August 9, 2019

Klarna founder’s secret of success: Island life

After an organisational restructuring, Sebastian Siemiatkowski sees new opportunities for Klarna to become one of the leading companies in its space.

Mimi Billing

3 min read

Sebastian Siemiatkowski is the chief executive and cofounder of the fintech unicorn Klarna

Sebastian Siemiatkowski is aiming to make Klarna one of the world’s top five fintech companies.

The Swedish buy-now-pay-later fintech company is certainly on a roll. This week, after a new $460m fundraising, the company has a post-money valuation of $5.5bn, making it the highest-valued private fintech companies in Europe.

That is a 250% increase in its valuation since the beginning of this year. And now, after four bumpy years in the US market, Klarna is reportedly growing at approximately half a million customers a month.

Part of the firm's improved performance, Siemiatkowski tells Sifted, is the result of an “island-centric” company restructuring. That means it's become less top-down and there are more isolated islands of employees; similar to how Jeff Bezos organised Amazon many years ago.


“I think it was totally necessary and crucial. One of the most important aspects was true decentralization. And we would not have accomplished what we've seen the last six months without it,” Siemiatkowski says.

Still, Klarna's good performance in the US is noteworthy given the country has traditionally been heavy on credit cards and was seen as a difficult market for non-card fintech companies. Despite originally seeing slow growth in the US, Klarna it is now on the cusp of tapping into a monumental trend, Siemiatkowski says.

“There has been a massive amount of demographic shifts in the UK and in the US the last ten years that we were unaware of. Although credit card volume has grown about twice, debit card volume has grown tenfold and 70% of millennials in the US do not have a credit card, they only have a debit card."

The firm has also taken a bold approach to data collection, which it says is helping it get "under the hood" to really understand its customers. Every time users make a purchase, the actual item bought is recorded by the company - not just the amount.

“That is giving us massive advantages to really provide more value than anyone else to our customers,” Siemiatkowski says.

“There is no other payments company out there, or Neo bank, that has access to that amount of data. That data itself allows us to provide much more value in terms of services to our customers.”

Staying ahead of the competition

Klarna is not the only European fintech to be trying its luck in the US — Monzo and N26 are also entering the market. But Siemiatkowski is less worried about competing with the other Neo banks than he is about taking market share from local traditional banks.

“The size of this industry is about a trillion-dollar, it’s obscenely big and we are just seeing the transformation happening. It's really the legacy banks that are going to see the competition, and for the neo banks, I think most of them will be successful to some degree.”

To secure Klarna's place in the leaderboard however, the firm is looking to roll out more features on top of its pink loans card, which already has 100,000 users, and its banking services, which began in 2017.

“The changes that we did in 2016 and 2017, are now starting to bear fruit. And we can see that the consumers really like them, like our consumer app in the US which is currently adding about a half a million users every month. But the fun thing is that the company culture is really transformed. And internally, we know that there are like 100 other features coming in the next six months.”


Some have speculated that Klarna's latest fundraise could see it moving towards an IPO or a buyout within the next three years. Siemiatkowski tells Sifted that whatever happens, he believes that Klarna - which was founded in 2005 - will survive.

“For 14 years in a row, we have proven our ability to actually be a profitable company and that we have the fundamentals in place to be a standalone business.”

Mimi Billing

Mimi Billing is Sifted's Europe editor. She covers the Nordics and healthtech, and can be found on X and LinkedIn