This month’s ‘That Mama’ is startup guru and mentor Divya Patel!
“The best mom is a happy mom.” This is just one of the many pearls of wisdom that professional advice-giver Divya Patel doles out during her enlightening ‘That Mama’ interview. Over the course of her career, the mama of 9-year-old twins has worked in various roles at IBM, then took time off to volunteer at the Asian Civilisation Museum, and now leads Incubation Programs and the Mentoring Program at The Hub, Singapore’s largest community of entrepreneurs, creatives and techies. Divya’s worked with over 30 social entrepreneurs over the past 12 months to shape their business model and help them turn their ideas and passions into a sustainable and scalable business. Read on for her fab tips about staying organised, starting your own business, and maintaining a happy work-life balance. Not to mention absolutely adorable family photos in her gorgeous Leonie Hill home!
Can you tell us a little about yourself, your career and your family? Can you talk us through your career pre- and post-baby?
I am originally from India but have lived in Singapore for over 13 years now and it feels like a second home. I have twins who are turning 9 in June this year (time really does fly!) and have been lucky to have a very supportive and hands-on husband who has always been encouraging of all my decisions.
My professional background is in Management Consulting and I worked for IBM in London and Singapore as a Strategy and Change Consultant. I left the corporate world when my kids were 3.5 years old and took a break for 2-3 years. During this time I trained to be a docent at The Asian Civilisation Museum for 6 months and then volunteered for a year with the training team. I also travelled a lot to spend time with family and friends in different parts of the world and worked on consulting and fundraising projects for non-profits. I have now been working for The Hub Singapore for almost two years and I manage their Incubation and Mentoring Programmes. Through these programmes I work with entrepreneurs to shape their business model and help them turn their ideas and passions into sustainable and scalable businesses.
How did you get back into the swing of things after having kids?
I was actually quite lucky to be working for a MNC like IBM, which believes in work life balance and providing flexible work options where possible. After my maternity break, I switched roles from a highly client facing one to an internal function, which allowed me to work from home sometimes.
I started the docent training program around 9 months after leaving IBM and this helped me keep myself mentally stimulated and provided a structure to my day. It also enabled me to have some time that was truly mine, and to forge some great new friendships with like-minded women who wanted to do something more with their time.
Mentally, I did not really think of myself as only a mom but believed that I had many interesting and relevant dimensions to my personality. Most importantly, I was very clear that I would go back to full time work when my kids turned 6 and started grade 1, and having this finite goal helped me to both enjoy my break and have something to work towards. As a result, when it was time to get back into the swing of things, I found the transition quite easy.
How has having kids changed the way you define work?
I think after having my twins I have become more discerning in the way I perceive work, and I look more for purpose and meaning in what I do. Work today is not so much with a view of “doing a job”, but needs to be fulfilling at a deeper level. As a result, the kind of programs that I now devise at The Hub are very hands-on and involved in truly helping the participants achieve their goals and scale their business. I also find myself often volunteering my time outside work to mentor and provide feedback to early stage entrepreneurs and those looking to follow their passion.
How do you save time? What are your organisational tricks and tips?
Once a week, I set the menu for the week to include all our meals and the kids’ school lunches – this takes out some thinking during the week and ensures the kitchen is well stocked with ingredients that we would need. I also put in all important dates related to school in the calendar as soon as I get them, and plan in advance when the kids have dress up days, projects to hand in etc. I keep a running to-do list on my phone and make sure that I get through a few every day so that it doesn’t build up. Also, before leaving work or shutting down my computer for the day, I go through my calendar for the next day so that I am aware and prepared for all of my appointments for the following day and jot down any follow up items that I need to work on the next day. I also spend a few minutes with my helper every evening to share information related to housekeeping/kids schedule in advance since I hate doing it in the morning before leaving for work. As you would guess, I am generally a great believer in writing down all the things that I need to do so that it de-clutters my mind.
I wish I had more time for…
Reading. When I start a book, I like to get completely lost in it and carry on reading uninterrupted. Unfortunately that rarely happens now!
I always feel saner after….
A trip back to India. It is always so great to be home and reconnect with old friends and family. Chatting with my school friends is also the best way for me to get perspective on things and remind myself to not sweat the small stuff. There is great comfort in being in familiar places with familiar people. And of course all the good food and pampering makes one feel ready and recharged for life back in Singapore.
What part of Singapore do you live in? What do you like about it?
We live in Leonie Hill and I love the fact that it is so central. I can always nip across to Orchard Road or Great World City for errands, and Robertson Quay is close by to take the kids on their scooter and for a quick bite on the weekends. I also like running – and have a running route by the river that I follow. Best of all, my sister and her family live close by too so it is easy to meet up with them.
Favourite kid-friendly activity in Singapore?
When the kids were younger it was going to the Botanical Gardens with a ball or a scooter to spend the evening there. Now it would be going cycling, swimming or for a movie together.
Favourite kid-friendly restaurant in Singapore?
Din Tai Fung. We all love the food there. While sometimes the wait is long, once you get your table the food comes quickly. It always has a busy atmosphere and is fuss-free so we don’t feel worried if the kids make a mess!
Favourite family-friendly holiday spot in Asia?
Definitely Bali! We usually stay in a villa in Seminyak that is walking distance from the beach. Bali has some great local restaurants and cafes, quirky shopping and cultural outings for the family. The kids spend time in and out of the pool and we also find ourselves adjusting quickly to a slower pace that encourages us to just take it easy and relax.
Do you have any tips for keeping the romance alive in your relationship?
We go for a short holiday almost every year without the kids. It is never for more than 3-4 days but even a small break is wonderful for the quality time that we get together.
Favourite date night restaurants?
We actually like to try out new restaurants – and in the past couple of years in particular there have been so many interesting ones that have opened in Singapore so we just try ones that we have read about or friends have recommended. Oso, though, remains a favourite when we want something tried and tested.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received as a parent?
A friend once told me that the best mom is a happy mom, and that has become my mantra. Everyone has a unique parenting style so do what comes naturally to you and raise kids according to your own values.
Do you have any tips for aspiring “mamapreneurs” and other working mamas in Singapore?
For aspiring “mamapreneurs”, my tip would be to try and not be a solopreneur, but find a co-founder. There are many aspects to starting and running a business and it is normally quite hard for one person to handle all these aspects. Finding a co-founder who has a shared vision as you and can complement you in terms of skills and expertise will be hugely beneficial.
For working women in general, my most consistent advice is to not feel guilty and second-guess the decision to work. There are no right or wrong answers between the choice of working or staying at home – so once you know which works better for you, stick with it and enjoy the journey.
As a mama I wish I were better at…
Just laughing more with my kids and seeing the joy they take in the simple pleasures of life. There are times when I am physically with my kids but mentally preoccupied with other things, and given how fast they are growing up I would really love to be more present and enjoy the moment more.
What’s your favourite family ritual?
Going out for a meal together on Sunday. Sometimes it is the four of us and other times with friends. We don’t have a fixed place that we go to, and the kids get to suggest a place or a cuisine they want to try. As a result, the kids have tried a number of different types of food and are not fussy about food – which also makes it much easier when we travel.
My favourite moment of the day is…
Waking up in the morning and spending some time with the kids before they go to school. I then normally do 30 minutes of breathing exercises (pranayama), and meditation and this really centres and focuses me to take on the day ahead.
Thank you to Divya and her lovely kids. And thank you to Gunilla from Sugarlight Photography for the gorgeous snaps!