Joana Schiff designer of gnômadic and Amutha Saravanan founder of Amooo’s and Da Vinci Group, share their essential business advice for aspiring mamapreneurs
Our regular series, Wise Words from Mamapreneurs, aims to shine the spotlight on women small business owners in Singapore. Each month we’ll meet two mamas from dramatically different backgrounds, each of whom is successfully hustling in the Little Red Dot and living her dreams. Read on to let their wisdom, experience, and hard work inspire you!
1. Give us the elevator pitch for your business:
Joana: gnômadic is a forward-thinking developer and operator of luxury coliving spaces. With hospitality, community and sustainability at its core; gnômadic provides Residents with beautifully designed homes, access to an ever- evolving lifestyle programme, and the opportunity to be part of an inspirational community. gnômadic are active contributors to efforts focused on preserving the world’s rainforests and cleaning the planet’s oceans.
Amutha: I run two businesses, Amooo’s – an original, and Da Vinci Group. Amooo’s uses clay to crystallize intangible memories and milestones – your pregnancy journey through BellyPots™, baby and paw prints. Da Vinci Group is an education services business that does digital learning with a sensorial twist for both parents and children. We teach parents how to build a culture of focus in their home environment through The Science of Focus System which leverages off sensorial mediums such as clay, drama and music. The learning methodology is based on neuroeducation, which is a subset of neuroscience. Our clay educational products are called KlayKits®.
2. Tell us about your background and what led you to create this business? What made you the right person for the job?
Joana: Working alongside my husband and as a real-estate investor and a mum, I design our gnômadic sanctuaries to make sure every individual feels at home and comfortable in their own space, allowing for memories to be created and for our community to enjoy spending time together, as well as by themselves. As a passionate traveller, I take inspiration from each location I have visited to design every gnômadic home in a particular theme or mimic a certain destination.
Amutha: My background is in Clinical Neuropsychology. I am currently pursuing my PhD with the University of Helsinki, Finland in the area of Brain and Mind under the Faculty of Medicine. I also lecture on psychology topics. I’ve always been interested in the arts and when I picked up pottery as a hobby, something magical happened in my brain, which brought out the academic in me to probe further. I am now dubbed as the ‘brain expert’ in my circle. I didn’t know anything about business when I started these businesses, so it has been a steep learning curve since 2012, but have realized that the idea, foundation and evidence have to be solid in order for the business processes to come in and enhance them, which I have fortunately seen happen.
3. What were some early setbacks and challenges to getting your business up and running?
Amutha: Oh so many! Navigating being a new mum (Dronan, my son who is now turning 7 years old) while building 2 other newish babies (the businesses) – I realized that my human baby will naturally grow, but my business babies will not grow at all unless I put effort in them, so this led to me working close to 16 to 18 hours a day, which was no good for breastmilk supply because of excessive cortisol (stress) hormone production. I leaned on mum communities to donate breastmilk for Dronan. Understanding cashflow – this was a big and hard lesson that every entrepreneur can appreciate; the number of times we had 3 or 2 digit numbers or even nothing in our bank accounts is not for the faint-hearted, thankfully we had fantastic mentors and guidance to help us understand finances. Support – my family thought I had gone cray-cray. Really. It didn’t help that my husband was also part of the business, which made them even more nervous. However, they came around to understand how to support us in any way they could.
Joana: When we launched gnômadic in January 2020, we had no idea what was in stall for us! When we opened, we had two homes and were planning on growing within Singapore and across the region. The pandemic put a bit of a halt on this but we used the Circuit Breaker as an opportunity to focus and align on key aspects of the business such as upcoming locations.
4. What is the best part of running this business…and what is the worst part?
Joana: For me, the best part and the worst part of running a business are somewhat similar! I love having full autonomy of gnômadic’s design, but sometimes I need to make sure I don’t get carried away and make sure everything in our homes is practical, as well as beautiful!
Amutha: Best part – seeing our products bring so much value and joy to the people, both young and old, who experience them, seeing people understand the educational philosophy behind it. Worst part – the stress and anxiety that comes with business operations to ensure that our reach is far and wide, that we are hitting our targets revenue-wise, that we are keeping costs at the minimum, etc.
5. Did you work with a mentor or network while you were setting up your business?
Joana: My husband is an experienced entrepreneur and real-estate operator, with plenty of property experience from his previous roles in both the US and China. We worked together and supported one another to navigate the launch of gnômadic earlier this year, as well as receiving advice and insights from friends and other business professionals.
