This Mother's Day, we are delighted to have an interview with our Mumtrepreneurs- Melissa, Rachel and Shun Ting! As founders of Hummus Education, they are not only mothers to their own children, but to an early-stage startup that is constantly growing (and as demanding as a child).
Here are 6 questions to size up the experience of being a mumtrepreneur!
Could you tell us about yourself and your startup journey?
Melissa: Upon graduating from my Masters of Education, I co-founded this company with Rachel and Shun Ting, both of whom are equally passionate about child development and early childhood education. Our startup journey began when i joined the Venture Builder Programme, one of Enterprise Singapore’s initiative during the Covid period with NUS. Through the guidance and mentorship we received, we managed to validate our ideas and pitch for SG startup founder grant in last year, which provided early stage funding to help us kickstart the company operations.
Rachel: I'm a mum to a 2.5 year old little foodie, currently based in Melbourne. I've always had an interest in early childhood education, my childhood dream was to become a kinder teacher and I've always loved interacting with young children! The things they do and say never fail to amaze and amuse me. When Mel reached out to to me to start Hummus Ed, I was very excited about the opportunity to create a product that'll help solve some parenting pain points, and more importantly be able to impact early years education. So I got on board!
A year in, sometimes I ask myself why didn't I start a business earlier. I really enjoy the flexibility, all the knowledge and learning that comes with the experience. It is a lot of hard work, but seeing that every bit of our hard work goes into the final product is what I love about running a start-up. Coming from bigger corporate environments, this was a lot harder to achieve - seeing my own efforts translate into actual results.
Shun Ting: In this start-up journey, I've had fun challenging ourselves to test demand with as minimal resources as possible! I have a "threenager" who has already shown a preference not to speak in Mandarin. Since making an effort to expose him to the language, we've gone on a journey together to grow to enjoy this language that is our third 'language' (after our dialect)!
Picture One: Founder Melissa, with Ben and EJ.
What is a typical work day like for you as a mother and founder?
Melissa: My daughter EJ, is currently 7 months old. She is an early riser so by 6.30am she is up and about. We play, read, spend some quality time in dawn and then we head out for a walk.
When we are back at around 8am, that's when the hustle and bustle of the day starts. Checking in our usage stats and marketing performance, catching up with my cofounder Rachel and the technical team. Sometimes, we meet and network with others in the industry.
In the late afternoon, we pick her up and then spend more quality time with her. My husband usually finishes his work then and we have dinner and catch up. Then it will be back to work until 9 or 10pm depending on whether we have to prepare for pitches or major launches. Finally, personal time!
Rachel: As much as there's lots of flexibility, I've learnt that it's more efficient to have some sort of a routine. I wake up in the morning, make breakfast for my daughter, send her to childcare, grab a cup of coffee before I start work.
On a typical day, I work on the most important tasks (we use Asana to help us manage and prioritise work) then I knock off and pick my daughter up for dinner. In between, if work allows me to, I take short breaks - sometimes I run some errands, cook, snack, do some chores, chill, even squeeze in a short workout. It does help me focus and think better.
I also dedicate one weekday a week to spend more quality time with my daughter so I don't send her to childcare. I either bring her out, or do some activities with her. Because things are pretty flexi, I can schedule meetings, and work harder on the other 4. Sometimes I also work a little on weekends too if necessary. We're outcome driven so as long as tasks are completed, it really doesn't matter how much time we spend working on them.
Shun Ting: When I was a full-time mother based overseas, I would zoom call the grandparents (and take the chance to work on the side) while they connect with him and work when he naps/ sleeps for the day. In the day, we will prepare meals and do the chores together, water/harvest our bean sprouts, read, and head to the yard to run around.
With my full-time job now, I would squeeze in time to work on-the-go when travelling, during his naps/ bedtime and when he has special daddy-only time e.g., in the bath. I make sure we have our special mummy-only time reading bedtime stories!
Picture Two: Founder Rachel, with Lap and M.
How has being a mom impacted your entrepreneurship journey as a founder of Hummus Education?
Rachel: I think we all know it isn't easy juggling mum life and work, whether you're a FTWM or an entrepreneur.
