Company founders Tracy Wong and Bel Hwang are taking on uniquely Singaporean industries – helper training and tuition – and share their essential business advice for female CEO’s and aspiring mamapreneurs
Have you been considering a career change, or trying to figure out how to re-enter the workforce on your own terms? Our new series, Wise Words from Mamapreneurs, aims to shine the spotlight on women in Singapore who’ve started their own businesses. 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. Please join us in supporting these mama-led businesses, and read on to let their wisdom, experience, and hard work inspire you!
This month we meet two Singaporean mamas doing the work to truly help families in Singapore: Tracy Wong, founder of StepUp.video, which facilitates communication between employers and helpers by providing a range of comprehensive training videos, and Bel Hwang, a teacher and tutor who founded IB Super, a tuition company focusing on IB, IGSCE, O-Level and A-Level tutoring, with both physical and online offerings.
Tracy is mum to two kids, ages 6 and 4, while Bel’s infant son, Zhe Xi, will turn 1 later this month. Their reflections on work-life balance, particularly when launching your own business, are particularly candid and enlightening. Read on for some fab mama wisdom, and click here to check out last month’s debut feature!
Give us the elevator pitch for your business:
According to a survey only half of Singapore employers think their domestic workers are adequately trained. It does not help that two in three foreign domestic workers have their employment contracts cancelled before the full 2-year period is up (source). With such a dismal turnover, the employers have to spend time training each new worker.
Stepup.video is an online video training app for employers and their domestic workers. The videos are narrated in the helpers’ native languages and there are quizzes to test the workers’ understanding. Once the employer signs up, she can view the videos in English then add any videos related to her household like childcare, pet care, cooking etc, to her worker’s library. The helper can then log in separately to start learning immediately.
IB Super is actually in the lost and found business! Ok I know this is a cliché, but we truly don’t see ourselves as just a tuition centre. Our main business is helping students re-discover their passion for learning, and the belief in themselves that they can be the academic superstar they dreamed off. Of course, it’s not just fluffy motivational talk. We place a lot of emphasis on getting good tutors and preparing high quality learning materials. But students get bored and often lose motivation when they are forced by their parents to go for tuition. We believe it’s important they feel happy and comfortable coming to class, and start pushing themselves to learn.
Tell us about your background and what led you to create this business? What made you the right person for the job?
I started teaching part-time when I was still studying at the National University of Singapore. I had wanted to help with my family’s finances, because I saw my dad working so hard to put my sister and me through university – something he didn’t have the opportunity to do. I loved it, especially the interaction with younger children, so I started tutoring full-time after I graduated. I taught one-to-one and also at tuition centres. I decided to set up my own centre after many years because I wanted to have more control over my curriculum and pedagogy. Some mass-market tuition centres use a “one size fits all” method to cram students of varying capabilities and learning speeds into one class for their own business efficiency. But I feel sorry for the weaker students who struggle to keep up and don’t get enough attention in a big class. This was one of my key motivations to start my own centre.
I have been teaching for 20 years, and some of my earliest students have graduated and settled down! At IB Super, I created a curriculum that takes into account individual strengths of the student and makes use of multimodal teaching strategies to enhance deep learning and create an enjoyable learning experience.
I was in the television business for a decade, producing award-winning shows and campaigns. I spent the last 3 years creating an interactive video platform for learning and engagement at Infini Videos, a company that I co-founded. Stepup.video came about as solution to a problem my friends and I had regarding the hiring and training of domestic workers. The US entrepreneur and investor Paul Graham famously said the best idea is something the founders themselves want, that they themselves can build, and that few others realize are worth doing. It’s true for me for all 3 statements, and I wasn’t going to wait around for someone else to come up with a solution!
What were some early setbacks and challenges to getting your business up and running?
Before creating Step Up, I spoke to various groups to validate the idea and showed them a simple prototype that I’d quickly designed to get their feedback. I also produced sample videos to show to employers and domestic workers. After tweaking my initial idea and following eight months of web development and video production, we finally launched Stepup.video in September 2019 with 50 videos in each language. And that was supposedly the easy part. Now the focus is marketing and sales, which involves cold calling!
One early difficulty was finding a good location for my school. Rent is expensive in Singapore, and we wanted a good, central location for our students to come to easily after school. We are lucky to be where we are now – the accessibility is unbeatable (walking distance to MRT that services two lines) and the environment is quiet and conducive for studying. However, the greatest challenge is finding and retaining talented tutors. We interview and train all our tutors, and I always remind them to stay up to date in knowledge and maintain professionalism when interacting with young students.
Did you work with a mentor or network while you were setting up your business?
I consider myself blessed to have the support of my family who were behind me wholeheartedly when I started my business. I am also grateful to my network of ex-students and their parents who gave me advice and helped me to advertise my business. Most of my customers knew me by word-of-mouth.
We are backed by MediaCorp through their startup incubator called Mediapreneur. In addition to a seed investment, they also provided mentorship and connected you to their internal business units.
