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Natalia Brzezinski – Show Notes


Welcome and Introductions from Ben Costantini.

Natalia: First of all, quickly, Ben, I am so happy to see you and I’m so proud of you and what you’ve built around The French ecosystem, and the larger European ecosystem. You and I have always shared this passion, especially for connecting the U.S. and Europe around tech and values. And we work together really closely with Brilliant Minds, which was essentially a platform to do just that, founded by Daniel Ek, the founder of Spotify.

And you are an integral partner for me in that. And I’m so excited to see what you’re doing. I couldn’t be happier to be here today. And I’m a little mortified as you read this like crazy, resume and CV of mine. But I think it points to the fact that I’ve had certainly like a very different journey to where I’ve landed right now.

I’m not an engineer, I’m not an AI expert. I’m not a finance expert. I came in to tech and European tech through my own personal narrative and passion. My parents are immigrants from Eastern Europe. I grew up on the South side of Chicago, very much in a European home. So I’ve always felt like I’ve had one foot on each country in many ways.

And I took that with me. When I moved to Sweden, I lived in the U S embassy. My husband was Barack Obama’s U S ambassador to Sweden. And I say that because I came into first Nordic tech and then the wider European tech scene from the perspective of really, values and storytelling and, and a little bit politics, but I would say.

More connectivity and bringing our nations together around shared values and highlighting shared values and creativity instead of our differences. And I’ve always argued when it comes to tech, at the end of the day,  we can discuss privacy and AI and data and flying cars, but it really is about this concept of creativity, which to me is the most human, raw, value there is, we all, as humans want to create.

Bring our crazy ideas to reality, use our own two hands and collaborate as a team, as a tribe to make cool things and make things that can make the world better. And I think that’s how I come into this tech world. And that’s how I like to look at everything I do just from a, from a very human perspective.

And I think when it comes to this idea, and you will recognize this,saying, this concept of. Humanity and technology and, and marrying those two worlds and, and ecosystems better and in a more organic way, because we. I wouldn’t say on a collision path, but we are now at this interesting marriage of humanity and technology.

And I think actually right now is such a pivotal moment to rewrite. And re-imagine what that could look like. So whether it’s Klarna, whether it’s my work, the EU parliament advisory board, which I’m really excited about. Again, I’m going to be coming into all of those areas with a very human mindset.

Ben: I want to ask you about the U S situation. Last time, we did our first salon with Jen and we discussed the results of the U S elections. That was just that we just had them. They were not confirmed yet. I don’t want to go too much into that area, but I’m actually curious to know what’s your perspective and why you think it’s so important today to bring creativity, goodness, you know, to the political agenda.

Natalia: Oh, absolutely. I’m so happy to talk about this. I mean, of course politics is a huge part of my story and I wouldn’t be here today without it. Even going as far back as when I was a little girl, my mom was also a community organizer on the South side of Chicago.

Not as famous as the guy that later became president, obviously Barack Obama, but my early days were going door to door with my mother for the democratic party, but it was never about politics with her. It was about community and neighbors and trust. And we would sit in people’s homes for hours at night talking about their health or their needs or their struggles or their challenges.

And so again, when it came to politics, I always had this. I always lead with these feelings of compassion and community and empathy. And that’s what it was about. It’s politics are very emotional in America and I think that’s why it’s been such a difficult year. I can tell you, of course, it’s obvious it’s been a difficult year, but I’ve never felt living in Washington, DC., I’ve never felt such anxiety and resentment and tension in the air. And I’m so thrilled to say that.

That has truly dissipated after the announcement of, of Joe Biden and, and vice-president elect Kamala Harris and watching, especially, you know, for me as the mother of a daughter and, and a very impassioned feminist, myself watching Kamala Harris actually take the stage first before president elect Joe Biden and accept the nomination, which is really unprecedented. So I’m not sure if people notice that, but that has not happened before. He really gave her the stage, which was beautiful.

I think, you know, that was the first time that as I ran through the streets of DC or went jogging, people were smiling at each other again. And I know it sounds silly, but there was really this feeling of, of, okay. Things are lifting slowly, of course, the vaccine and everything happening. I mean, I think we’re looking towards, I hope a sunnier January in 2021 and on a personal perspective, I mean, The Biden family are our close family, friends of ours.

