Fleeing from the Arab Spring Revolution in 2011, Mouna Aouri Langendorf saw the life she painstakingly built crumble before her very eyes. Fearing for the safety of her newborn child, the civil engineer by training left everything behind and moved, with her German husband, to Singapore.
It was a heartbreaking move for her, as she grappled with the loss of the company she poured her heart and soul into, for the past five years. A B2B consulting office serving as the liaison between Japanese businessmen and the Tunisian government, Mouna’s ambitious dreams for her first venture were abruptly dashed.
“I had no support system and had no time to do any research on Singapore. I presumed it was all going to be okay and that finding a job was going to be easy. However, it was nothing like I imagined.”
I struggled with my loss of self-identity as I took on my new role as a mother and a nurturer.
“It was so crazy and it completely wrecked my confidence! One day I was running my own company and speaking four languages and the next, I felt like I was a nobody.”
Pressured to adapt rapidly to a foreign place without any friends or familial support, postpartum depression soon kicked in. Sharing her sentiments upon reflection, she said,
“A woman is greatly compromised when she has a child. Everything changes, her body, career, everything. But as women, we are never encouraged to talk about our feelings. And this is prevalent across cultures. I think this is absolutely wrong.”
Realising that she was the only one who could get her out of her postpartum depression, she readily pulled herself together and started rebuilding her career, newborn baby in tow. When her second child came along, Mouna was much more prepared to deal with the demands of motherhood while managing her career. Picking up a business degree while carrying her second child, she quickly headed out in search of business opportunities six months after her child was born.
“Becoming a mom humbled me and changed me forever. It was brutal but I don’t think it had to be that way. For instance, becoming a father wasn’t such a challenge for my husband. He was still travelling and accomplishing great things in his career. Having children essentially made him more complete.
It completed me as well, but that came much later when things started falling into place. Till then, it was a destabilizing experience.”
Feeling the urgent need to change the ecosystem and support for women leaders, Woomentum was born.
Woomentum is a platform for women to learn about the mechanics of building a business, solicit advice from mentors, get coaching, or raise funds.
It is an arena where successful women entrepreneurs provide advice to other professionals and develop mentor-mentee relationships.
Apart from being an expert “marketplace”, Woomentum is also a crowdfunding avenue with its hugely successful flagship event, “CrowdFundHer LiveTM”.
Drawing from her prior experiences of being the only woman in a male-dominated engineering environment, Mouna, today, is doing all that she can,
“I want to build a go-to digital community for women. Women don’t network over Friday beers. They have different needs and ways of seeking help and funds. I want to make it easier for women to innovate.”
The New Savvy: Tell us more about your business. How did you get started in this business?
Mouna: I started Woomentum as a platform for peer-to-peer support. Inspired by the innovativeness of technology, I wanted to harness the advantages afforded that enable the ability to connect and communicate fast. Through this community-driven impetus, Woomentum, an online platform for women was born.
With this platform, women are able to gain access to advise, access to mentors and others who have had experience in the field, as well as access to crowd-sourced funds. It is meant to be a holistic ecosystem that provides entrepreneurs with the support and readily accessible advice needed for their new venture.
The New Savvy: How is it different? How is it useful? What are the Unique Selling Points of your business?
Mouna: Despite the many crowdfunding platforms, there is still a general lack of awareness towards crowdfunding. Woomentum is a crowdfunding platform based in Asia that is community-based.
Asia is a competitive market and Woomentum, being a well-connected platform to the startup ecosystem, aims to create that momentum requisite for new startups to flourish. Thus our USP is our ability to do the groundwork and connect people so as to facilitate a good match between our up-and-coming entrepreneurs and mentors.
A common misconception people have about Woomentum is that the platform is a women-only network. This is simply not true. It is my vision to see women and men innovate together in the workplace, and I believe diversity is beneficial to success.
Thus, this start-up is meant to be a platform that supports companies co-founded by women. Woomentum could be seen almost as a movement that raises awareness about the importance of diversity – one that encourages a culture of inclusion.
The New Savvy: Do you see a difference between male and female entrepreneurs?
Mouna: I see that entrepreneurs are mostly male and this is a problem. You often observe that the CEOs and Venture Capitalists are normal men and it is usually the tech guys that are developing the software. It is certainly not gender-blind.
With that said, I genuinely feel that there is no longer any point talking about it; everyone knows that there is a gender element.
“I am done with the problem statement; I want to move on to the solution – Woomentum.”
Woomentum is the solution as we want to focus our efforts on creating opportunities for entrepreneurs, At a recent pitch held in Bali, we managed to get the 300 management consultations to pledge hours of expertise and money to our women entrepreneurs. This is a seamless, concrete way of empowering women.
The New Savvy: Any advice for female entrepreneurs? Any trends you have noticed regarding the inclusion of women entrepreneurs in the startup ecosystem?
