\Startup Life Interview/

Eight-time founder: “Don’t do what I did”

The cofounder of Kry is calling for a change in focus for startups

By Mimi Billing

Fredrik Jung Abbou is not your typical serial startup founder. He rarely appears in articles, he is never chief executive and he generally hides from the limelight.

But he is certainly not lacking in good ideas.

Jung Abbou has cofounded eight startups, the most successful to date is the telemedicine startup Kry (also known as Livi), followed by the online marketplace for loans, Lendo, acquired by Schibsted in 2010. Both have valuations around the billion-dollar mark.

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Not all of Jung Abbou’s startups have been successes. But some of them have, enough to make him a pretty experienced angel investor and one of the central figures in the Nordic tech scene.

“If we haven’t found a market fit within two years, I usually get out. But I have always been pretty good at finding buyers to the startups,” Jung Abbou tells Sifted whilst sipping a cup of coffee at a café in Stockholm.

Apart from Kry, almost all his startups have been online marketplaces, with a range of comparison sites — for electricity suppliers, mobile phones, invoice solutions, loans and leasing products.

“I just got into it and kept on coming up with different business ideas that would work. But in the end, you kind of start hating it. You don’t like the product, the market or what you do.”

Forging a new path

Today, apart from working at Kry, he is spending his time and money investing in other startups. Among others, he has invested in solar company Trine, AI startup Sana Labs, weather forecaster Ignitia, cancer diagnostics tool iCellate, scooter startup Voi and Astrid education.

On the whole, he is pretty critical of the companies he sees coming out of the Swedish ecosystem.

“On the one hand, there are a lot of fintech apps being founded and on the other, there are influencers with a huge number of followers, choosing to sell their makeup brand. Neither are bad for the world or the ecosystem, but are they adding any real value? Definitely not.”

“The only thing they do is creating a few more millionaires and giving people the experience of running a startup.”

Impact investment is a growing trend globally, and in Sweden perhaps even more so due to the Greta effect. Most of Jung Abbou’s investments are aligned with the UN sustainability goals and focus on the impact on education, poverty eradication or health.

When poked about the fact that Jung Abbou himself has started at least seven companies without creating any real value apart from money, according to his own description, he agrees.

“Don’t do what I did, do what I tell you to”, he says and laughs.

“I shouldn’t be too harsh. As long as it’s not toxic like a betting site, you can do one startup with no added value. But second-time founders and eight-time founders like myself, we should stay away from the crap.”

Sweden has had a reputation of being the home of successful startups like Spotify, Klarna and iZettle, however, times are changing and so must the startup scene, according to Jung Abbou.

“If we continue to do startups that don’t create any other value than money for investors and founders, we will soon be a country known for only creating startups that make entrepreneurs rich.”

Change is coming

Jung Abbou, born in the 70s, remembers the rowdy startup founders in the late 90s, the ones without any university degree and who were hardly looked upon as being the future of society.

The last few years, things have changed. Whilst management consultants or bankers were the sought after profession for business school graduates in the 00’s, today, more graduates are dreaming of running a startup. This latter group also have advantages that the older generation entrepreneurs couldn’t dream of.

“They have the background, the education, an abundance of available capital and an ecosystem that is allowing them to do almost anything — but is another fintech app really what we need?”

“On a macro level, who should bring about change if not startups? It will hardly be the big corporations, the politicians or ordinary workers that will come up with challenging new solutions to world problems,” Jung Abbou says.

But some companies are doing amazing innovation in Sweden, according to Jung Abbou, but perhaps they don’t get the attention they should. He mentions Exeger, a startup that does solar panels for gadgets and almost anything else, the battery gigafactory Northvolt and the electric truck startup Einride.

Mimi Billing is Sifted’s Nordic correspondent. She also covers healthtech, and tweets from @MimiBilling

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