If you’re an architecture student or professional looking to start your own business, let me tell you, you already have a lot of skills that apply to creating a start-up.

My name is Hans Sebastian von Bernuth, founder and architect. I’m here to tell you how my professional background helped and continues to enable me to build my venture and grow as an entrepreneur.

From Architecture to Growing as an Entrepreneur

The Study Days

First, a little about me. I grew up in Aachen, Germany and spent one year of high school in the US. Then I began my studies in Munich. Initially I started with medicine but then changed my studies to architecture; I was not able to imagine spending my life in a laboratory (biology and biochemistry were my main interest).

After my pre-diploma in architecture, I wondered where was best to continue my education. I wanted somewhere that combined a great university while close to the mountains (to pursue my passion for skiing and mountaineering),  and offer a teaching language I didn’t already speak. At the time, that meant anything high calibre not taught in German or English. Not many places fulfil all three conditions, but Lausanne, Switzerland fit the bill. So this is where I finished my studies, took my skiing skills to another level and learned French.

As if I didn’t have enough to do already, I also studied Business Administration through a remote learning course at FernUniversität Hagen. This is a very peculiar German institution that promoted remote studying long before working from home and video calls became mainstream.

Early Career

After my diploma in Lausanne, I was eager to discover something new. Without much hesitation, I moved to one of the furthest and most extreme places I could think of: Shanghai. After two intense years on another planet, I went back to Switzerland. There I worked for Herzog & de Meuron in Basel. To me, it was and still is one of the best – if not the best, architecture office. After working there for three years, I realised that I had little ambition to climb a set hierarchy. I wanted to make my own decisions and define my own style. But how? Where do you go once you played for Real Madrid?

All my mountaineering and world exploring resonated with my desire to be my own boss, to make my own way, my own mistakes and conquer my own goals and achievements without the cosset of a pre-defined structure. 

For me then, independence was the only obvious, albeit tough choice. So,  this is what I have been doing since. For a couple of years, I taught at RWTH Aachen University, which gave me the stability I needed to build an office in Cologne with two former colleagues from Herzog & de Meuron. 

Starting Anew

As they say, “If you want to make God laugh, make a plan.” Predictably, things turned out very differently and when I faced the decision, I opted again to follow the uncharted road and explore new horizons. 

I moved to Chile to be with my girlfriend. From that decision, I had to start from zero. I had to learn how Santiago functioned, and how to establish myself as an architect in a foreign country. I found that the market is a lot more open and dynamic with lots of space for new ideas when compared to Germany. Of course, the mighty Andes and the beauty of the country added to my fascination. 

My main endeavour at the moment is modular houses for the Chilean market. You can check them out here: https://www.laquilla.cl/ .

About the Architectural Process

Now, what can we learn from architecture for building a business? A lot, as it turns out. The creative process of designing is very similar to creating a business from scratch.

In most other fields, you start with lots of information. For example, loads of data from a survey or an experiment. That information needs to be distilled and analysed. It’s a linear process with many iterative steps. Think of it as a funnel where you pour in a lot at the top and the results are returned, condensed at the bottom of the inverted pyramid shape.

The architectural process also begins with a lot of information, but it lacks a clear direction or singular method. So many factors and variables influence the trajectory and the development of a project that the direction it will go can be very unclear.

A World of Outcomes

As there is no clear distinction between right and wrong, many outcomes are possible in architecture. How you judge them depends on often contradicting criteria. So, much of the process is intuitive and subjective.

Let me give you an example. For a specific site, you might test everything between a high-rise building and a low-rise development. Both extremes can be very good options. Nobody and nothing can objectively decide which is better, especially at the earlier stages of a project. What direction you take is often a matter of chance, and inspiration might come from seemingly irrelevant sources.

Endless amounts of parameters and criteria make it impossible to define a clear path through all the  possibilities and interconnections. The only way to proceed is a lot of experimentation and plenty of productive failures. 

Upon looking back, the process and the path taken mostly have a sound logic and coherence. Whilst in the midst of it, though, the same excitement of the curious explorer is present. Little is known about the destination apart from the intention of arriving. Solutions need inventing, and diverse and often incompatible parameters need synthesizing.

Growing as an Entrepreneur by To-ing and Fro-ing

In opposition to the linear process in most other fields, the movement in architecture can best be described as meandering or a to-ing and fro-ing. Within all the information, you focus on a certain aspect and circle around it. You test its connections and discover the implications it has. While moving around this particular topic, new information materialises and takes you in a new direction as you circle around the next aspect. 

