We knew we were onto something from the beginning because it turns out that convincing banking partners that we can build a financial membership for immigrants are not easy.
As a part of our series about business leaders who are shaking things up in their industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Magnus Larsson, CEO & founder of MAJORITY.
Magnus Larsson is a mover and shaker. He is also a believer in upending the way we think about banking and providing services for migrant communities around the world. To kickstart that change, Larsson and the MAJORITY team are busy building the world’s first digital bank for migrants.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?
In the beginning, my dream was to be a rockstar, and I actually got pretty far on that journey. My band and I were really close to winning Sweden’s largest rock band competition. But when we didn’t win it, I did a lot of introspection, and I ended up switching all my focus and energy on studying at university. Oddly enough, my passion for creating and collaborating was perfectly suited to the business world. I started my career with the Kinnevik Group and built one of the most successful repositionings of a Swedish telecom player with the help of an amazing team. Since then, the last ten years have been dedicated to building services for various migrant communities, first at Comviq, then at Rebtel, and now at MAJORITY.
Can you tell our readers what it is about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?
It’s simple. We’re making financial services more accessible to migrants. However, the truth is there is nothing simple about it all. At every step on this journey, we have run into hurdles trying to make it easier for migrants to open a bank account, send money home, and make international calls at a good price. The infrastructure and trust are just not there, so we have to fight really hard to prove that migrants deserve the same access to financial tools as anyone else. That tells me we are breaking new ground, and it feels good to be at the forefront of the migrant tech wave as the first digital bank for migrants.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Working with a diverse group of people is essential for me. I love the innovation that comes from working with different perspectives from around the world. However, it also makes you more vulnerable to miscommunication. A perfect example that turned out pretty funny was when we tried to host a big New Year’s Eve-themed party. Our intent was to make it more formal and get people to dress up, and afterward, we were even planning to go to a nightclub that had a dress code. Imagine our surprise when people started showing up in swimwear, but it turns out there’s a lot of different perceptions of “dressing up,” so it made for an interesting but really fun experience. Now, we try to communicate in a more clear and concise way with a focus on making sure we make ourselves understood, instead of assuming our colleagues will interpret what we say the way we want.
We all need a little help along the journey. Who have been some of your mentors? Can you share a story about how they made an impact?
If by the mentor you mean someone older and wiser with a lot of experience, I never had one. Rather, I found my inspiration and guidance from peers who were successful in their fields. Even when those fields were the polar opposite of my own, these friends always opened my world to new ways of thinking and solving problems. I think an interesting experiment everyone should try is inverting their mentorships. Ask yourself what the younger or less experienced members of your team can teach you. I once mentored Ida Ostensson, founder of Sweden’s most prominent equality and inclusion organization, Make Equal. Upon reflection, I realized that I had gained an immense amount of knowledge myself, so I had to reevaluate who was the mentor and who was the mentee. It was an incredibly eye-opening experience.
In today’s parlance, being disruptive is usually a positive adjective. But is disrupting always good? When do we say the converse, that a system or structure has ‘withstood the test of time’? Can you articulate to our readers when disrupting an industry is positive, and when disrupting an industry is ‘not so positive’? Can you share some examples of what you mean?
Today, many places in the world are plagued by oppressive, out-of-date systems and structures. So you’d actually have a hard time convincing me that anything could withstand the test of time. Everything can be improved upon. Banking is the perfect example. I’m sure a lot of people just a decade ago and even today would believe that traditional banking was an institution that didn’t require a major overhaul. But then you look closer, and you start to realize that those same people are just the ones who are benefitting from the way things are being run. Then you have millions of people left to the side, the “majority,” if you will being excluded from even the most basic of services. So any disruption that happens with the intent to bring more of these people into the mainstream to reap the benefits that it brings is positive to me.
Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.
- Stay away from negative people. They have a problem for every solution.
- I strive to lead a solution-first organization. If anyone sees a problem with the organization or how it runs, I encourage them to bring it to my attention but do so with an idea on how to fix it already. It doesn’t have to be the best idea, we’ll work that out later. What’s important is that we have a place to start solving the problem from the beginning.
2. Don’t be afraid of what’s really hard. If you make it, you probably built something valuable.
- We knew we were onto something from the beginning because it turns out that convincing banking partners that we can build a financial membership for immigrants are not easy.
3. Business is all about people, and you only borrow the best.
- We had a few simple criteria when we started MAJORITY. Since we are building a company for migrants, we wanted to hire people from all over the world. Because no country holds all the talent. We also looked for superstars in their industry, because we knew these were the ones who had the level of ambition we were looking for. And finally, we want to also have fun, so we decided to select the people we felt a connection with; someone we could imagine enjoying our time with while on this wild journey.
We are sure you aren’t done. How are you going to shake things up next?
The MAJORITY journey is only just beginning. We have the opportunity to change the lives of millions of people and provide opportunities for migrants to help them succeed and thrive in their new country. There’s nothing I want to focus on more than that at the moment, which puts me in a pretty good place, I think. That being said, as MAJORITY grows, I expect we’ll be breaking into more than just the finance sector.
Do you have a book, podcast, or talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us? Can you explain why it was so resonant with you?
Steve Jobs’ Stanford speech is a must-experience for me. Anyone who has seen or read it has felt the magnitude of his life lessons, especially the realization that we can all die tomorrow, so why not let that define how we act today. We should never be afraid of chasing our dreams.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I collect life lessons and my favorite has always been “It doesn’t matter where you come from, only where you are going.” A huge part of MAJORITY is recognizing the ambition people bring to the table. When given the opportunity, that ambition can propel them anywhere they want to go in life. Unfortunately, it happens far too often that people focus on a person’s origin and what they believe that says about them as a person. That’s why when I’m recruiting talent, searching for business partners or investors, and building new products, I keep these ambitious people at the forefront of my mind.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
If it’s true that I’m a person of great influence, then my only wish would be that that influence went towards creating a more equitable world. The borders we have between countries are created by humans; yet, so much of your life is determined by which side of that border you were born. I imagine a map where we do not demarcate socio-political boundaries, but rather one that illustrates how diverse and wonderful our communities really are. As soon as we can start seeing beyond the assumptions and stereotypes of people, we can start looking at people’s actions and ambitions, which I think would be the strongest movement we could have.
How can our readers follow you online?
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!