Over the last twelve months, the head of comms at European venture capital firm Atomico has been quite fond of ‘reminding’ me that I had previously turned down the opportunity to interview Sebastian Siemiatkowski, the founder of European ‘buy now, play later’ sensation Klarna.
The offer was first made in August 2019, shortly after the Swedish company closed a $460 million funding round, giving it a $5.5 billion valuation. ‘The company isn’t that interesting to me at this time,’ I allegedly replied, giving him the typical journalistic brush off.
In retrospect, a more apt response would have been to tell the Aussie spin doctor to come back once Klarna’s valuation had doubled. Because that’s exactly what happened, only this time it was me who did the asking.
The resulting piece
– an opus, if you will – saw me spend around 2.5 hours talking to the Klarna founder, after we ran out of time during our original allotted hour. It was a robust conversation and hopefully without any of the star-struck pretence of access journalism sometimes on display when billionaire tech founders are profiled.
In fact, it would be wrong to call the 8,000 word article a profile of Siemiatkowski, although it definitely ventures into profile territory. More accurate, the in-depth interview – along with cameo roles from Skype and Atomico founder Niklas Zennström, and financial campaigner Alice Tapper – serves as the narrative device to delve into Klarna’s history and business model, the ethics of a company that offers easy credit, and Klarna’s challenger banking future.
There are also plenty of startup learnings, and, of course, at least one bonafide scoop:
- Siemiatkowski confronts criticisms head on, including that Klarna makes it too easy to get into debt, and that buy now, pay later needs to be regulated
- We discuss Klarna’s business model and the balancing act required to win over consumers and keep merchants onside
- We also learn how, under Siemiatkowski’s watch and as the company began to scale, Klarna missed the next big opportunity in fintech, instead being usurped by Adyen and Stripe
- The Klarna founder also shares where he believes the puck is skating next as the company ventures further into the world of retail banking after gaining a bank license in 2017
- And, told publicly for the first time, Siemiatkowski reveals how he once sought out PayPal co-founder Max Levchin as an advisor – including an infamous breakfast meeting in San Francisco – only to learn shortly afterwards that he had started Affirm, one of Klarna’s most direct U.S. competitors. Ouch.
To read the full feature, aptly titled ‘Making sense of Klarna
,’ you’ll need to have an Extra Crunch subscription, which is only £5 for the first month. I know paywalls aren’t for everyone but if you want to support the journalism I do, this is by far the best way. And if you need any more encouragement, TechCrunch Editor-in-Chief Matthew Panzarino called the piece an ‘absolute banger
’ and the definitive Klarna feature (he may be a little biased, of course!).
Bonus: Which European VC has been spending lockdown in Ibiza?