Swedish super-entrepreneur Henrik Persson Ekdahl has become a billionaire thanks to his tech successes and his sure instinct for the right partners. He has just moved to South Africa for a new business venture.
He feels like drive personified, Henrik Persson Ekdahl. And the power of action shines through when he talks about his career that took off with ice cream sales on the beach in Åhus, in Southern Sweden, where he rocked the business by hiring school friends. Today, Henrik Persson Ekdahl runs the investment company Optimizer Invest and has no plans to slow down.
Have you always been so driven?
“It comes from my childhood. My father ran a tire workshop with his two brothers and I realised early on that you have to work extremely hard both to succeed and be able to put food on the table. But what happiness is, of course, is up
It nearly came to an end when he was only five and he was involved in a major accident. Henrik Persson Ekdahl was run over by a lawnmower and lost large parts of his right foot. Before healing, he was dependent on others for a long time.
“That feeling has always been difficult. And that’s probably why I’ve always wanted to be financially independent.
I wanted to make my own money early.”
Hence the ice cream in Åhus. When he got to be a few years older, he saw a chance to do more business. He bought cars on teletext, reselling them via newspaper ads and on new digital platforms.
“Those teletext sellers could not reach out as widely as I did. I dare say that I am probably the one who sold the most cars without having a driver’s license myself,” says Henrik Persson Ekdahl and laughs.
He has always been fascinated by cars, not just luxury cars, but motor vehicles in all forms.
Henrik Persson Ekdahl has a wide mix of experience. He trained as a swimmer at an elite level in the US, sold expensive watches to avoid student debts in England, ran a debt-collection company for parking fines and did a master’s in Gothenburg where he ended up in a trading company that sold pulp around the world.
“I was 23 years old and got a taste of global entrepreneurship. I also proved to myself that I could learn an industry that I had not been familiar with before.”
Henrik Persson Ekdahl wanted to build companies and it was in the same time that the poker boom hit the Nordic region. He himself had never played, but he saw a market and a completely digital industry. Together with a friend, he started the online poker company Bestpoker.
“The first morning I came to the office and saw that we had earned 75 euros without being there was a ‘wow’ for me. Business was rolling while we were doing other things.”
Even though Henrik Persson Ekdahl has never been able to program himself, he has been good at teaming up with the right skills. It continued to move well – and fast. Bestpoker was listed on the London Stock Exchange in 2006 and His former business partner André Lavold called. He had started Betsafe and Henrik Persson Ekdahl joined and became CEO in 2007. The company did well and four years later Betsson bought the company. The two business partners then lived in Malta with each of their families in 2011–2014.
“We felt we had a unique competence – running global online companies. We could scale tech and had learned to drive traffic. We wanted to start our own investment company.”
Through Optimizer Invest, they now invest their own money, without running a fund, never taking in external money.
“We only invest in things that cannot be touched. We have no warehouse, distribution, production or the like.”
The company has been running since 2013 and business has gone well. In 2014, He and his family moved to Marbella, where they lived in a palace-like home in the town’s finest area. But now everything has been sold for new adventures.
“We moved to South Africa at the end of the year. Our oldest son is 13 and our younger ones are 11 and 6 years old, and we realise that it will not be long before the children start moving away from home. Therefore, we want to give them more experiences before then.”
The family has bought a horse farm outside Cape Town and he will build a tech centre. The goal is to set up a hub with 200-300 employees working for Europe within the next three years. Henrik Persson Ekdahl sees South Africa as a strong growth region with great tech expertise, which he has followed closely for many years. A bit forgotten in comparison with Asia, he says.
“It will be an important trip for the family also. Whatever future decisions the children make, we want to give them a large toolbox they can do whatever they want with.”