What is the best part of running your business?…And what is the worst part?
Nothing beats the feeling of executing an idea to fruition! And that’s what I did with Stepup.video. It’s just the beginning but I’m really excited by the possibilities to make a difference, whether it’s helping the employer solve their training issues or upskilling the domestic worker so they can learn beyond their current job scope.
The worst part: Getting into the domestic work sector means being more aware of all the issues surrounding it, such as domestic workers abuse and vice-versa, domestic workers who abuse their employer’s family, or the rise in money-lending and loan sharks, just to name a few. It makes you all the more determined to do something to help through education and training for all parties.
The best part is doing what I love doing, every single day! Teaching is my passion, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything else. Being able to teach using my own curriculum and pedagogy means I can offer what I feel is best for my students, and that is an unbeatable feeling!
The worst part is having less time for my family. My baby is 11 months old now and even when I am at home, I am planning curriculum, or engaging with tutors and students (we started a new and very popular online tutoring service). Sometimes I do wish I could spend more time with him. I try to make up for it with quality over quantity, by designing new activities and homemade toys for him. He’s my youngest (and naughtiest) student!
How does being a parent affect your job?
I am a workaholic, and before my son arrived, I’d be working day and night, in office and at home. I think my son brought balance back into my life. I am more conscious of allocating time to my family. Every morning, I am inspired to work and meet my students, and when evening comes, I can’t wait to go home to see my baby. I think life has been a blessing.
I’ve definitely become laser focused and disciplined because there’s no other way if you’re managing a household, taking care of two young kids and running a business. I have a supportive husband and also a domestic worker who assists me in taking care of my household. I am lucky to be able to employ a domestic worker and in a way, I would like to give back to this group of women – many of whom ironically left their own kids back home to take care of ours. Sure there are issues between the employer and worker sometimes, but we cannot ignore their contribution to our households and many a times, a working mother’s sanity! Through Stepup.video the domestic worker can also take self-development video courses, and entrepreneurship and computer courses in the near future
What can you share with our Sassy Mamas who aspire to start a business?
If you feel passionate about being an entrepreneur, then give it a try. It’s better to try than think back years later about what could have been. It doesn’t mean not having a cool head to work through the numbers and nitty-gritty, though! Don’t be discouraged by failure, that’s part and parcel of life.
I recently read this great quote: “Entrepreneurship is the fastest route to personal development. This is because entrepreneurship requires an immense amount of personal responsibility” – Ryan Daniel Moran, founder of capitalism.com.
Most of us working mothers already have the added responsibility of taking care of the kids, so if you can’t shoulder more, then come back again later when it’s the right time. I’m convinced the “Just do it” mantra is for people without kids! And most importantly, surround yourself with positive people or people who’ve walked the path that you are going. Stay away from those who are negative and who try to bring you down with their own fears.
Give us your snappy rapid-fire advice (up to 3)…
- Tracy: I find that exercise helps to clear the mind if I’m ever overwhelmed. After a good workout, I think and work more efficiently. My best resources are books: Books on being a better mother, better communicator, salesperson, marketer, presenter and how to make great products. My next best resource is YouTube for online learning! I listen to interviews and talks on various topics in the dark while I put the kids to bed, haha!
- Bel: Tackle the most difficult problem first when your mind is fresh and sharpest! If you don’t have a solution, take a walk! Sometimes the answer comes to you.
- Bel: Just walk up and say hi! Most times the other party is just as shy and happy you make the first move. Everybody has a story. Listen. You will be amazed by what you find.
- Tracy: Personally, networking events that are held after work hours are a challenge for me to attend because I need to take care of my young kids. So I make it a point to attend industry conferences during the day and reach out to key people directly.
On Work/Life Balance:
- Tracy: We all have to determine what out own work/life balance is. It’s not an equal 50/50 but rather what percentage of yourself that you can dedicate to each area, depending on the different stages of your life and needs of your family. My kids are in preschool so we’ve not entered the homework-intensive phase yet. At this point, I can give more focus on my work in terms of thinking about it 70-80% of my waking (and sleeping) time.
- Bel: Work never ends. The earth continues to turn after you are gone. So always make time for people you love.
- Bel: Good advice is worth its weight in gold! If you find a good mentor, don’t let go!
- Tracy: Attend events or conferences and reach out to the speakers who you think can help you directly or indirectly. I’ve personally done that and most don’t reject you when you offer to buy them coffee and tell a compelling story.
- Tracy: Talk to your trusted circle of family or friends. They may offer useful advice, if not just a listening ear to your problems. Take stock and be proud of what you’ve accomplished so far. Give yourself a pat on the back because no one else will do that for you. Ask your kids to give you a hug!
- Bel: Breathe! Challenges are part of life. This too, shall pass.
Thank you, Bel and Tracy, for sharing your wisdom with us! Please help us in supporting these mama-led businesses with the below exclusive perks: