I am originally from New Zealand, but I left in 2003 – first for South Korea, and then Mumbai, India, where I met my husband and stayed til our move to Singapore in 2011. I spent five years as a stay at home mother to my kids, born in 2008 and 2013, and during that time I studied a creative writing degree and tried to launch a couple of businesses. Most of the time, I felt frustrated, lonely and struggled to work productively from home.
I guess I was going through a bit of an identity crisis too – something that I realised later is quite common for mothers. This experience helped gain a deep understanding of the struggles women go through when trying to juggle work and family, or when trying to return to the workforce.
Tell us more about your business. How did you get started in this business?
I opened Woolf Works, community and coworking space for women, in mid-2014. It came about when I decided I needed to find space outside the office in which to start working productively. I stumbled across the concept of coworking when I was looking for alternatives to signing a two-year contract to my office and thought it was a very good idea.
When I looked closer at the spaces in Singapore however, I felt none of them was providing the atmosphere I was looking for. They all felt busy, noisy, corporate-looking and also quite intimidating to walk into. I was looking for somewhere very calm and quiet with a lot of natural light.
In the end, I decided that there was a real gap in the market for this offering so decided to create the space myself.
How is it different? How is it useful? What are your Unique Selling Points of your business?
Our space offers memberships to women only, so that helps us stand out. We are very specific in the niche that we target: women, often mothers, who are between about 30-50 years old. We have three pillars in our offering: quiet, calm space for members to focus on achieving their goals; we provide community and support to help members feel less alone on their journey, and we encourage collaborations and networking, and we provide opportunities for both personal and business development.
We attract a lot of women in transition – often they are moving from corporate into entrepreneurship, or from a maternity break back into the workforce. Our members are business owners, consultants, coaches, freelancers, writers, entrepreneurs, PhD students and what I like to call ‘Thinking-about-it-Preneurs.’
We also have a new program we have developed which is called ‘Catalyst’ [catalystjourney.com]. It’s crafted for women who have had an extended career break while raising children and now want to return to the workforce. Often, these women have lost some confidence in their skill set and need to spend some time exploring what it is they want to do next.
We find that many have come from the banking or legal sector and no longer want to work in high-stress, long-hours job, but are unsure what other options are out there. We take them through a twelve-week journey in groups of six, through various workshops and peer circles with a focus on growth, courage, and community. It’s a very impactful program, and I’m proud of the results we are seeing.
What is an interesting story about a customer interaction you had?
We had a Swiss lawyer join our community last year. She had a one-year-old baby and becoming a mother had thrown her life plans up in the air. She had no idea what she wanted next. She spent a few days in our space every week, meeting people, researching, exploring ideas – and now today, about nine months later she has established herself as a cross-border business consultant – making use of her deep knowledge of her legal background to help small business owners expand into Asia. She is happy, fulfilled and working her hours on her terms. We are all very proud of her too!
What systems have you set up in your business to help it grow?
The past six months have seen me focus on establishing SOPs, as we move from a one-woman show to a small team that needs to have clearly defined roles and excellent communication.
We have a clear sales pipeline, a marketing strategy and also good accounting practices to keep on top of everything.
What are some patterns you’ve noticed over the years about women in work or business, and things they could be doing better to advance their careers?
We have a tendency to doubt our skill sets sometimes – I hate to generalise, though, many women are good at having confidence in themselves.
For those that don’t though, it can paralyse them from taking steps forward and can lead to frustration, which leads to even more self-doubt.
We’ve started running a Lean In Circle at Woolf Works that’s open to the public, and we are attracting a mix of corporate, freelancer, entrepreneurs and women in transition. Our goal is to help women have more confidence in themselves and their dreams.
How do you motivate others?
I love giving people the space to accomplish their goals, and to realise they have the strength and courage inside them to face whatever challenge is in front of them.
In a team environment, what role do you usually take on?
I’m a people person, but I’m also an introvert. I’m sensitive to others around me, and I like to make sure everyone is feeling heard and valued.
What three things do you need to be successful in your job?
In my role, as a solo entrepreneur, I need to have tenacity, perseverance, and passion for my business idea.
What do you worry about, and why?
I worry a bit about the economic environment in Singapore at the moment – there are a lot of redundancies and uncertainty. On a larger scale, I worry about the direction the world is heading in following Brexit and the US Election. I feel like we are sliding backwards when we have made so much progress on women’s rights, environmental goals and the status of refugees in this world. It’s pretty heartbreaking.
How do you define success and how do you measure up to your definition?
I define success as creating something that adds great value to people, monetizing it efficiently and creating systematic workflows and a strong team to implement it.
One of the lessons I’ve learned over the last couple of years is that I really can’t do everything myself!
So I am working on being successful regarding that definition, it’s a work in progress, but I’m getting closer every day!
Give me an example of when you failed at something. How did you react and how did you overcome failure?
I’ve tried to launch a bunch of different business projects over the years but most didn’t get past business-plan stage. One project, an e-commerce start-up, was starting to get off the ground when I got pregnant and spent four months straight with terrible morning sickness (that lasted all day).
By the time I felt human again, I was two months away from delivering and decided to let the project go. I was disappointed at the time and frustrated, but I had two takeaways – one, that sometimes life gets in the way; two – that I’d still learned a lot from the process and it wasn’t a waste of time.
In the end, all the experiences like that helped me when I did eventually set up my current business.
What’s the one accomplishment you’re most proud of? Why?
Launching our Catalyst project – it’s something that I wish I had for myself when I was at home. I’m proud of the impact it’s having. It was launched very quickly, and we have been tweaking as we go. I am working some incredible mentors, and I’m looking forward to our next version of the program which will be running from Feb 2017.
If you could do things all over again, would you choose the same path for yourself? Why? What would you change?
I went through a few years of feeling very uncertain – a kind of identity crisis. I wish I’d taken some time to acknowledge what I was going through and gone to see a coach or a counsellor figure out what I want to do. I feel like I wasted a few years – but then at the end of the day, I wouldn’t be who I am today without going through that experience. Every experience is learning one!
Do you think women are financially smart?
I don’t think you can generalise across a gender. Some are, some aren’t – just the same as men.
What financial planning have you done for the future?
I am a social, people-focus entrepreneur and I glaze over at the appearance of an excel sheet! We have some property investments, but otherwise, I take a terribly short-term approach to future planning.
How do you improve your financial knowledge?
Surround myself with people that understand things better than me – then take them for coffee!
How do you decide on what to do financially?
Get solid advice. I know my weaknesses and am working on it. I am not afraid of asking for help in this area.
What is a skill you think all women should learn and why?
How to say “No” without explanation or apology.
What is the biggest challenge facing women today?
We are still fighting for equality, globally, in so many areas. Still, a long way to go!
The biggest issue I see is sharing the load of childcare. We can’t possibly become equal with men in the workplace when we are also 100% in charge of managing the household too. Men need to step up and be more involved fathers, remove some of the childcare burdens off our shoulders.
Share two advice for female entrepreneurs.
Make sure to put yourself first – mothers especially are prone to putting the needs of the household before their own which at the end of the day can result in feeling resentful and unsatisfied.
Take ACTION – amazing things can happen in your dreams, but real success only happens when you start taking those small action steps actually to make something happen. Stop planning and start doing!
What is your greatest indulgence?
Dark chocolate and Netflix!