And I will say that Joe Biden himself, is one of the people that really empowered me when I was going abroad with my husband and I was like a baby that had a baby. My daughter was one, I was in my early, early to mid twenties. And before we were shipped off to Stockholm to live in the U S embassy, vice president, Joe Biden called us into his office and congratulated us.

And we had about an hour and a half chat. And the first thing he said to me was really a focus. “You know, Mark, my husband’s name is Mark, you’re going to be a great ambassador. I know you. I’ve worked with you. But Natalia, your role will be pivotal.” And he said, “I’ve actually tried to introduce legislation in the US Senate several times to get the spouses of ambassadors paid because their role is actually so important.”

And I told you [Ben] that and he said, basically, (I won’t go too long) said, “go and  use your platform for change. Don’t be afraid. Pushback. People will try to put you in your place. Don’t listen. You will make an impact.” And I think that had such, I carried those words with me for so many years, including today.

Into periods where, you know, I feel that maybe I’m in a situation where I’m being put down because I’m a woman or I’m not being listened to. I think it was just an amazing moment. And in a really important period of my life. And it’s, it’s crazy, like almost 10 years later to see him rising as our new leader.

And I just couldn’t be happier. I think that it will be a wonderful next four to eight years, eight I hope. And maybe eight more with President Harris please.

Ben: Thank you. That you bring so much good energy. How would you define good actually. That’s the topic of today, you know, what is your definition of good?

Natalia: Oh, Ben. What a question!

Ben: Just make it shorter if you want. I’m not asking for  the big, big vision for me.

Natalia: It’s really generosity of spirit. I tell myself every truly every day, and I think that’s because I very much have this, paranoid immigrant voice in my mind, always that I can be better and do better and, and, you know, push myself.

But I think about this everyday, I came from a very poor upbringing. My parents were immigrants. My mom drove a bus. My dad cleaned offices. My grandmother cleaned offices. The fact that I am where I am, and I know the people I do and I’ve met many presidents and I meet CEOs. There is no reason for me to be here other than luck and blessing and whatever it is.

And the only reason I’m here is to give that network back, give these ideas back, help other people. My mom always said this to me and still does, because she’s a typical hardcore Eastern European mother, but whatever you’re doing, you better be helping other people because you don’t deserve to be where you are otherwise.

And she’s right. And I really,  I think goodness for me is pulling other people up, men, women, children, whoever they are, everybody deserves a shot. And I got a shot. I got an opening to sit at the table, as they say, with the big boys. And I want to give that to other people. And I think at the end of the day, you can tie everything in life and goodness around just this generosity and openness of spirit, I would say.

Ben: Right. And it’s a perfect transition for me to ask you about the generosity and the goodness of banks. Transition question. We discussed it with Dan and banks are historically, They were not really seen as the good guys. What makes Klarna different? You joined them recently. So I hope it’s because they make something for good?

Natalia: I think there’s many reasons around that one, as you know, well, A lot of these companies, most of them are about the founder and their vision and their, you know, tech companies are founder centric and founder led and Sebastian is both one of the greatest founders, one of the greatest fathers, one of the greatest husbands and friends that I’ve met.

And I know that his vision is values driven and truly, truly, he wants to be the best partner for young consumers, especially the most transparent as you know, leading with Swedish values around transparency and access and egalitarianism and openness. And I know that’s really why he started that company.

And that’s what we’re trying to do in the U S in particular, where I think that the reputation is challenging around banks and especially the predatory lending towards, you know, people of color, especially women. I mean the whole system of banking is so outdated, even as the way it’s set up, you know, the way you get credit in the U S the way, it’s what, it’s based on a nuclear family, a man that makes the money, you know, it’s, it’s a completely outdated setting.

And I think it’s interesting also to look at the Nordics because as you know, well, Sweden has been a cashless society for 10 years now, at least, you know, it’s a very, very mature and forward thinking market when it comes to finance. And there’s a lot of trust built into that system, much more than we have.

So I almost feel like Klarna is exporting that trust and transparency to the U S when it comes to the way we want to help consumers, both shop and budget and finance, and we see massive momentum around it. I mean, we see it really as really smart, young people are using this as a budgeting tool and we’re allowing them to kind of be aspirational in the way they shop and the way they plan for their future.