Mouna: Firstly, Confidence is everything.
Secondly, you require Clarity on what you want to achieve.
Focus on the work that matters – if you have to learn to code so that you can code for your startup yourself, learn to code!
Women also need to focus their attention on achieving, learning, investing their money. Turn to platforms like The New Savvy for advice on how to invest practically.
For entrepreneurs, it is very important to have a roadmap for your career and to not be afraid to ask for help. It is very important to ask for advice if you are struggling. Woomentum is one platform you can turn to for advice as our Quora-like site facilitates back-and-forth QnA and structured conversations organized based on specific categories.
The New Savvy: What do you love most about your job?
Mouna: I am a people person so I love the human connections I get to forge. It is no longer just B2B as we know it, but H2H (human to human) today; business don’t have emotions but people do and people like to feel like they are understood, rewarded and included in something bigger than themselves.
I gain a lot of fulfilment through what I do. The most satisfying part is connecting people on a human level and really helping them. For instance, I felt most gratified when I saw 300 people from management consulting firms pledge over 670 hours to help the entrepreneurs I took to Bali. It was not part of any CSR efforts but a genuine contribution from their own pockets.
“The climax of all this work is when I see people come together to create value for each other”
The New Savvy: I noticed your company has expanded into Vietnam. How do you decide your next market target and were there any difficulties faced in expanding and how did you overcome them?
Mouna: I have a very close relationship with Vietnam as my tech developers are from Vietnam. I’ve been very lucky to meet interesting people there and the start-up ecosystem there right now is very vibrant and dynamic.
I managed to talk to some female entrepreneurs and found that they were smart and hungry for learning – traits I deem crucial for real entrepreneurship. I see a lot of potential in emerging countries like Vietnam and Cambodia as they still have many problems to solve and thus many more opportunities for innovation.
As for the difficulties I faced, Vietnam is still a very different market. The scale is different and there are other considerations to take note of and a lot of work to be done to grow the team there. I am also looking to launch a new platform in Vietnamese. I am currently taking it one step at a time.
The New Savvy: What is your view on mentorship and sponsorship? How should a woman start to engage a mentor or a sponsor?
Mouna: Finding a mentor is not easy. Start looking within your close circle. Start from there. Mentoring is not easy and nurturing a relationship with a mentor takes time. Woomentum provides this platform for mentors to connect with potential mentees and offer advice.
However, we also note that mentors are difficult to come by and require time to build trust, which is why we introduced a QnA function to our platform that is scalable. In this sense, we are also in the business of changing behaviours – getting 10 minutes from a veteran to answer a question from a 20-something-year-old in the field is much more feasible
The New Savvy: How do you define success and how do you measure up to your own definition? What are your keys to success?
Mouna: I define success as being able to achieve your dream and mission. It is not simply monetary reward but the fulfilment you attain after connecting people, and helping entrepreneurs get other people excited about their business, so much so that they are willing to invest training time or money into them.
The New Savvy: What is your attitude and outlook towards personal finance?
Mouna: I prioritise spending it on experiences and small charity projects. To me, life is too short so I save about 50% and spend the rest on experiences.
The New Savvy: What are the biggest obstacles to planning your portfolio?
Mouna: There are certain indulgences that are hard to give up. For instance, it is difficult to save on transportation as it makes life a lot more convenient.
I also pay for boxing memberships, experience-based events, and experiences with friends. One advice I have to give, however, is to really track your expenses as it tells you your behavioural spending. For instance, I found out that I don’t splurge on fashion but I am a latte freak!
The New Savvy: I understand you are fluent in four languages. What other languages would you like to be fluent in?
Mouna: Oh I would love to be fluent in Mandarin! My daughters, aged 5 and 7, are currently put on a full mandarin programme in school as I prioritize my children being able to assimilate into the local culture. Mandarin is important, as they will be able to bond with local children through it.
Mouna: A perfect day would be one where I have been able to spend quality time with my children during their meal times and been able to get some exercise (boxing) in.
I’ve increasingly realised the benefits of keeping physically fit and box about 4x a week now.
The New Savvy: What would you pick? Love or money?
Mouna: I think they work in a symbiotic relationship. Love can bring money: I love people and thus take the pain of building Woomentum and investing my own money into it. You also need money to take care of yourself, for instance, pay for a taxi or gym membership to bring out the best in you. So I see it as a yin-yang relationship.
The New Savvy: How do you strike a balance between family time and work? Any tips?
Mouna: I have learnt to embrace the reality that there is no balance. There is only a day-to-day opportunity to be fair. How to be fair to your dreams, your children, people you work with etc.
There is no benchmark so chasing balance would only make the journey miserable. Fitness is also a key priority for me, even if it takes some time away from the time spent with my children. I also want to set a good example for my children too and inspire them.
Give us a parting quote!
To be good to others, you need to be good to yourself first Love yourself; Self-care is your priority!