes years to build friendships like that and I've never stayed in one place for long enough to do it,' she adds.

When boo was up and running, Leander hoped her schedule would become less onerous. Instead, the company's struggles demanded ever more time.

'I'm only 29 and I've been working incredibly hard for the last seven or eight years. No-one can go on like that for ever.'

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