And I think that’s really exciting, especially as again, For this generation from my generation and the one under us, it’s, it’s a difficult period. You know, we graduated into economic crisis of 2008, 2009, 2010. We’re now entering again, a very strange period as like my generation that is rising in their careers, but not yet at a high level.

So I think these are things that buy now pay later financing like we are. That is reality. Now, every merchant. Every retailer is using some type of tool like this or will. And I think we want to be, and we are the most transparent, best partner.

Ben: We’re going to come back to the Swedish side of things, but I want you to also highlight one thing when I saw that you were joining Klarna, I was like, okay, one  of the things that they are doing that is a bit special is that they are sort of leveraging pop culture, you know, very on, you know, on the current age of culture.

So they did this advertising with Snoop dog when they launched in the U S I think it was a year or year and a half ago. They have,

Natalia: and he’s now a shareholder so far now

Ben: You’ve done  a campaign on TikTok recently , or fortnight. I mean, like those things, you know, , and I was like, okay, that’s creativity. That’s why, you know, also Natalia is there. Why, why does it matter what you do those things?

Natalia: I mean, I think both, I can say, Hey, I mean, this is how we differentiate ourselves from the, every other provider, literally every other provider or bank or competitor, even the color it’s blue, it’s masculine, it’s basically marketing to men.

So as you know, that in itself bothers me, but we’re pink and we’re vibrant and we’re an ecosystem. And I think just the way we communicate shows that, Hey, we welcome all, for example, even though RuPaul’s drag Queens was one of the most, if not the most popular television show in the US, you know, competing with the NFL and football, no brand has worked with the RuPaul drag Queens, with these amazing, creative people.

Klarna did one of our most path breaking campaigns with them with makeup tutorials. And I use this example just to say, I think that one it’s creativity and it’s exciting, and it shows that we’re not just a payment solution. We’re a brand. And we’re kind of this world, but also that our world invites everyone into it. And it kind of also indicates, this is what we stand for.

We also did a campaign with Lady Gaga. We played on the fact that it was a leap year and in a leap year, women get to propose to men. I didn’t come up with this rule, but instead of vice versa, being Lady Gaga, she proposed to herself and it kind of, the internet went wild. And again, you know, it was about women’s empowerment and strong women and independence.

So we really use our campaigns, not just to engage celebrities, but to show the world in the U S market what we stand for, these are our values in a cool, fun way. And so I think at the end of this, whether it’s in 20 years or 10 years or forever, I know, and I hope I’m part of Klarna, really making a huge dent in pop culture, because I do think that will happen.

Ben: Thank you so much to be the, like I’m bringing you back to Sweden where like, so you’re working at that intersection of technology culture and values. Sebastian was there, like he was at Brilliant Minds, he was actually already sort of sharing that agenda. And I’d like you to tell us, a bit more about what is so special about Sweden. Some of us are not maybe so familiar with, you know, didn’t have so much contact with Scandinavian countries. What is it about the Scandinavian mentality that defines, founders like Sebastian or companies like Klarna?

Absolutely. I’ve become a Nordic specialist. So, so I’m happy to do that, but no jokes aside. I mean, just anecdotally, I landed in Stockholm, obviously, of course, in this like rarefied position, but I was a working mom. I was a young mom. I had a baby. I was struggling to find my voice and position and professionally like engage and everywhere around me, I saw one, Incredibly strong women, this amazing system that really supported the family, their parental leave, which is the most generous in the world,  and I began to have this kind of total epiphany realizing that in the U S everything that my generation, but just the larger mainstream was fighting for.

You know this was the era of Sheryl Sandberg, lean in. This was when the whole kind of sustainable, I mean, that green climate stuff was really starting to explode obviously with president Obama’s stance on it as well, all these like aspirational goals we had as a country and this smaller market or smaller nation, Sweden, they were already happening.

You know, they were so forward on all of the areas that I think the young generation in America, myself personally, and also the Obama white house was passionate about innovation. Specifically, sustainable innovation women’s leadership. Supporting men and women and family parents, to be able to really engage in the workplace, kind of this notion of egalitarianism.

