NATASHA CHIAM, 29
WAS: Writer at a women’s magazine
NOW: Director, The Ice Cream & Cookie Co. (www.icecreamcookieco.com), a small-batch, premium dessert manufacturer that also makes cakes, brownies, cookies, and wholesale ice cream for cafes and restaurants.
“Between March 2011 and February 2013, I worked as a writer at Female magazine. I loved my job but I also loved to make desserts, and my business was born out of a craving for ice cream sandwiches and my weekend hobby of baking.
“I made my first ice cream sandwiches at home, as I felt like eating them. They really hit the spot, and shortly after, I decided to make them for friends and family. Eventually, I started selling them at weekend markets. Even then, I saw it as a pastime, not a business venture.
“But over the six months that I was juggling my business and day job, time management became a big issue. I gave up personal time – no more yoga classes or sleeping in. I’d work until about 6pm or 7pm, then come home and bake cookies and make ice cream until 2am or 3am.
“One day, a colleague pointed out that I had flour on my pants. I hadn’t even noticed – that’s how tired I was. And that was when I thought: I really need to change how I’m doing this. I couldn’t do both without compromising on quality. I had to choose one.
“Once I made the leap, I was committed to making my products the best in their category. After all, without a great product, it doesn’t matter how much financial backing you have, or how slick your branding is – you will have nothing to sell.
“On a typical workday, I manage the kitchen staff and orders. I also work on sales and marketing. There are all kinds of challenges, from managing staff to dealing with suppliers and answering the e-mail and phone queries we receive. But I love every second of it.
“As a business owner, I feel more in control of my career and financial destiny. It’s also satisfying. Once, we catered at a music festival and almost everyone there was eating our ice cream sandwiches. That was a really proud moment for me. It feels good too to know that I can grow my business even more – I’m currently looking at regional expansion, which is exciting.”
AUDREY YAP, 34
WAS: Financial analyst at a multinational corporation
NOW: Founder, Label Of Love Studio (www.labeloflove.bigcartel.com), which specialises in personalised rompers, tees and name labels.
“I was looking for name labels for my eldest son when he started school at the age of three. I wanted high-quality ones that looked good and would last him the school year, as I’d be using them on his water bottles and other belongings.
“I couldn’t find any in Singapore, so I ended up buying them from the US. That got me thinking about producing my own, so I started a website to sell them. When my second child was born nearly two years ago, I expanded my range to include personalised rompers and tees featuring whimsical designs.
“I worked my financial analyst job in the day and handled all my online orders at night, after the kids were asleep. Although I got immense satisfaction from starting something new, the hours were long, crazy and tiring. And in the morning, I’d still have to be alert for my day job.
“In March 2013, after working for almost seven years at the company – and while pregnant with my third child – I decided to focus on my business full-time.
“My life is a lot different now. Most of my time is spent in front of the computer, although I plan my work hours around my kids’ schedules – 9-11am while they’re at school or enjoying TV time, 2-5pm during their afternoon nap, and 11pm-1am. On weekends, which are family time, I check my work e-mail on the go.
“I’m not just the owner of a small business; I handle every aspect of my business, from idea generation to sales, production and delivery. I am also its creative director, accountant, marketing manager, business development manager, and even IT expert. It has been a great learning curve, and I love that the success of my business depends on how much work I put in.
“A major challenge of working at home is ‘mummy guilt’. It’s a struggle when my kids need my attention because, while I want to play with them, I also have to work. My youngest doesn’t understand this, so I feel bad for pushing him away.
“I get such a high every time I receive a new order and when customers tell me that they love my products. I also get excited about developing new products, like the personalised blanket line which I launched earlier this year, running tee-printing workshops for kids, and seeing my customers wear my designs.
“My plan is to expand my business locally by increasing my product lines and seasonal products. Giving back to society is also a priority, so I am on the lookout for disadvantaged groups to work with.”
AMUTHA SARAVANAN, 30
WAS: Research associate at an executive consultancy
NOW: Co-founder of Da Vinci Group (www.davincisg.com), which provides educational services for children, adults and the elderly, as well as Amooo’s – An Original ., a ceramic-ware company.
“I started my job in September 2010 and still work there part-time. In 2011, I fell in love with pottery. Soon after, my friends wanted to buy my creations, so in early 2012, I created Amooo’s – An Original .
“In addition to ceramic wares, I also offer fun-filled clay jamming sessions for families. I accept commissions and corporate gift projects too.
“As I honed my skills, I realised that pottery was fantastic for engaging the emotions, exercising the brain, and stimulating creative expression. My husband has a background in neurobiology, while mine is in clinical neuropsychology, so we started researching how we could link psychology with pottery. Da Vinci Group (DVG) was born in the latter half of 2012. We use pottery as a teaching tool to help our students understand multiple concepts and information.
“It was very difficult juggling a full-time job and both businesses, although I was open with my firm about my pottery business; my husband and I are partners in DVG.
“Life is a lot busier but it’s also more productive. I feel happy, fulfilled and accomplished every day. I feel empowered and I feel like I’m doing something important and purposeful with my life.
“On a typical day, I spend some time with my 14-month-old son before dropping him off at my mum’s or mum-in-law’s. Back at my home office, I work until about 4pm, and sometimes I pop out to meet clients.
“When I have commissions that I can do in my home studio, I work on them after my son is asleep, and sometimes I keep working into the wee hours if it is a large order.
“The payoff has been worth it. One DVG milestone was when we won our first account with a preschool to offer lessons there. The parents could see the benefits of our classes and wanted more. For Amooo’s – An Original ., a big moment arrived when I was commissioned by the organisers of the Singapore Mumpreneur Awards and Mama’s Bazaar to create gifts for the judges and guest of honour.
“I have big plans for both businesses. For DVG, we eventually want to build an academy for the arts and offer a neuroeducation-centred curriculum as an alternative to the current education system. Very soon, I feel that the time will come for me to take on the businesses full-time. We see huge potential in what we are doing.”
This article was originally published in Simply Her December 2014.