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Career Story: Swathi Suman, From Architect to Startup Founder

Meet Swathi Suman, a former architect and current founder of an agriculture startup based in the Netherlands. She joined OneUpOneDown to be connected with other entrepreneurial women, to gain and share a different perspective on how to build ventures. We love her practical advice for maintaining balance, not getting stuck, and the experience she’s shared about starting her company in response to the Covid environment. It was an absolute pleasure interviewing this fantastic woman – Swathi Suman!

In 2-3 sentences, please tell us a little about you! (your background/story and anything you feels you’d like to share)

I am an architect trained in India, building sustainability consultant and researcher trained in the UK, but here I am in the Netherlands, venturing into the startup arena with a very different topic – Agriculture! It’s funny how you set your identity partially based on your profession, but your profession could completely change! 

Why did you sign up to be a part of OneUpOneDown?

I noticed how a large part of the entrepreneurship world is dominated by men. I’ve been reading books by men, getting advice from seniors in the field who are also men, watching video tutorials by men, and a part of me felt like, no, I want more women sharing their stories. Of course, the best method is to merge the two perspectives. But I truly do think there is so much potential for us as women, to bring even more power to our ventures by adding our essence to it – sharing where we got stuck, where our perspective to problem-solving worked better, and just so much more that we can share and learn!

What does success mean to you? How do you align with your definition at the moment?

Success to me is a smooth life. Where you are in a good place within yourself – mentally and physically healthy, as well as earning enough to feel no financial strains, and being able to maintain a circle of loved ones around you.

I think with every step I make in my journey, I am constantly aware of how fragile each of the above things is. Thankfully after some time of quite some physical and mental health difficulties, I am back on track and yes that is success to me 🙂 

(Just want to add here that stress can physically manifest just as much as it affects us mentally. So make sure to check on yourselves every now and then! Nothing else matters as much as your well-being – not even your business!)

What prompted you to pursue the career or business you’re working in/on now?

Funnily, it was because I had no other choice at the time. I had moved to the Netherlands and after a year of job-search during corona time, it was time to leave. And I didn’t want to! I love this place! I came across the option to stay here if I have a startup. And for the first time in all these years of my father (a seasoned businessman) telling me to try my hand at business, I decided to do it. Initially it was super scary and I almost gave up. But strangely, a couple of weeks in, I actually felt excited to do it! I felt empowered, felt like I can finally use my very random list of skills together, didn’t feel restrained by the scope of just building related work, and felt like the world had opened up for me!

(Not that it is not scary now. It’s still scary, but it is also very exciting and also makes you learn so much more about yourself!)

How did you know this is what you wanted to do?

I didn’t initially. But week after week, meeting after meeting, I saw that I only felt better about my decision, and it felt like something I genuinely enjoy doing. That is when I knew I wanted to do this. 

What is something that has been particularly challenging throughout your career?

To know what I truly feel a calling for. In between architecture and consulting and researching, as much as a part of me enjoyed it, a part of me was also not satisfied. I would want to shift to being a graphic designer. Or even a professional dancer! I was always feeling like this isn’t me. This isn’t what I identify with. 

Having my own startup is what finally makes me have to use the skills I built during my previous professions, as well as learn so much more and keep my thirst for learning to grow. You can never get bored in your own startup because there’s always more to learn and do!

What have been your go-to tools and strategies to overcome challenging experiences or people in your career?

Taking some off-time. It’s easy to think that, “hey, I could power through these two weeks and then take time off.” No. Please, please find things that make your mind quiet down and feel rested. Go for a walk in a park, meditate, dance, just lie down with candles lit around and calming music, anything at all that works for you. That doesn’t add to the noise but lets it out. I promise work will get so much more efficient! And you can keep going for the long-run without a burnout.

What is one personal or professional skill you’re working on at the moment and why?

Personally, really being mindful of my physical and mental states. Not ignoring my inner guidance, and making sure all parts of me are on board with whatever I am doing. 

Professionally, reading up all the business terminology because clearly architecture jargon and business jargon are very different! 

What is something you wish you’d known when you were first starting out in your career?

That it is not impossible to change direction. You don’t need to feel stuck and just do whatever you are doing because it is the logical way to do things. Try getting out of it and maybe you’ll discover that doing the new thing is what actually drives you!

What is one piece of advice you’d give to someone who is about to embark on the journey that you have been on for the most recent period of your life?

Trust yourself and go for it! 

And know that you are never alone. Please ask for help when you need it, even though it is hard to. 

How can we follow your journey?

Connect with me on LinkedIn or send me an email at [email protected]


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