How Konrad Bergström bounced back after bankruptcy

The Swedish entrepreneur on his electric boat company—and failing upwards
March 18, 2024

Twenty years ago, Konrad Bergström’s life was in the toaletten. The Swedish entrepreneur had put all his money into a business that ran aground, rendering him bankrupt. Bergström, newly divorced and abandoned by his friends, was reduced to living in his car, kept company only by his dog and by alcohol.

Yet today, when I meet him at Prospect HQ, the strapping Bergström, 52, cuts the figure of a multi-platinum rocker. He has long grey hair, a barrel chest, discreetly smart tailoring and, on his meaty fingers, a quartet of chunky gold rings: a three-dimensional Gucci lion with a large emerald in its jaws; a cat’s-eye design that commemorates a trek through the Himalayas; a knuckle-duster of a signet ring, bearing a family crest designed with the help of the Pope’s heraldry guy; and the ring Muhammed Ali had made to mark his third heavyweight championship. What’s on your pinkie finger?

Bergström grew up in the village of Norrskedika, which is near Sweden’s east coast. After studying economics and doing his military service, he started a business that sold snowboards and wakeboards. The company was growing fast, he says, but overextended. All of a sudden, Bergström was bankrupt and alone.

Sounds rough. “It was super rough,” he says. “I came to a place where I needed to be sober for a year, and really work through things [so as not to] drink my life away.”

Still owing €500,000, Bergström re-entered employment. Some work at Nokia, then a seemingly unassailable behemoth of telecommunications, gave him early insight into the genesis of the smartphone. This experience led him to write a business plan for the manufacture of souped-up headphones. Four years after bankruptcy, Bergström was back in entrepreneurship, cofounding Zound Industries in 2008.

We’re sitting at a long metallic boardroom table, but I don’t have the faintest sense of speaking to someone corporate. Bergström likes to found companies, but, by his own admission, is less keen on administering them. “I’m not the best guy to drive a company on a daily basis.”

Why is that? “Good question. I think you’d have to ask my collaborators,” he says. Bergström’s Zound colleagues forced him out in 2018 as a result of what have been termed “internal disagreements,” but I don’t detect any defensiveness in his ever-relaxed demeanour. Perhaps that’s to be expected: for the second time, Bergström fell upwards, founding an electric boat company, X-Shore, which is now regarded as one of the leading manufacturers. 

Mostly because it takes more energy to propel something across water than down a road, the development of electric boats has lagged behind that of electric cars. Thanks largely to an improvement in battery technology, engineers are starting to redress that shortfall. Electric boats are not only greener than their fossil-fuelled forebears, but also far quieter: they glide across the water rather than rasp through it. Inspired by the success of Tesla, Bergström made a prototype electric boat in 2018. “It was like sailing without wind,” he says. He had anticipated a changing current—multiple regional authorities have announced their intention to phase out boats powered by diesel.

Bergström remains president of X-Shore. He has also cofounded a gin-making business and chairs a skincare company. Oh, and he is the lead donor of, and an advisor to, a charity that gives female park rangers in South Africa and Zimbabwe military-style training to defend elephants from poachers.

He still manages to spend 15-20 hours per week, he says, on fitness—Muay Thai boxing, snowboarding, hiking through the woods near his home in the rural outskirts of Stockholm. “When you’re getting older, you don’t just want to live, you want to be healthy and kick ass.”

And tonight, after we’ve finished our chat, Bergström is due to dine at a restaurant opened on the top floor of Harrods by his friend Björn Frantzén, a triple Michelin-starred chef. I sense that Bergström is the kind of diner who samples as many dishes as he can, beating a restless path through the buffet of life.