Starting a Unicorn: the Klarna story

The Klarna founders: Niklas, Seb and Victor. Photo courtesy of Klarna

The Klarna founders: Niklas, Seb and Victor. Photo courtesy of Klarna

Niklas: “We knew nothing about technology and we were starting a FinTech company,” says Adalberth, “We quickly realized that if we were going to do this we needed to take in money quickly.”

The twenty-three-year-olds’ own pockets were empty, so there wasn’t much leeway before the capital rolled in. Deliverance came in the form of angel investor Jane Walerud who didn’t just invest in their idea, but also put the Klarna-founders in contact with programmers who could help them develop the necessary software.

“She’s amazing,” says Adalberth, “she really saved us.”

- Niklas, in The story of how a complete coincidence led to the creation of the $2 billion fintech startup Klarna on Business Insider


Sebastian: We were extremely fortunate to meet Jane Walerud. The school we were studying at has a good reputation. When the business lab invited some business angels to listen to pitches from all the companies in the lab, Jane was one of them who attended that Christmas party. Jane has founded and funded a string of successful companies. We were a bit surprised that she gave us more money than we had asked for, and for less of the company. I think part of it was that she liked the idea but even more so that she saw three 23-year-olds who were extremely motivated and prepared to work 90 hours a week to become successful.

- A trip down memory lane with Sebastian Siematkowski in YHP


Did any of you have an entrepreneurial background?

Niklas: No, not at all. When you enter the Stockholm School of Economics, you basically expect to go working at Goldman Sachs or McKinsey (laughs), which was our plan too. But the opportunity to start a company was very enticing, especially because the school’s incubator also told us that it was very interesting. It felt stupid not to try it. We just had to give it a shot. ”

“The problem we faced was: we were three students, we had no money whatsoever, and no tech knowledge either. I mean, I did some homepages when I was younger, but no hardcore programming. We needed money and tech, which was hard to find. There was no commercial solution out there solving our need. But then at a network event we came across Jane Walerud, a famous angel investor in Sweden, who had had a bunch of successful exits. And she said: I have the perfect tech team to build your platform. Three weeks later, she gave us 60 000 € seed money for 10 % of the company and 5 techies to build our platform in exchange for 37 % of the company.”

That’s quite a stake you had to give up so early.

Niklas Adalberth: “Yes. It was a tough decision, but we realised that we wanted to build something big. And we needed to give a lot of shares to enable it. Actually we were cash flow positive before we even burned half the 60k. We were profitable from 2006 onwards. So we could actually have done it with less money.”

- Niklas Adalberth in Whiteboard's Inverview: from Burger King to boardroom, how Klarna became a payments giant


”Vi hade väldigt svårt att resa pengar, det var ingen som var intresserad av oss då,” berättar Sebastian.

De allra första pengarna fick de från affärsängeln Jane Walerud.

”Vi ville ha 400 000, men Jane gav oss 600 000, hon tyckte vi behövde det. Hon värderade vårt bolag, som då bara var en powerpointpresentation, till 6 miljoner.”

Vid nästa finansieringsrunda fick Klarna in den prestigefyllda vc-firman Sequoia som investerare. Och via lite smart agerande från Sebastian fick de in tungviktaren Michael Moritz i styrelsen. Moritz har tidigare bland annat suttit i Googles och Paypals styrelser.

- Sebastian Siematkowski i Startuppodden


Finns det någon specifik milstolpe där ni visste att er affärsidé verkligen skulle fungera?

– En viktig milstolpe var när vi fick in vår första investering, som kom från entreprenören och affärsängeln Jane Walerud. Man får komma ihåg att vi var tre finniga 23-åringar utan någon erfarenhet, inte en krona på fickan och som inte kunde ingenting om tech. Att vi då fick en investering av någon som trodde på oss var otroligt viktigt.

- Niklas Adalberth i Tidningen Entreprenör

Vi såg genast en affärsmöjlighet, men eftersom vi varken hade pengar eller den tekniska kunskapen som krävdes tog vi kontakt med Handels Business Lab, som gillade idén. Vi fick kontakt med affärsänglar och mindre investerare, och vid ett julmingel på Handels kom Jane Walerud fram till oss och erbjöd oss hjälp med kapital och kontakter med tekniker. Teknikerna byggde en plattform och vi började sälja. Det var en tuff period på alla plan, bara det att få kunderna att lita på tre 23-åriga killar var svårt, trots kostymer och fina visitkort. Vi hade det tufft ekonomiskt den första tiden vilket gjorde att det också var svårt att få banklån. Att leva på CSN-pengar och samtidigt driva bolag var på många sätt en bra erfarenhet som gav träning inför framtiden.

- Niklas Adalberth i Founders Alliance