You’ve probably heard a lot of “rags to riches” stories, but this one might be the roughest. This is the Success story of Sebastian Siemiatkowski, the man behind the founding of Klarna, the Swedish version of PayPal.
Sebastian Siemiatkowski grew up in a financially challenged family. Despite their education, his parents were unemployed. The family was sometimes forced to eat the same meal for days. After many years of poverty and daily arguments, his parents separated when he was eight.
During his studies, he worked at Burger King to supplement his income. Sebastian, however, struggled to concentrate on his studies for some reasons. He was continually failing classes and was about to lose his study aid. So, Sebastian decided to take a break from his studies to clear his mind.
During this break year, he and a fellow burger king friend, Niklas Adalberth decided to start their own business. They had a fantastic idea for making online shopping easier for people. In their twenties, the duo collaborated with Victor Jacobsson to develop a better way to make online purchases.
In 2005, the team began cold calling merchants and offering direct payments, installment plans, and pay-after-delivery options. The company was slow and lacked venture capital. So, in the hopes of raising some capital, they decided to take part in a Shark Tank-style show in Sweden.
The show featured many potential investors as judges. And guess what? Their idea came last! A business that is currently Sweden’s most successful startup “unicorn” came in last in that competition.
Now with a current market value of $6.7 billion, their business is the most valuable fintech in Europe. Here is the detailed story of Sebastian Siemiatkowski’s journey from flipping burger patties at Burger King to founding Klarna.
Sebastian Marcin Siemiatkowski was born on October 3, 1981, in Sweden. His parents were professors who had left the Soviet Union’s communist government for Sweden just a year earlier, in 1979. But those early days were filled with sadness because the couple had to leave their infant daughter—older Sebastian’s sister—in Poland.
It was a challenging process to reunite Siemiatkowski with her family, and her parents also learned that their accomplished academic careers could not be replicated in their new country.
As a result, money was scarce, and his mother had debilitating back problems, forcing her to retire early. Siemiatkowski’s father, who battled alcoholism, drove a taxi to make ends meet, but the young family’s access to food was worrisomely limited.
Although Klarna was not born on a Burger King assembly line, it was there that Sebastian and his co-founder Niklas Adalberth met. The two had similar ambitions and quickly hit off.
Later, the two went on to study at the Stockholm School of Economics for a master’s degree in economics. They also met Victor Jacobsson, Klarna’s third co-founder, at college.
While they were studying and working together, the two frequently discussed new startup ideas, but neither was certain of what they should do.
Sebastian was having a rough year and decided to take a break.
Niklas came along with him and they chose to take a year off from college to travel the world without flying.
They went on road trips and on ships to see the world. This gave them more time to consider their career options.
When they returned to Sweden, Sebastian began working in sales. There, he discovered e-commerce and the fundamental issues with providing consumers with a simple and secure means of purchasing, which became one of the key inspirations behind Klarna.
Sebastian and Niklas discussed the issue and decided to create a brand-new method of payment for customers.
Victor joined in as well, and together they entered the concept in the Stockholm School of Economics annual entrepreneurship award, A shark Tank-style show.
Despite Siemiatkowski and his partners’ strong belief in the concept, it was unable to advance to the finals.
The investors were skeptical that they would be able to keep their promise. Mostly because none of them had technical training.
They came last in that competition. However, after the contest, a stranger from the audience approached the group and advised them to “just go for it. The banks will never comprehend what occurred.”
They followed the advice.
The idea piqued the interest of an angel investor Jane Walerud and attracted the investment. She even assisted the trio of co-founders in finding a capable development team.
Klarna was founded in 2005 as Kreditor Europe AB to appear “more serious to investors,” with the first transaction taking place at a Swedish bookstore called Pocketklubben.
The concept wasn’t unfamiliar; businesses that let customers pay later had already been around. Klarna used it for online purchases though. This had never been done before.
The business provided online buyers with protection. Credit cards weren’t as widely used in Sweden at the time, and there wasn’t as much trust in online shopping.
With this in mind, Klarna might provide the buyer with purchase protection.
The item could be purchased and if not liked, returned for a full refund within 30 days. As a result, customers who had been skeptical about making purchases online began to trust Klarna more quickly.
However, they could pay with Klarna after determining whether they wanted to keep the items. All parties involved ultimately agreed that this was a great business model.
Businesses increased their conversion rates, customers gained additional security, and Klarna expanded.
With a quick expansion into neighboring Scandinavian nations like Norway, Denmark, and Finland, Klarna quickly surpassed 120 employees. Klarna had $54 million in revenue by the year 2010.
Although Klarna was expanding, there was one thing they really wanted. They wanted to be a tech company. The team would strategically target specific investors to increase Klarna’s appeal to tech talent.
In the interim, Klarna created a complete checkout process that can be incorporated into an online store.
It enabled conversion without the user having to enter any information; all that was required was their Klarna email address.
They also achieved the long-desired technological edge as a result. Sequoia Capital, the top US tech investment firm, ultimately invested $9 million in Klarna. The company was valued at $100 million. The company’s founders gave up 25% of their ownership.
Klarna was a unicorn, a startup worth $1 billion, a year later. Klarna, unlike most unicorns, was always profitable. It set them apart from the crowd. The business model, however, has one major flaw: it requires upfront capital.
Klarna pays the e-commerce stores before the funds are received from the customer.
Klarna receives funds from customers in 38 days on average. This includes the option to divide the payments into three interest-free installments.
Surprisingly, Klarna’s default rate, which typically hovers around 0.5%, is much lower than that of traditional credit card vendors.
— Being Born Poor Is Not Your Fault; However, Dying Poor Is
Your birth circumstances and the difficulties of your early life are not your faults. You can’t change them, but you can choose how you react to them.
Would you like to live your life blaming everyone and everything, or would you rather get up, take a deep breath, and take action?
Sebastian’s life was typical of a lower-middle-class man who was born into poverty and struggled to make ends meet.
However, he didn’t point the finger at anyone. He had lofty ambitions. And he did something that few people do: he summoned the courage to pursue his dream.
He was given an early setback in achieving his dream, but he didn’t give up.
He didn’t give up when the prudent investors rejected his idea. He relied on just one supportive remark from a stranger to launching his company to new heights of success.
— Setbacks Are Not Losses
In the beginning, Klarna hired a group of 5 engineers to build their platform in exchange for 37% of the company’s equity. However, there was a misunderstanding.
Sebastian expected that the group would create the platform and then carry on developing it as the business anticipated.
However, the outsourced engineers had a different interpretation of the contract. They bolted the platform together.
That 37% would have turned the engineers into billionaires if they continued to work. The Klarna team must have been concerned about them leaving at the time, but this later turned out to be advantageous for them.
— Fake It Until You Make It
We don’t recommend that you fake your success, but we do recommend that you act like a successful person. If you have the attitude of a successful person, your behavior will follow suit.
When the Klarna founders went to meetups with potential investors in the early days, they wore nice suits and had their business cards made to give the investors the impression of a successful businessmen.
And the outcomes are obvious to you.
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