I was only 27 when I became the youngest and only woman to sit on the Board of Directors as a Performance Executive. It took 4 years of dedication and hard graft to get there, and I could no longer set my sights any higher, I’d reached the top. My ambitious nature led me to a cross roads. Do I jump ship and look for a new role? Or was this my chance, the right time to chase my childhood dream of running my own business? I went with my gut.
After 10 years my childhood sweetheart finally proposed to me, and visions of my big day swamped my mind. Although I’m Chinese, I have lived, studied and worked in the UK my entire adult life, which left me with a catch-22. I wanted the romantic English white wedding in my Finance’s village, but I also wanted to follow tradition and have a Chinese Wedding. I had to make a decision, and as my friends back home weren’t able to make it to my white wedding, my mind was made up, I’d have both!!
With marriage thrown into the mix, my attention turned towards our future, and family. Although I am very ‘career driven’, I also believe that no matter how successful I became, it would all amount to nothing if I didn’t have a family to share it with. My mind became overwhelmed with broody thoughts and my entrepreneurial dream; it soon led me to have a ‘light-bulb’ moment! I could combine both my dream of running my own business, and starting a family – the outcome was MaByLand, my very own baby brand was born.
Everything seemed to be happening at once, and I had an unbelievable amount to organise and plan. I’d return home from a long day at work in the city, sit back down, and continue my research into the baby industry. I’d work late into the night designing, and on top of all of this I was planning two weddings! Every moment I had, I squeezed. If I wasn’t ringing the florist or tracking down a photographer then I was talking to manufacturers, or deciding on fabrics. I spent my weekends driving to and from London and Leicestershire, planning my church wedding, and I used my holiday leave to travel to Hong Kong and meet my manufacturers and organise my Chinese wedding.
I married in December 2007, twice! My weddings were only one week apart, including my honeymoon, the celebrations lasted a month! I returned to work on a high, I handed in my notice which was my first real step towards my dream.
My husband works as a doctor, and explained how it can take between 6 months to a year to fall pregnant, so we starting trying. On the morning after my leaving party I discovered the good news! We couldn’t believe it! We were going to be parents and we couldn’t be happier. But this left me worried if I had made the right decision to leave my job, but I couldn’t lose my nerve now.
Now I had a baby on the way I needed to get the business up and running, so with the help of my husband, the website mabyland.com went live ahead of time in late August 2008, slowly but surely I started getting regular orders. My 1st baby girl, Siobhan was born on the 1st of December 2008, immediately the business took a hit. She became my everything, I was a first time mum and had so much to learn. I’d spend my days doting on her, striving to be the best mum possible. I breastfed her, so I felt I couldn’t actively arrange business meetings or visit retailers with a baby on my hip, so I waited until she started weaning.
Summer 2009, On my first venture out of the house without my daughter, I made my first sale to a local retailer, which reminded me that I was sitting on great products, and I was ready to get down to business. I started up a ‘mummy focus group’ to discuss ideas for my new product range. After a few months everything fell back into place, and I soon fell pregnant again in September 2009.
Before I was pregnant I had pre-booked to exhibit at the largest baby shows in the UK! So at 5 months pregnant I exhibited, our tiny stand was swamped, I didn’t even have time for a loo break! I had to continuously waddle to and from the storage area to stock up. Although these shows took a lot out of me, they gave me a buzz, and the reassured me that I had designed things that other parents love too! I also worked through my shy nature and attended the UK’s largest trade show on my own where I couldn’t join in with after show social events as I was 6 months pregnant at this point!
I didn’t want the business to fall behind again, so I decided to hire someone to help, and found myself an office on a quaint little street in Wimbledon half an hour walk from my home. I kept Siobhan away from the office by taking her to playgroups whilst the renovation work was going on, I had so much on my plate at the time that I didn’t realise until 2 days later that I had been contracting! My baby boy Brannon was born in June 2010.
It was a big part of my dream to have both of my little ones with me in the office; I wanted the freedom and flexibility that most working parents don’t have. They had their own little play area set up, so I wouldn’t miss a moment of them growing up. However I soon realised that this was a farfetched fantasy of mine. Running a business, controlling a toddler and looking after a new born became too much, and the most difficult 6 months followed.
My two little ones set each other off crying, both wanted my undivided attention, it was difficult for Siobhan to adjust to the new office environment, she became protective of it, and she’d wail if a customer came in to browse and touched ‘her’ things! My son wasn’t sleeping through the night, the initial first few months I had expected this, but I never imagined his sleepless nights to continue on for 6 long months.
Brannon was only 3 months old when we journeyed together on our first business trip abroad to Germany where we were exhibiting at the largest European Baby Trade Show. It was a surreal experience; I’d breastfeed behind a poster and during business meetings, we worked long days and late nights which took its toll on both me and my son.
I was still running on very little sleep, as Brannon’s feeding and sleeping pattern was no different form a newborn’s. I worked into the early morning, get a couple hours of sleep, ran my business in the day, and took care of my babies in the office. I began to suffer severely from stress related illnesses, painful ulcers for which one needs over the counter metronidazole to treat, terrible mood swings, and I longed for my own mother who was thousands of miles away in Hong Kong – all of which built up and caused me to break down, leaving my feeling like a terrible mother.
I soon had a break from work, and travelled to Hong Kong to show off my little family to all my friends and relatives. After receiving so many compliments about my little ones, and how great I was coping, I soon regained my confidence, and put together a plan as things had to change.
New Year’s Day 2011 I decided to try control crying as I hadn’t had an uninterrupted night’s sleep for over 6 months and I was utterly exhausted. I was apprehensive of control crying and it was difficult, but it miraculously worked, and within 3 days my son was sleeping through the night. I decided that 2 year old Siobhan was now old enough to go to nursery; she was like a little sponge that soaked up anything new to her, she loves nursery, making new friends and learning new songs! As for Brannon I still bring him to the office with me; he loves crawling around and little messes behind! I am now able to focus my attention on my 3rd baby, MaByLand. It is finally beginning to take off, and I am more than excited about what the future will hold!
I believe all parents have built up a thick skin; they will have already achieved things they thought were never possible! I wish to encourage mums and dads alike to follow their hearts, and go with their gut; there will be highs and lows but it will all be worth it when they look back with no regrets.