In early 2022, Thijmen Kaster and Joeri Schouten founded Sweav. This is the story about how they met, why they started Sweav and where they see the future of high-end professional services going.
How did you guys meet?
Joeri: “We met in 2015 when we both joined Amsterdam-based strategy consulting boutique SparkOptimus, at around the same time. The cool thing about Spark was that it employed many great people, some of whom became friends”.
Thijmen: “At some point we started to join each other to festivals and techno infused parties, and became friends. Three years in at Spark, we went on a personal leadership trip to Florence. There we decided that eventually we would start a business together. Not knowing what it would be yet".
Why did you start Sweav?
Joeri: “After five years at Spark, I decided to leave not knowing what my next move would be. I completely accidentally stumbled into freelancing live. After a couple months I convinced Thijmen to go in the same direction”.
Thijmen: “We started a WhatsApp group with other friends who were freelance consultants and had a strategy or M&A background. For fun, but also because we personally got more requests to help (potential) clients than we could cope with. Through the WhatsApp group, we shared opportunities and reached out for help on projects. We also rented a cheap office space above the Sissi’s club in Amsterdam, because we were bored working from home during Covid times. Looking back, this was our mini proof of concept for Sweav".
Joeri: “1.5 years down the road working as freelance strategy consultant ourselves, we wanted to launch a concept that lowered the barrier for insecure overachievers in the consulting or M&A rat race to pursue a life of more independence. And on the other hand, offer ambitious clients that don’t work with the large consultancies of this world the opportunity to work with these high performers in a more pragmatic and cost effective way”.
Why do you think Sweav grew so much faster than expected?
Thijmen: “On the freelancer side, it just really helped that we have a similar background as the people who join Sweav. We know pretty well what their needs are and how we can address them. And as everybody knows each other within this scene, the word spreads quickly. I believe that for many people the existence of the Sweav community, co-working space and project platform was a reason to take the leap to independence. They would have been less likely to do so otherwise. Also, nothing similar really existed already."
Joeri: “We found out that the latent need for flexible consulting or interim support by people with a background in strategy or M&A was much bigger than we expected. Especially within companies ranging from €50m to €1.5bn in revenue with a more pragmatic attitude. After we figured out how business development worked and who our ideal clients were, we were invited to more than 75 meetings with new clients in 5 months”.
Thijmen: “Previously, clients tried to hire freelance consultants and interim managers from their own network. However, this rarely works as people are usually already working on other projects and are therefore not available. With the scale Sweav currently has, we are always able to deliver relevant candidates within a week. When clients works with us once, they keep coming back".
Joeri: “We are very proud that the average client rating for Sweav members is 8.7/10. In our existence so far, we never got complaints. On the contrary: most of them get job offers. I believe this is the result of us not compromising on quality and credentials. Combined with the freedom we give them to do a project the way they think is best. Instead of the micro management they are used to at the firms they used to work".
What is your vision on the future of high-end professional services, and what role does Sweav play in it?
Joeri: “We believe that high end professional services like strategy and M&A, but also services like legal or corporate finance, are super old-fashioned. Compare it to more creative industries like (digital) marketing, web design or copywriting. There, modern work trends like ‘fractional hiring’ (working part-time for multiple clients simultaneously) or remote working are much more adopted. We believe that especially for clients who are more pragmatic and less political, these flexible ways of working make a tone of sense in high end professional services as well”.
Thijmen: “Adding to that, we see that the current Millennial generation, but especially the upcoming GenZ, value flexibility, autonomy and sense of purpose more than stability and status. Even though overachievers in high-end professional service are generally quite risk averse and therefore less likely to work independently and detach their self-worth from the brand name of their employer, an increasingly larger share will. Yet we believe that the need for a sense of belonging and connection with like minded people will remain”.
Joeri: “Our mission is therefore to help shape the future of work in high-end professional services, globally. Starting in the Netherlands with strategy and M&A, but expanding to other categories and to major cities in the world”.