You might find yourself coming back to points you’ve already covered. For example, after working for days trying to fit the floor plans into a building shape you decided on weeks ago, you find out that it doesn’t work. Instead, you find another shape you previously discarded probably works much better.

This can be a frustrating moment, after spending so much time and energy just to return to where you started. Rest assured, it always turns out that you learned a lot in the process and the next attempt will be faster and more informed. 

My own venture is a good example of that. It took a whole year to design the model for our first house. There was a lot of trying, failing and starting all over again. However, the second house only took six months to design, and the third one only took us two months. 

Each subsequent project had the accumulated intelligence of the previous as I grew an as entrepreneur. Also thanks to EWOR, I am currently exploring new directions, connecting to people from different fields and testing many options on how to scale up the business. Without a doubt, some of those new paths will be dead ends. Though by always moving, trying, and testing, together we will discover exciting things. As such, something new and powerful will arise. 

Growing as an Entrepreneur: Business Lessons 


If you’ve lost your way in all the information, relax and take a break. Then focus on one small part of the puzzle in front of you. For example, when my students in Aachen had no idea what  to do next in their project, I would advise them to work on one little detail like a door or a window and move on from there. 

If the students did push forward, they stumbled upon interesting information that might give their project a whole new direction. On top of that, it added depth and quality to what they already knew. When researching windows, they would go down the rabbit holes of information; such as how a particular type of wood has been used in some obscure building from the 18th century. This would suddenly give them an idea of how to change the entire structure of their project.

Make Mistakes

If you want to grow as an entrepreneur, the only real mistake is not making enough mistakes. If everything goes smoothly, you’re probably not trying hard enough. Like in skiing, if you’re not falling, you’re not learning. Don’t be too careful, don’t look for perfection. Perfectionism is an insecurity, especially in the early stages, when things tend to be messy and confusing. 

As a ski instructor, I saw it many times: a scared student that never fell and therefore had no chance to learn. You have to take risks and test the limits. Otherwise, you will not be able to move to the next level. Try things, break things, start all over and build them again. It will hurt, it will be frustrating at times, and you’ll experience many emotions. Yet,  you will always learn something and grow in the process.

Truly Understand Things

Everybody can draw a confusing diagram and draft a 100-slide PowerPoint presentation. It is only when you work very hard to understand all aspects of a particular issue, that you will be able to formulate it concisely. It helps you and, of course, others.

At Herzog & de Meuron, I remember spending an entire week on a single diagram. After lots of research and countless iteration, there on the wall hung that one page. It was ridiculously easy to understand, any child could have drawn it. That’s when I knew I had truly understood and could confidently move on to the next problem. 

Be Resilient and Love What You Do

This is not for the faint-hearted. If you want a simple and cosy life, do not try to start your own business. It takes a lot of grit to bear with those continuous and inevitable failures. You have to be able to take pride in falling and standing up again. You simply can’t get better unless you crash and burn once in a while. It helps a lot if you love what you do and if you’re captivated by the clients you’re doing it for. This will give you the energy to become someone who defies the odds and creates something from nothing.

Find the Right People When Growing as an Entrepreneur

The team is everything, nobody can do it alone. Any exciting business endeavour is a team effort. On that difficult journey of entrepreneurship, you need to build networks and surround yourself with the best people you can find. 

Actually, you might want to follow Mark Manson’s Law of Fuck Yes or No, which states that when you want to get involved with someone, in whatever capacity, they must inspire you to say “Fuck Yes” in order for you to proceed with them. How do you find these people? See the above, look everywhere you can, be open-minded, and don’t be scared. Also, yes, EWOR is a very good start. For me, joining EWOR definitely was a “Hell Yea!” moment.


As you can see, you don’t always need a business background to flourish and grow as an entrepreneur. In fact, different fields, such as architecture, can bring many useful skills to the table and fresh perspectives. So, ready to get going on your first business?

Please don’t hesitate to reach out if you have any questions or comments. I’m always open to a good conversation and happy to help you navigate the choppy sea.

Sebastian von Bernuth


About the author

EWOR is a school conceived by Europe’s top professors, entrepreneurs, and industry leaders. We educate and mentor young innovators to launch successful businesses.

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