Motherhood is a noble calling, as mothers make all kinds of sacrifices while they devote their lives to their children.
But even more admirable are ‘mumpreneurs’ who juggle both raising kids and building businesses, as if one or the other isn’t challenging enough already.
This time, we get to know a team of mumpreneurs who understand these modern parenting struggles, and are on a mission to give parents the best of both worlds in their family-friendly coworking space.
As co-founder and CEO Dr. Elaine Kim tells us, Trehaus was born “to create a workplace environment where people do not have to choose between career and family”.
Women Making Waves
“[Many people] think women [in business] won’t be able to give their 100 per cent once they become mothers,” Elaine told The Peak.
But being a palliative care doctor with over 10 years in practice, a serial entrepreneur, and mother of three, the 37-year-old proves them wrong hands down.
She’d started exploring business since 20 years ago, by running a children’s party planning service when she was just 17.
Although Elaine jokes in an interview with SGSME that her first foray was just “something [she] did during her school days”, she didn’t stop at dipping her feet.
Instead, she took a deep dive and followed with opening a bridal business Trinity Gallery, event planner Milk and Honey Event Design, and social enterprise CRIB.
Set up as a non-profit that works to empower successful female entrepreneurs, CRIB was where Elaine met the women who would join her to build Trehaus in 2016.
One of them is 45-year-old Tjin Lee, who was also a co-founder of CRIB along with Elaine and two others.
Tjin herself has an illustrious background, and two young children in tow.
Besides founding and managing Mercury Marketing & Communications, which organised Singapore Fashion Week up to 2017, she’s also one of the people behind the Life Beyond Grades movement.
The two may already seem like a power pair, but their team was bolstered further when they got to know 38-year-old Elizabeth Wu, also thanks to CRIB.
For Elizabeth, her decisions through life, like becoming an educator and later a stay-home mum, have all been spurred on by the principle to “do stuff that matters”.
Likewise, joining the Trehaus founding team naturally became her next endeavour inspired by that motivation.
Nobody Ever Says It’ll Be Easy
Despite all they’ve achieved by then, setting up a coworking space where children are welcome was a challenge on completely new ground.
To sell an idea that is the first of its kind, Elaine says “you need to have a lot of passion, confidence and grit to rise above the inevitable doubts”.
You are doing something that others cannot picture because it hasn’t been done before!
Thankfully, they found an angel investor who believed in them, and helped Trehaus take root with “half a million” in seed funding.
This enabled their vision to materialise, building the first Trehaus space at Claymore Connect Mall on Orchard Road, where people began to bring their kids to work.
It comprised of a common coworking zone where members could have their kids with them, a nursery that lets them drop off their children for playtime under caretakers’ supervision, and a child-free zone (humorously named ‘The Sanctuary’) where the adults can conduct meetings.
“I believe that the world is changing,” Elaine says as she observes that working parents have different needs for their families today.
And she goes through the very same struggles that she and her team are helping other parents cope with.
It takes a lot on anyone, to “have to give 100 per cent to your family, as well as 100 per cent to your business”, she says.
On top of that, the founders also faced troubles with failed relationships in the startup, as Elizabeth once shared with Asian Entrepreneur.
But doing the best they could in such a situation, they walked away learning a lesson to be “more careful” and seek out people who will “plough and work hard alongside [them]”.
When the going gets tough, Elaine feels encouraged by Trehaus’ members who say they’re thankful “they didn’t have to miss their child’s first word and first step and every other precious moment” even while they hustled for successful careers.
I got to benefit from that too with my own baby Nate, whom I could bring to work with me every day. That is what keeps me going through all the difficulties.
It Takes A Village To Raise A Child
With their hard work came results that paved the way for Trehaus to grow its “modern village”.
Elaine explains that “the first space at Orchard was actually a proof of concept”.
They worked on it as their startup’s minimum viable product (MVP) through which they proved the business model was sound with healthy demand.
As she looks back on their beginnings with 3 years of hindsight, Elaine says they “did better than [they] expected”.
Our dedicated desks and offices reached full occupancy by 2017, and the [nursery also hit full] capacity shortly after.
This brings them to today, when the founders are preparing to open Trehaus’ new and more sophisticated site in Funan Mall by July or August 2019.
Elaine shares with excitement that their success at Orchard has shown that they’re “ready to grow” into an upgraded space that’s “about 3 times” bigger.
Along with their move, the team will launch Trehaus School, a Silicon Valley-inspired preschool with the ambition to equip children for jobs of the future that “don’t exist today”.
Part of their early education curriculum is the proprietary Littles’ Programme that offers to teach a range of skills and attitudes, like leadership, basic coding, change-making, music, and culinary science.
In terms of business, the childcare and education arm is also a new revenue stream for them, diversifying out instead of just competing in the coworking scene.
This could help them carve out a sustainable route towards profitability for Trehaus, which will allow the founders to continue impacting young families though their work.
As we close our interview with a final question on the hopes they would like to share for working mothers in Singapore, Elaine tells us this:
[My hope is for us to] become a society that lets working mothers achieve their corporate potential and business dreams, while [they can fully] be present for their children’s precious early years.
To find out more, check out how life unfolds at the Trehaus family village here.
Featured Image Credit: Trehaus / Singapore Tatler