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Founder of Blinkist on inequality and how to fight it

Founder of Blinkist on inequality and how to fight it

Sebastian Klein is the founder of the book app Blinkist and became a millionaire with it. But the great inequality worries him. In his current investments, he pays attention to the common good rather than returns

Mister Smalldon’t you like reading, or why did you invent an app that summarizes non-fiction books in a concise manner?
I always had at least three books lying around at the same time, but rarely managed to finish one. And I knew that others felt the same way. In 2009, I started sending book summaries via email as a hobby. That’s when my dream of being able to just read for five years as a career was born.

Nevertheless, you founded Blinkist not immediately.
No, after graduating I worked as a management consultant at the Boston Consulting Group. The exciting thing was that you could work directly with the DAX executives and help shape things. But after three months at the latest I wanted to quit. It was a nightmare and just as you would imagine: far too much work and pressure, the only thing that mattered was performance, material things, money. I was 100 percent controlled by others, I belonged to the company. No freedom, no autonomy. One of my superiors was severely depressed, he took pills at work and often seemed as if he was about to collapse. I didn’t want to be as unhappy as the colleagues around me. After 15 months I quit.

To person

Sebastian Klein, 41, grew up in an academic household, in a house with a garden in the Allgäu. It took him almost 30 years to understand that this is not something to be taken for granted. While studying psychology in Marburg, he founded a student management consultancy with fellow students. Even then, he developed the idea for the company that would one day make him rich: Blinkist, an app that summarizes the most important things from non-fiction books.

With what hope?
I thought, now I’m going to get started, become rich and successful. A friend and I thought about how we could make a lot of money with little effort and came up with cooling scarves. We thought, one summer and we’ll be millionaires. After all, we thought up a product in three months, had it manufactured and set up a website. But we forgot about marketing. After a year, we had a turnover of less than 5,000 euros. I realized that scarves were not going to be a passion project. So I continued working on the book idea.

How did this become a business idea?
We had started to develop a first prototype, which was called Wait Mate at the time and was supposed to deliver small, clever texts to smartphones for waiting times. When the third co-founder joined, the idea arose to develop it further in the direction of book summaries. In spring 2012 we looked for investors for this, and in the summer we founded our company.

So how did you make money with the Blinkist app?
Blinkist works with a subscription model: users pay for a premium version. Quite a lot of people are using it now.

And when did the first million come?
That took time. In the beginning, we paid ourselves such low salaries that I was permanently in debt and broke. In 2017, when I had already exited operations, I was able to sell company shares for the first time. That was a great feeling: going from zeros and the minus in the account to a few hundred thousand. Finally out of the lack of freedom and external control. I bought myself an expensive bicycle, a hi-fi system and a suit. The million was a gradual step: in 2018 I was able to sell shares again, and in 2023 we sold the whole company with the exit, by which time I had about five million. I kept ten percent as retirement security and put the rest into a non-profit GmbH.

Why didn’t you keep your millions?

Source: Stern

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