Being a mum means already having a 24/7 job, and having to work or start a company at the same time is basically like holding 2 full-time jobs. Yet we have a finite amount of time and endless things to do. So being a mum and entreprenuer at the same time has trained me to multitask and prioritise things a lot better. And also be comfortable with having work and life so intertwined while trying to get a work life balance.
Melissa: For the better for sure! Think firstly, our product is revolved around child development and parental needs, so it gave me a lot of empathy and insights to value-add in my product development.
Secondly, it made me more disciplined, focused and efficient in the time I spent. Because now time has to be split between more factors in my life, so you have to be disciplined in how you use it, otherwise it would be wasted.
Shun Ting: There are times I try to do both at the same time but my son would get very frustrated when I was there physically yet not present. I've learnt my lesson and now strive to give my child my full attention, and find other opportunities to work. He grows so fast! Other than that, it gives me the opportunity to test ideas out immediately with my child so we find out right away what's practical from a child's point of view.
Was there any apprehension about caring for an additional baby (your startup)? Share more with us.
Melissa: Haha I was more apprehensive about caring for my daughter than my startup! When I found out I was pregnant, that was when we just set up the company. I was worried that my daughter’s arrival would impact the progress of the startup, the ability to deliver the milestones that we have set for ourselves. We are an early stage startup and it is very lean with just a few of us. What's going to happen when it is time to deliver my daughter?
And at this point, I cannot stress the importance of a good team and how thankful I am for my cofounders. They took on more responsibilities. Usually we use a work management system Asana to track our tasks, but my co-founder Rachel was also tracking the tasks weekly on Whatsapp so that I could respond urgently if required.
Rachel: Yes, definitely! I was a SAHM for almost a year before we started Hummus Education/ BrookieKids, so I was worried about going back to work, and having to put my daughter in childcare. But I've also always known that I didn't want to be a SAHM for too long, being somewhat a workaholic in my past life, I knew I needed to get moving and do something other than cooking, cleaning and babytalk. Eventually I pushed away my mum guilt, gave myself a pat on the back for dedicating 1 whole year to spend quality time with my daughter and was thankful I was able to witness every milestone. I knew it was time to get my engine started again.
Shun Ting: Definitely! I struggle all the time but am putting one foot in front of the other. One task/ day at a time! It helps also to play to our strengths so we enjoy it and work as an effective team.
Picture 3: Founder Shun Ting, with SC and J.
What are some motherhood lessons that are applicable in the work you do?
Shun Ting: Taking it one day at a time. Being firm yet flexible, explaining reasons clearly for a fair discussion, looking from the perspective of the other party.
Melissa: Interestingly, both my startup and my daughter are in their infancy stages. And at infancy stage, it’s a lot of observing, testing, learning and getting to know each other. Like an infant, an early stage startup doesn't talk back or tell you directly what it wants/is. But we observe how our users react, and then deliberate what are the next steps that we want to do.
Rachel: That poonamis happen, we clean them up quickly and move on with life! And that not everything goes according to plan, so being very comfortable with changes and having an open mind to accept failures, constantly learn and improve.
What is one piece of advice you would like to share for women entrepreneurs who want to succeed both at home and at work?
Melissa : Haha, I don't think I have succeeded in both yet, but I am comfortable in balancing these two aspects of life.
I thought to share that it is perfectly normal to feel really crappy sometimes and its important to manage our expectations and emotions.. There are some days where we feel we ace both at home and at work, and some days where everything is just wrong. We may not be superstars everyday but when it gets tough, it's not that we are bad mothers or failed entrepreneurs. The fact that we are reflecting to want to do or feel better goes to show that we care.
Lament and feel bad for the moment, but be quick to put it aside and move ahead. Make the best out of every moment you have!
Rachel: They say it takes an entire village to raise a child. This is even more so for mums raising a child and running a business at the same time. I think family support is extremely important, and knowing when to ask for help will keep us going in this marathon. Also, making a constant effort to switch off from work to spend quality time with family keeps everyone happy, which in turn makes us happy and gives us the mental strength we need to focus and drive the business forward.
Shun Ting: Agree with Mel and Rach! I wouldn't say we have succeeded but we are definitely trying our best. Keep on trying, listening, and connecting. Stay true to yourself and pay attention to your own needs.
Happy Mother's Day from us to you!