In the world of entrepreneurship, success stories often emerge from unexpected beginnings, and Sebastian Karlsson’s journey is no exception. Born and raised in the cold and dark winters of Sweden, Sebastian’s trajectory from a professional soccer player to a founder and CEO of a venture success is a tale of resilience, determination, and the power of surrounding oneself with the right people.
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Growing Up in Sweden
Sebastian fondly reflects on his childhood in Sweden, emphasizing the country’s socialist roots and the early adoption of technology. Growing up in a household led by a single mother, he witnessed her unwavering dedication to providing opportunities for her children.
Sebastian acknowledges the privileges he gained and the sense of obligation to make the most of those opportunities. Every citizen had access to a computer and broadband services, and Sebastian agrees that this opportunity helped him build his company eventually.
Becoming a Professional Soccer Player
From a young age, Sebastian exhibited talent in soccer, and the positive affirmation he received fueled his passion. His soccer career, spanning from 18 to 27 years old, taught him valuable lessons in handling pressure, building relationships, and making decisions under intense scrutiny.
Sebastian notes that the experience laid the groundwork for his transition to entrepreneurship. He explains how the winter months from January and April weren’t conducive to playing soccer, so he spent these months developing his brain power and the grit to build his venture.
The Transition from Soccer to Entrepreneurship
As Sebastian hung up his soccer boots, he embarked on a period of soul-searching, contemplating his next steps.
His entry into entrepreneurship came through co-founding a sales company, where he emphasized the importance of surrounding himself with individuals more competent and experienced than himself.
This approach set the tone for Sebastian’s future ventures. He co-founded a sales company, doing customer support, B2B, and B2C sales. When he started out, Sebastian was piggybacking on other companies running the show.
However, early on, he understood the importance of being around people who were better than him, had different core competencies, and could challenge him to improve. In an attempt to look for other opportunities, Sebastian moved to Stockholm and started working for PwC.
At the end of six months, Sebastian was ready to go to the other side and move into venture capital. He recalls meeting with Saeid Esmailzadeh, the best serial entrepreneur, a chemist, and inventor of the world’s hardest glass materials.
Sebastian met him as he was in the process of purchasing a company from PwC. During lunch, he was offered a job, which he accepted because clearly, he was the “worst” in the room, which was an intriguing prospect.
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Building HomeMaker Sverige
Sebastian explains how they have a concept in Sweden that allows inventors and researchers to own the IP or Intellectual Property they create.
Since Saeid Esmailzadeh invented the glass materials, he owned the IP, which was his claim to fame. Saeid was able to commercialize the concept successfully.
Sebastian recalls how they transformed a lot of IP from academia and commercialized it, eventually building a portfolio. However, they didn’t have a go-to-market strategy or actual paying customers.
So, Sebastian teamed up with the co-founder, engineer, and the brain behind the software and approached VCs in all the Nordic countries. They named the company HomeMaker Sverige. Today, it is a project-based SaaS company digitizing the real estate and construction industry.
Sebastian moved on to several other ventures with the same investors and co-founder, a successful partnership that started in a restaurant.
One of the intriguing anecdotes in Sebastian’s journey is the “napkin agreement” that formalized his partnership with his co-founder. This casual yet significant moment symbolized the commitment to ambitious goals.
Sebastian recalls how he had 3 KPIs in five years, including acquiring 50 companies and achieving a substantial EBITDA of 500M in the Swedish Krona, which translates to around $47.9M. Sebastian revealed how he still has the napkin.
Building Ventures and Acquiring Companies
Sebastian’s venture, Lyvia Group, evolved from a private incubator to a company with a portfolio of over 40 acquired businesses across Europe. Their focus on business-critical software and services and a decentralized structure highlight their strategic approach to growth.
Sebastian emphasizes the importance of working closely with CEOs, understanding total addressable markets, and being a strategic partner to their acquired companies. He also talks about their calculations to allocate capital organically when investing in a new venture.
They factor in KPIs for organic growth, customer acquisition cost, lifetime value, and lead to deals in percentage days. Sebastian also reveals how they assign one growth director to a portfolio comprising eight companies, thus decentralizing their activities.
The growth director also ensures that they have the right CEOs since they put their trust in the CEOs and the entrepreneurs of the companies they acquire. Sebastian also stresses that their objective is to be more like strategic partners for their acquisitions.
Raising Capital and Timing
Having raised over €340M or roughly $369M in debt and equity, Sebastian credits timing and a bit of luck for their success. The ability to leverage capital and build relationships with banks played a crucial role.
Sebastian highlights the significance of being lucky and exposing oneself to opportunities while also acknowledging the importance of timing in the fundraising process. He recalls raising €80M in 2021 and having great organic growth, which enabled them to raise further funding.
Sebastian is also proud to have built great relationships with investors but talks about how they signed a facility agreement sometime in the summer of 2023, which was a challenging time.
Storytelling is everything, which is something that Sebastian Karlsson was able to master. Being able to capture the essence of what you are doing in 15 to 20 slides is the key. For a winning deck, take a look at the pitch deck template created by Silicon Valley legend Peter Thiel (see it here), where the most critical slides are highlighted.
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Vision and Future Plans
Lyvia’s vision extends beyond being a distributor of business-critical software. Sebastian envisions the company as the go-to partner for any significant software company entering the European market.
The ultimate goal is to control every aspect of Lyvia, from leveraging an IPO to achieving financial independence and self-financed agendas.
Reflecting on his journey, Sebastian imparts valuable advice to his younger self. He emphasizes the importance of surrounding oneself with the right people, staying curious, and maintaining a level of naivety. These qualities, he believes, have been key contributors to his success.
Sebastian Karlsson’s journey from a professional soccer player to a successful entrepreneur is a testament to the transformative power of resilience, curiosity, and strategic partnerships.
His story serves as inspiration for aspiring founders, highlighting the importance of adapting, learning, and surrounding oneself with a diverse and talented network. As Lyvia continues its venture success, Sebastian’s entrepreneurial spirit shapes the narrative of triumph against the odds.
Listen to the full podcast episode to know more, including:
- Sebastian Karlsson’s journey from professional soccer player to successful entrepreneur showcases the transformative power of resilience and determination.
- The “napkin agreement” symbolizes the commitment to ambitious goals, including acquiring 50 companies and achieving substantial revenue.
- Lyvia’s strategic focus on business-critical software and decentralized structure underscores the importance of working closely with CEOs and understanding total addressable markets.
- Raising over €340 million in debt and equity, Sebastian attributes their success to timing, luck, and building strong relationships with banks.
- Lyvia’s vision extends beyond being a distributor, aiming to become the go-to partner for significant software companies entering the European market.
- Sebastian emphasizes the significance of being surrounded by the right people, staying curious, and maintaining a level of naivety for entrepreneurial success.
- As Lyvia pursues an IPO and financial independence, Sebastian’s journey serves as inspiration for aspiring founders, highlighting the importance of adaptability and strategic partnerships.