In 2020, a Stockholm startup called Checkin.com processed over 18 million end user sessions in 165 countries. This has since been followed by the recent completion of a private financing worth â¬ 2million, which quickly became oversubscribed as a host of leading Nordic investors flocked to the company. As this is another Nordic startup achievement, it is simply the latest example of regional innovation going global. But beyond that, it is also another success story for the âKlarna academyâ.
Speaking with any member of Stockholm’s tech ecosystem, you’ll probably never be far from a unicorn graduate – a former member of those Skypes and Spotifys who are now taking the reins of their own idea. But to what extent do these founders attribute these old table experiences to the success of their new and burgeoning businesses?
In the case of Checkin.com, CEO and co-founder Kristoffer Cassel, who founded the company with another Klarna The veteran, Alexey Kuznetsov, believes that “experience” is the key word, but especially in terms of seeing a startup prosper, rather than the technical elements and the innovations deployed. Since 2017, he has helped oversee his enterprise scale at a rapid pace through a user experience-based proposition that uses AI and machine learning to create tailored, streamlined onboarding experiences, by line.
It wasn’t an idea born in the Klarna towers when he was their product vice president, but, by chance, in an airport long afterward.
âI was going on vacation and there was someone at the airport promoting credit cards – something I really needed,â Cassel said. âThe seller did a really good job, and I totally agreed with the idea of ââpurchasing this card. And then I was handed this iPad, with a big, long form asking for all kinds of details, as you might expect. And instinctively, without even thinking, I found an excuse and left.
Reflecting on this interaction during his flight, Cassel realized that the problem couldn’t be with the product or the seller. It was the onboarding process – a process that millions of people have to go through for just about every service online, around the world. There was the opportunity.
âAnd thinking about it again now, maybe such an idea has occurred to me regardless of my career at this point,â Cassel said. âMy experience with Klarna has not put me on the alert to constantly identify start-up opportunities. But what it did, once I had that interaction and that idea, gave me confidence that something might come out of it.
An ambition that predates Klarna
It’s this first-hand experience of seeing an idea evolve into a monster that Cassel credits as the main takeaway from his time with Klarna. He is not the only one.
Mikael Hussain is the former vice president of credit at Klarna, and – just like Cassel – is now CEO and co-founder, at Any ending. Hussain partnered with Sven Perkmann, former head of risk products at Klarna, employee of Spotify and current CTO of Anyfin; and Filip Polhem, whose journey took him via Klarna and iZettle on his way to his role as COO and co-founder.
It’s an elite cast that you would once again be forgiven for assuming startup success would be guaranteed. But that’s not necessarily how Hussain sees it.
âAnyfin was founded on a simple idea: there must be better financial options. Options that make your life easier, so you can focus on yourself, âhe said. âConsumers get ripped off and pay too much for their financing. And we help people right the wrongs in their financial past and take control of their day-to-day finances so they can build their financial futures.
âBut my idea of ââworking in finance actually dates back to when I graduated. Unfortunately, I was “lucky” to graduate during the financial crisis, but ended up joining Klarna when she was called Kreditor, which led to me heading credit risk there. “
Fast forward more than a decade, and Hussain now realizes an ambition that predates his time with Klarna. Again, the influence of these unicorn-filtering days is simply knowing that a great idea can achieve commercial viability – but not necessarily the inspiration of the startup itself.
âWe now have over 200,000 users and recently launched the app in Germany. And that’s just the beginning. Anyfin customers have, on average, saved more than SEK 250 million using our app-based services, âsaid Hussain.
No guarantee of success – just the confidence that he could
As Hussain’s senior colleagues illustrate, there are tangible benefits that have been gained from their time with Klarna – namely, getting to know these people. In addition, the notions of market knowledge and digital know-how were potentially better understood by Hussain and Cassel than by an entrepreneur fresh out of university.
But there are also aspects of startup growth that they haven’t been exposed to, or sought to repeat, since their time at Klarna. Hussain cites investor access as a learning curve recently, with Anyfin, while Cassel draws on Klarna’s experiences that Checkin.com actually tried to avoid or improve upon.
âThese are not only the positives that I got from this experience, but also the pitfalls to avoid. And it’s definitely an advantage to be part of a startup already, whether or not it has achieved unicorn status, âhe explained. âFor example, the way we recruit is much more holistic and open, taking a remote approach first. “
Ultimately, these two Klarna alumni attribute their current successes, not Klarna – the tech startup; but in Klarna – the success story. And with this in mind, they also hope to train some of their own future entrepreneurs.
Hussain said, âI think coming from a unicorn has very little to do with starting a successful tech business. I have found that it is more about the learnings and what it takes to start a business and get it started which is helpful in starting your own.
Cassel added: âI have been fortunate to work with some of the fastest growing online companies in Europe, but Klarna in particular has been crucial simply from a trust perspective. We have seen firsthand what can be done if the idea and the product are right. And it gives you the confidence to dare to venture out and explore this on your own, when otherwise an interaction like the one I had at this airport might just have been an interaction at an airport.
âKlarna did not give us a free ticket, nor a head start, nor a guarantee of success. It just gave us the conviction and proof that with the right idea and the right approach, a tech startup from this region can scale globally. “