This month’s That Mama is Namita Mehra, founder of the popular food community and cookbook Indian Spicebox!
Warning, mamas: be careful about reading this interview on an empty stomach, because chances are you’ll come away with a major craving for some yummy Indian food! This month’s ‘That Mama’ is Namita Mehra, who created the popular Indian Spicebox community on Facebook in 2010 and has now expanded into a cookbook, cooking classes, and fabulous giftbox of Indian Spices. Formerly a passion project on the side, it’s become so popular that she gave up her high-flying digital marketing career with Facebook to focus on it (and her oh-so-cute 2.5-year-old son, Shivum) full-time. In addition to Namita’s down-to-earth approach to balancing work and motherhood, we’re truly inspired by the social mission of her business!
Can you tell us a little about yourself, your career and your family?
I’ve been moving and traveling my whole life and never know how to answer the ‘where are you from?’ question! I was born in a remote village in northern Nigeria, then moved to England when I was 4 and we lived in three different cities over 7 years. At 11, my family suddenly made the decision to move back to India. I left home at 21 to go to Chicago for post-graduate studies. After graduating I went to New York to work in advertising and lived there for a decade with my husband before moving to Singapore (with my job) where we are happily currently settled with our 2.5-year-old son. Most of my family is based in India and I love being a shorter flight away from them! I’ve worked in advertising and marketing for almost 15 years; a year ago I left the corporate world to embark on the journey of fulfilling my dream of becoming an author and starting my own business.
Can you talk us through your career pre- and post-baby?
Pre-baby, I worked at Facebook for almost 5 years in both Singapore and New York and was in the ad agency world prior to that. Through my career I’ve been a digital marketing strategist and have been fortunate to work with some of the world’s best brands.
Post-baby, I worked at a Venture Capital fund here in Singapore, helping start-ups with their digital and social media strategies. I continue to mentor and consult a handful of small businesses. Last year, I founded my own company, Indian Spicebox (inspired by the food-loving community page on Facebook I started in 2010 with now over 50,000 fans), and self-published a cookbook. I created a ‘spicebox kit’ that gives Indian food fans the spices and recipes they need to cook nutritious and tasty Indian food easily at home. For each spicebox kit purchased, 10 street children in India are fed a hot, nutritious meal. I recently launched cooking classes, and 300 children will be provided with a hot meal from the proceeds of each class. I am also working on an exciting children’s book project and am focused on expanding my business to other countries.
How did you get back into the swing of things after having kids?
I don’t think I ever stopped to be honest! I wrote two business plans on maternity leave, one of which led to the VC job! My son would nurse and nap in my arms for hours on end so I would pop my laptop open on the other side, keeping my brain focused and busy!
How do you maintain an identity separate from your child?
I’ve been fortunate to have a great support system that has allowed me to stay focused on my career while being around my son 24/7. I quit the corporate world when my son was just 8 months old and since then I’ve worked from home, written a book and started my own business. I continue to run my business and write from home, and my son and I co-exist peacefully. He understands and respects that I’m working and while it’s not always easy to stay focused, I wouldn’t change a thing. I find a lot of meaning in the work I am doing and it gives me a strong sense of self-worth and fulfillment.
How has having a child changed the way you define work?
Work has always been about making a difference and having impact, but having a child made me really think hard about how I could make a small difference in the world, especially impacting children who need it the most. That’s why the mission of my company is “filling bellies” and I’m focused not only on bringing everyday Indian food to more homes and bellies, but also on filling those little bellies that need it the most. After becoming a mother, I craved balance and wanted to create a “job” for myself that would not only be meaningful but also allow me to give my son all the time and attention he needed when he needed it, so fluidity and flexibility in work becomes paramount.
How do you save time? What are your organisational tricks and tips?
I have this crazy excel sheet with my whole life on it. It has more than 20 tabs and I maintain all my personal and work tasks and never-ending to-do lists on it. I highlight the critical stuff so I can tackle it first. I try and look at my spreadsheet first thing in the morning which creates focus for the ‘jobs to be done’ that day.
I wish I had more time for…
Reading! I’ve been a major bookworm my whole life and would always read in bed but ever since my son was born, I pretty much pass out the second I’m in bed.
I always feel saner after….
A shower! It’s amazing what some alone time and aromatherapy can do!
What part of Singapore do you live in? What do you like about it?
We live at Draycott Park, around the corner from Claymore/Ardmore in the Orchard area. I love that it’s so central and yet super green.
Favourite kid-friendly activity in Singapore?
My son and I love the aquarium and can spend hours looking at all the colourful pretty fishies. Plus it’s indoors and air-conditioned so everyone is cool and happy 😉
Favourite family-friendly holiday spot in Asia?
Shangri-la Boracay = family vacation heaven on earth.
Do you have any tips for keeping the romance alive in your relationship?
Date night at least twice a month and at least one holiday a year without the little one.
Do you have any tips for aspiring “mamapreneurs” and other working mamas in Singapore?
One thing I learned at Facebook was to move fast and not focus on perfection. This is hard because I’m a bit of a perfectionist, but at Facebook we would say ‘launch and iterate’ – meaning, just get something out there and then you can keep making it better. I think we put too much pressure on ourselves and it prevents us from moving forward or taking that first step. Also, don’t be afraid to get out there and talk to your customers. By doing fairs and events, I’ve had the opportunity to get a ton of valuable feedback from people and this is critical in the iterating process. Lastly, push yourself to do something that makes you uncomfortable and nervous. For me, the cooking classes have been just that. I’ve presented to C-level clients and auditoriums full of people but I’ve never been so nervous as I was chopping an onion in front of 10 people! It gets easier and makes you better and stronger. I’m loving hosting the classes and meeting new people!
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received as a parent?
To cherish every phase your baby/child goes through, no matter how hard or uniquely challenging, because it’s all so short-lived and they grow so rapidly that you will look back and miss it like crazy. Sounds cliché but time moves incredibly fast when you have a child.
Give us your essential new mama advice that might never occur to other women
Never let go of that one personal thing that gets you going. Whether it’s a physical thing – gym, yoga, walks, whatever – or a mental thing – reading, writing – your skill, a passion project, you need to have at least one thing that makes you want to jump out of bed each morning. Apart from a hungry newborn, that is!
As a mama I wish I were better at…
…being device-free around my child. I am so addicted to my phone and laptop; I wish I were better at disconnecting.
What’s your favourite family ritual?
Sunday evenings at the Botanic Gardens, fresh air, feeding the fish, kicking around a ball, just pure & simple fun.
I wake up in the middle of the night thinking about….
My to-do list! All the things I haven’t done, all the emails I’ve not replied to….aargh!
My favourite moment of the day is…
When my husband comes home from work each evening. It’s excited shrieks from the little one, group hugs, lots of silliness and happiness and giggles.
Thanks Namita! And huge thanks to Gunilla of Sugarlight Photography for the gorgeous photos of Namita and her son!