So that’s the high level way of just showcasing that. They were just so ahead on everything in so many ways. So they created this system where both men and women and parents can engage in bringing their creativity to the workplace. They’re not cut out. They were really maximizing their population.

And I think even more so, one of the most interesting things for me as an American and specifically as an American child of immigrants who really kind of always has this fear of losing it all and kind of this desperation and struggle, and I saw my parents, you know, working four jobs and hustling and starting companies starting small as like, you know, they were entrepreneurs, always the Nordic and specifically Swedish ecosystem was based on a completely different set of parameters and structures and incentives for entrepreneurs.

This is something Daniel Ek would always say to us, you know, Swedes start companies because they can, they have this social welfare state (I wouldn’t get it), but safety net that if they start something and they fail, they won’t end up on the street. They won’t burn through their grandmother’s savings, you know?

It’s not a system of creativity that’s based on fear or struggle or hustle or backstabbing competition. It’s one based on collaboration and consensus and kind of like a safe creativity. Intellectually. That was just so, so different for me. And it’s almost like innovating out of a place of safety and comfort versus out of fear.

And I think on top of everything else that I can talk about that the government did, the government subsidized, you know, computers and PCs for basically the entire generation of the Sebastian’s and the Daniel’s and the Minecraft founders in the nineties and early two-thousands. There’s so many things like that.

But I think ultimately at the end of the day, Swedes innovate because they can, and I think just having, having that notion and having that feeling that like everyone is empowered to create things if they have the idea and the drive, is just so incredible and interesting and very different than our system as well.

So I think marrying a lot of those values between the U S and the Nordics as well, would be the ideal model, but we’ll see, maybe that’s a whole nother ….

Ben: I was actually about to ask you quickly about, you know, the, why this policy fails time and time again in America.

Natalia: I think it’s because at the end of the day, and we very much seen this in the last four years in stark stark spotlight, but we are really an individualistic country. We do not have the same one, just long history of culture and history and community, but we talk about community a lot. The end of the day, we don’t want to pay extra taxes for our neighbor.

Like, why am I going to pay for his health care? You know, there’s a very much a hard Scrabble individualistic mentality. And I think, I think we’ll get there, but we’re many generations away from being that type of true community, that sacrifices to support each other. And we’re so different. I mean, you know, It’s almost like being on another planet if you’re in Los Angeles or New York versus, you know, and I’m from the Midwest versus not even Chicago, but Nebraska, North Dakota.

I mean, it’s, it’s very, very challenging, but I think that the one thing that binds us all is that the next generation of young people, the children of immigrants like myself, I think they have more in common with each other than their parents, even they do have this love for America. They do have this feeling of community.

And I, I think that our best days are ahead of us as Americans. And we’re certainly turning a tide right now.

Ben: Thank you. Just a quick one, you know, in the French Republic, you have these three words, which are liberté, égalité, fraternité. There was an article recently written by Chris O’Brien who is an American Journalist living here in France and he was saying that, you know, one key word that is missing in the U S is the third one. Fraternité.

Natalia: I was just going to, my 15 years of French, you know, still, I still can understand a little bit, but don’t ask me to speak, as you said, that I was exactly thinking the same thing. And if you look at our, our constitution, it’s all, (what is the executor?), but it’s like the, the pursuit of self happiness, like self pursuit of habit. It’s all about you. And I argue about this, that debate with my husband about this, because I said, you know, he’s obviously very politically involved and I often say to him, Mark, you know, how will we create a country?

I mean, people came to America. For themselves, you know, like things weren’t working here. I want to get my own, I want to create my own dream. I’m going to do my own thing over there, halfway across the world, wherever I’m coming from. And so like, it’s, it’s a different type of drive. And again, I think over generations that’s slowly changing.

But we’re not, we’re not there yet. No, that’s not a strong fraternité.

Ben: I have a question from them and we were going to have like, maybe five. Six more minutes. If you have questions, just go ahead on the chat. But Dan is asking, coming back to Klarna, you know, strategy, “By positioning these pop stars at a certain targeting to the youth ,who might not yet have the most sound financial principles.

How do you address and balance that?”

Is Klarna helping to, you know, educate, financially, the younger consumers.

Natalia: Of course, that is a fantastic question Dan, and financial literacy and engaging in those impactful ways are certainly things that are on my table and on our roadmap. I think it’s interesting to note that it’s also based on a completely different, I would argue that those young people actually do know what they’re doing and do have a better sense of how to manage their budget because they’re using debit cards.

They’re not using credit cards. Klarna has made the bedrock of the business model, and the theory is based on the fact that in the Nordics, they don’t use credit. They don’t get indebted that way. They use debit cards. So whatever’s taken out of your bank account, you know, that’s how much you can buy.

Our consumers in the US are young people, are using a debit card, which means they’re not indebting themselves on their visa. They’re not they’re following just the fact that they’ve discovered Klarna and are using our app is, is a more sophisticated and aware consumer. And so I think that’s often shared is like, there’s this idea that, Oh, you know, It’s indebting people that are young people that have no idea what they’re doing.

We don’t find that that’s the case at all. Our consumer is actually a rather educated, with a solid job, and, I wouldn’t say wealthy, but, Middle-class type of consumer who is aware of different types of financial tools around the world. I often say, you know, the person that I would love to empower, and I really see as a core part of our consumer base in the U S, is the young woman on scholarship that finally got her first art gallery job, and then COVID hit and she’s an aspirational buyer and she wants to buy her first Diane Von Furstenberg dress. So she looks great.

I mean, I think there’s a, this is the type of strong, career driven person that we’re targeting that we are seeing buying. And you know, the gen Z and millennials have grown up. I’m a millennial, you know, I have a 12 year old daughter. I mean, I think, yeah, that, I think that our base is growing with us.

And just during black Friday, we’ve seen a massive amount of our consumer base now being over the age of 50. So a lot of the practices where people are my mom or people that love going to stores. I mean, as Americans, we, we actually love going “In store” and in the mall, it’s part of our kind of national ethos.

Those people were forced into online practices that they’ve discovered that are much easier and they will continue to shop that way. And so I think it’s, again, a really interesting period and Klarna is also working with, we’ve started with Sephora, but we do have a robust in-store plan and a lot of interesting things are happening there.

So I think you’re going to see a lot of, of course, focused on financial literacy, but more things coming out, showing us as truly again, the best partner for consumers and also for our merchants and retailers.

Ben: Thank you. if anyone has a question, just go ahead. But I was also wondering what are the Number one, two or three priorities for 2021 for you, for yourself or Klarna in the U S , what is in the making?

Natalia: I think that I will focus on myself quickly. No, I, I want to continue to bring impact and values and also, you know, storytelling and that’s what you and I both love Ben content and storytelling and brand work.

And actually storytelling is just a way of showcasing who you are and what you stand for. And I think you’ll see much more of that from me, from Klarna. I mean, I’m most excited also about the fact that I’m continuing this work on the transatlantic tech relationship. You know, it’s what we started this conversation out with.

As I’ve said, I’ve always felt very European and very American, and I’ve been so lucky to be able to work in different areas across those two continents and focus on business and investment in innovation. And with this new EU parliament role and different advisory boards and things I’ll be doing, I’m really excited to continue that work.

And I think that’s

Ben: Will you organize Klarna festival?

Natalia: We’ll see Ben, don’t add to my work plate, please. I’m so excited already that I, you know, raise my hand for everything. So. Maybe it’s time for me to be really focused in 2021.

Ben: We’ll talk again When I see Klarna festival announced, you know, one in New York and another one in Stockholm.

Natalia:  and one on Mars!

Ben: Thank you so much Natalia. I’m gonna wrap it up. , if you have some last words, you know, for our audience and also those who are listening to this session. You know, some optimistic words or, you know, encouragement for 2021. Please go ahead.

Natalia: I mean, I guess I, all I would say is I truly believe that entrepreneurship and creativity and leveraging your creativity through just starting things on your own is the ultimate form of empowerment.

It’s the ultimate form of making our world better. So I, I love founders. I love discovering and connecting and activating new voices and new ideas. So, wveryone listening. And I know you have a big founder community, keep going, let me know if I can help. Send ideas to me or Ben or, you know, any way that we can lift up new voices makes me so excited because I think that’s just what we need around the world right now.

I love the fearless spirit of the entrepreneur. So again, keep going. We’re here for you.

Ben: Thank you, Natalia.


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