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My Swedish Career: 'Stockholm is a great place to try and do a startup'

Becky Waterton
Becky Waterton - [email protected]
My Swedish Career: 'Stockholm is a great place to try and do a startup'
Karthik Muthuswamy en route to the summit of Kebnekaise, Sweden's highest mountain. Photo: private

In this article for our My Swedish Career series, The Local spoke to Stockholm-based Karthik Muthuswamy, who started data journalism studio Explained after more than a decade working in tech.


Muthuswamy who was born and raised in Chennai, India, originally moved to Sweden to study computer science in 2009. He became interested in data journalism after ten years working as a programmer.

"I was just saturated," he says. "I wanted some purpose with work, and in the last couple of years, tech has been sort of destroying journalism, to be honest, like with Facebook, and all the Cambridge Analytics stuff, and fake news and so on."

This urge to find a way in which tech could instead be beneficial to journalism led Muthuswamy to leave the tech industry and study a master's in data journalism in the UK.

"I did this master's, and as I was reading research on this, I was really like 'you know, data journalism could really be a saviour for journalism, because it can actually make it interesting and make people come back to news websites from social media'," he says.

"Data journalism is expressed in text in the form of a chart or some visuals, and it's both an image, but it has information at the same time," he explains. "It's kind of too late for humanity, people are already too used to visuals and they want that, so data journalism provides the solution of combining that."

Stockholm 'fantastic' place for startups

After graduation, he moved back to Stockholm with his Swedish wife Hanna and their child, and started his data journalism studio, Explained, where he now works.

"What we do is data journalism projects for other news media, research centres, and so on," he tells The Local.


"Part of our product is to translate or localise data from the European context to various national contexts," he says. "Like finding insights which are interesting for different countries."

"If there is new inflation data, then we would look for what's interesting for every country in Europe, and we will be able to make stories for all the countries customised for that context, so to speak."

Sweden is very different to growing up in India, Muthuswamy says, but he's become used to it. "I'm into winter sports, for example. So I don't mind cold weather that much."

Karthik and his wife Hanna at the top of Kebnekaise. Photo: private.

The Swedish capital's bustling tech scene, home to thousands of startups, is another big draw.

"Stockholm is a great place to try and do a startup, to be honest," he says. "I'm discovering more and more new things along the way."

He launched Explained through the Verksamt programme at Arbetsförmedlingen, a collaboration between more than 45 different Swedish government agencies designed to simplify the process of setting up a company. Muthuswamy describes it as a "how-to manual".

"You go there and you just have to follow the steps," he says.

"Along the way, you will discover various perks, and you get access to a portal, which connects you to various advisors like other people who have been running successful startups for many years. You get questions and get advice from them based on whatever topic you could think of, and that is provided by the state," he adds.


'I guess I just have to start it myself'

Swedish newsrooms use less data journalism than in newsrooms in other countries such as the UK or US, Muthuswamy explains, which was one of the reasons he ended up launching Explained, despite an original goal of working for a British newspaper after graduation.

"I actually wanted to work for The Guardian or the Financial Times at the time, I had even applied for a job," he says. "But, you know, we had the move here, and I couldn't work remotely for the UK media."

"I didn't even see a job ad for data analysts or anything in the Swedish media. So I just thought 'okay, I guess I have to just start it myself and make it happen'."

Although the plan wasn't originally to come back to Sweden and launch a startup, Muthuswamy admits that he had it in the back of his mind as a possibility when the family returned to Stockholm last year.

"I used to work at another data journalism startup before actually, in Stockholm, Datastory. So I knew this space quite well."

Explained's co-founder, Georgios Karamanis, a psychiatrist-turned-data visualisations designer, also has a background in data journalism and so-called 'data art', in particular.

"Data art doesn't only convert localised information, but also makes it look nice, to make reading information more enjoyable," Muthuswamy explains.

Things are now "going pretty well" at Explained, Muthuswamy says, with new people recently joining, including a data journalist with experience working for the BBC.

The startup now works with media services in other European countries like Austria and Germany, despite the smaller interest in data journalism in Swedish media, he says.


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