Amutha: Yes, MANY and I still do, and for that I am eternally grateful. These people are seasoned business men and women who at many instances listened, counselled and shared, never from a degrading standpoint, but always from an uplifting stance. It really helped knowing that the path we were on has been walked by many. This has been especially helpful during this COVID-19 period where we had to make a hard decision to move away from our traditional delivery of programmes to preschools where we only targeted children to online learning that targets parents and children, separately and together.
6. How does being a parent affect your job?
Joana: I am very disciplined with my time management and tend to try to work when my children are in school, and after they go to sleep at night – meaning I get a good 8 hours with limited distractions! During the school holidays and at weekends, I have to make sure I balance my time and prioritise. I’m very lucky to work with some fantastic suppliers who really help out when family time is a bit more manic.
Amutha: I think I have learnt to embrace quality time as opposed to quantity time, so my son and I go on nature walks, we create experiences together that we enjoy as a family like going on food adventures, I sometimes include him in my job – we do Facebook lives together. When he was younger, it was more difficult because he needed his Mama in a more physical manner, now he is a little more independent, of course he loves an opportunity for a snuggle any time, but he knows to ask for it – we’ve created a system where I sleep in his room every Friday just so that we can watch a show, have a conversation and then sleep. Sometimes if I have engagements outside, I just sneak into bed in his room when I get back. I have learnt to flow with life because trying to force things into the way I know it to be based on the past was just inducing more stress than freedom. When I flowed, I enjoyed what I had to do better and every one around me was becoming happier too.
7. What can you share with our Sassy Mamas who aspire to start a business?
Joana: Follow your passion and drive that motivation into starting up your own business! Be ready for a journey with all sorts of ups and downs and don’t lose sight of what you want to achieve. At gnômadic, one of our main aims is to inspire our community and so I always keep that front of mind throughout every decision I make – big or small!
Amutha: It really depends on how big you want your business to be and how quickly, based on that you need a good stash of fund reserves. Do an accounting/finances class before you start – if you aren’t the sort who can deal with numbers, hire a reliable accountant from the get go. Journal everything that you need to do or want to do – I use evernote or a personal whatsapp chat for such tasks. Fit in time for the brain to get creative, so definitely carve out the time to do something fun because the brain gains other perspectives when you aren’t only focused on the day to day set up and running of a new business. Easier said than done, but it really all boils down to discipline and commitment.
Joana: Time management, a good night’s sleep and always set deadlines.
Amutha: Get exercise and meditation (self-care) every morning. Start with the easy tasks, schedule the tasks that require more time, have 3 lists in the order of what you are doing now, not doing and never doing (never being things that will be on the back burner for a while) – be real about this. Make sure you can work on your phone just as you can work on your laptop so that you are productive any time, any where.
Joana: Make a connection! Remember names of those you meet. Be a good listener.
Amutha: Always have your namecards on you – you never know when you may discover an opportunity. Go to events that are related to your business, get yourself out there. No one will know you if you don’t put yourself out there. Join business support groups – I have gained so much from the groups that I am part of and don’t be shy to ask someone out for coffee to learn more.
On Work/Life Balance:
Amutha: Take care of yourself first, I cannot stress the importance of this, if you are ok, everything else will be ok, so work on your personal self-awareness.It is ok and important to have fun, so carve that out for yourself and your family. When you aren’t having fun, find out why and create something fun to re-energise you. Find some spots in your home and outside for different work purposes – like writing, doing admin, doing creative work, accounts – so that you help to organise yourself.
Joana: Play to your strengths. Prioritise your time. Do what you love to do.
Joana: Stay positive. Listen to the advice you are given. Smile and breathe, even at the hardest of times!
Amutha: Seek out mentorship in the areas that you need help in, when you identify the areas and put yourself out there, the person will show up. Be bold to lean on your mentorship relationship, be clear on how you want the relationship to help you. Keep in touch with your mentor through text or emails, give them updates, meet them once in 2 months or quarterly depending on how busy they are. Respect their time and their effort in investing in you.
On Challenges and Hardships:
Joana: Stay strong! Always accept support. Have perspective.
Amutha: Entrepreneurship is a game of grit and perseverance, so everything else aside, how much do you have it in you not to give up? Everything has a solution, it is about whether you want to choose that solution or not. Will you be at peace on your deathbed with everything that you tried and didn’t try relating to your business and how well it fared?
Thanks so much to Joana and Amutha for sharing your wisdom! Check out some exclusive Sassy Mama perks below!