Interview: Amutha Saravanan on finding purpose in what you do

Image credits: Amutha Saravanan

In Mumpreneur Series, we speak to mum entrepreneurs to find out the trials and tribulations of juggling family while running a business.

It all started with a pottery lesson. The “magic and fireworks” she felt while moulding clay led entrepreneur Amutha Saravanan to offer clay workshops under Da Vinci Group, the company she co-founded with her husband Saravanan Manorkorum.

Clay classes might seem like a hobby that you do for fun, but to Amutha, they are a means of encouraging creativity in children and developing their thought processes. Between meetings and training sessions with her team, the self-confessed workaholic finds time to exercise, go on dates with her husband and pick up their four-year-old son from school. She speaks to us about the highs and lows of running a business, her desire to change the education system, and finding your village.

What is a typical day at work like?
A typical day at work would be us getting in at 9am and having a little meeting before we start the day. Then everybody does their own thing. For myself, it’s meeting pre-schools or different entities I’m talking to, and maybe another meeting when I get back to office. If I’m not going out, I’ll be working on decks for events and classes, or having a training session with my team. We end the day at 6pm. Sometimes we have networking sessions in the evening to go to. In between, we also drop off our son at school, pick him up and take care of him.

What inspired you to co-found the Da Vinci Group with your husband?
I guess you could say it was kind of an existential crisis, in that I wasn’t really sure if I wanted to be working in the corporate world in the long run. My background is in clinical neuropsychology and Sara’s background is in neurobiology. We’re academics at heart but we worked in areas that weren’t related, and that kind of caused a void in me and what I wanted to be doing. I picked up pottery as a hobby and what happened was magic and fireworks, because there was just something about the tactile experience. Then we discovered that there’s actually a whole field of study called neuroeducation. They say that when you use your senses to learn, you are optimally learning for the brain. That really got us ticking because we realised that the education system that Sara and I went through and what a lot of the world is going through is rote learning, and we wanted to really transform that because we have a 4-year-old who’ll be going through the education system as well, and we don’t want that for him. So the impetus really was to transform education.

How does your company’s ceramics and theatre workshops benefit children?
It’s not just a pottery or drama class. There is a heavy sort of underlying science behind our curriculum, which is called neuroeducation. Taking into account how the brain learns, the clay and the drama are just mediums through which the kids engage. The classes are thematic and there is a lot of content being delivered. The kids learn to tackle issues like focus and attention. And then you have all these beautiful things that result [from it], like creativity and innovation, abstract thinking and problem solving. These are really the core benefits of the programme.

How do you make time for yourself outside of work?
I’ve got to say upfront that I am a workaholic and that’s an issue for the most part! However, I’ve realised that I do need to take care of my well-being and the social and the physical aspect of that is very important. As a result I’ve gotten into this new routine of brisk walking early in the morning, like 5.30am. I make time to meet friends and people I care about, because life is about that. My husband and I make it a point to go on date nights once a week as well. As much as we see each other every day working together, it’s a little bit different, the context is different when we go out.

What do you think can be done to nurture more women entrepreneurs?
I think that a lot of initiatives have sprung up last year and it’s very heartening to see this. I myself am part of organisations like the Young Women’s Leadership Connection, Female Founders and all of that kind of stuff. There are these pockets of groups of women supporting other women. The thing is, for other women entrepreneurs, what needs to be done is they need to really go out and find these groups. It’s not as if there isn’t any help out there – there is. We’ve got to actively look for that support and things will look up.

Kudos to everyone who is fielding something like this. I think it is absolutely necessary in the entrepreneurial journey because no one really quite understands what it’s like and it changes to quickly. Having a mentor makes a big difference. Find your mentor. I think that’s very important.

A clay class in session

What’s your parenting style like?
When we start out, we’re just clueless about what to do. So we read, but reading so much is not that great. I came to a point where I’ve gotten a great foundation from what I’ve learnt. But it’s really looking at my child and seeing what he needs and acting on it. It’s really been being in communication with him, and Sara and myself being really open with him in that we say what we say. Our way of being really makes a difference in how he acts towards us and his peers, and how he socialises with others. We’re very particular about the type of words that we use and the way we say it, more so than anything else. I would say [my parenting style is] quite fluid.

How involved are you and your husband in your son’s life?
We are very involved. Right now, we don’t have a helper so we have to handle sending him and picking him up from school. We have stipulated times where we go out as a family, and I’m really thankful for the social support we have from my parents-in-law and my parents, who have come together to make it work.

How has parenthood changed you?
There’s been a lot of growth. I’m not the same person I was before I had Dronan. I guess I’ve become more patient, a little less self-centred, and more aware of my actions. He’s like a sponge and looking at everything I say and do. You’ve got a small being looking at you and absorbing everything and you’re like, “Oh no, I can’t make any mistakes!” But you know what? Life is about just experiencing it, going through the slip-ups and what’s really important is how you deal with the slip-ups. I guess that aspect of it I have learnt a lot.

What’s the hardest thing about being a mum?
The hardest thing is the expectations I have of myself. I think with many things in life, it’s that disparity between reality and expectations.

What advice do you have for fellow mum entrepreneurs?
Don’t give up! Hang in there and figure out the purpose in what you’re doing. Once you’re clear on your purpose, things can happen that you don’t really expect. You need to know for sure if this is something you want to do or not, and it’s not easy.

If you think entrepreneurship is a buzzword and the fun thing to do, no, actually it’s really, really hard work! There are many times when you feel really low to your rock bottom and there are times when you feel really high, and you’ve got to ride that. Add in the element of being mum and the fact that you’re looking upon as the person who manages everything else doesn’t make it any easier. Grow your village, find people who are going through it, and all of that kind of culminates to give you that foundation that will make you really great.

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