Sequoia Capital is arguably Silicon Valley’s best investors and definitely the most legendary.
The firm, founded in 1972, was an early investor in Apple, Google, PayPal, Oracle, Yahoo!, Instagram and more recently startups like Airbnb and Stripe. It knows how to spot a winner.
So when Swedish payments startup Klarna was starting out, CEO and co-founder Sebastian Siemiatkowski was desperate to land the firm as an investor.
Siemiatkowski even went so far stalk Sandhill Road on Google Maps, the Menlo Park address of Sequoia and the symbolic home of venture capital in Silicon Valley.
Siemiatkowski told the crowd at the Money2020 conference in Copenhagen this week that he stalked Sequoia years ago on Google Street View “to see what this legendary place looks like.”
BI looked up Sequoia on Street View and the road it sits on isn’t actually covered but you can just glimpse the buildings through the trees. Still, the leafy Califonia landscape must have looked dreamy to Stockholm-based Siemiatkowski.
Incredibly, Siemiatkowski’s wish came true — Sequoia led a $9 million investment in Klarna back in 2010 and has taken part in follow-on rounds since. To date the company has raised over $290 million and is worth $2.25 billion, making it one of Europe’s few unicorns.
Siemiatkowski and Sir Michael Moritz, the chair of Sequoia who led the round, told the crowd at Money2020 how the initial investment came about (the Googling didn’t factor in surprisingly).
Siemiatkowski approached the CEO of another Swedish company who Sequoia had backed: “I asked him if he thought Sequoia would be interested. He said never ever is that going to happen. That was the end of the discussion.
“But then fortunately, Michael was working back then with a guy named Chris would was calling every fricking guy and saying, hey, do you have any interesting companies? He called the CEO [of the company Siemiatkowski has talked to] and he said, you know what, there’s this company called Klarna. That’s kind of it. We met in London.”
Sir Michael says: “We’re always interested in a company that has the potential to become one of the leading companies in its sector and Klarna, back when we invested, was beyond a pure startup stage but they’d done so well in Sweden and to a lesser extent elsewhere in the Nordics.”
Klarna lets customers buy products online just by entering their email address and postcode. The company then effectively extends the buyers a line of credit, buying what they’re after on their behalf and then emailing them later to ask them to fill in their card or payment details.
This solves a big problem for online retailers — conversion rates. Stores find that plenty of people will put things in their baskets but often abandon the buying process when it comes to paying because it’s too much of a hassle to fill in all the online forms. It’s not worth the hassle for what usually is a luxury.
Klarna flips that on its head — by the time you come to pay you’ve already bought the product so you don’t have much choice in the matter unless you want to return the item or become a criminal.
The method has proved so successful that in its native Sweden Klarna now processes 30% of all online purchases there and processed $9 billion (£5.74 billion) worth of transactions globally in 2014. The company has been profitable since its inception.
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