We know our #TEAMBUSYWOMAN community members are strong advocates of supporting fellow women...and it is always amazing & inspiring when we hear of women doing great things, or being "superwomen" - handling multiple things AND actually thriving. With that being said, we can't leave out the other half of the world population in the women empowerment equation, can we?
Men are just as important in our quest for gender equality. Perhaps, even more so. Their ability to recognize and acknowledge that gender bias is an issue, and that all of us should be working to get rid of, is essential for any progress to be made.
In this interview, we speak to an accomplished couple - Roshni Mahtani and Darius Cheung, both highly acclaimed entrepreneurs living in Singapore. They are also doting parents to an adorable toddler - Shan. So be prepared to be inspired, cause we know we are!
What are you busy with?
A typical day for me is rushing between client and team meetings, calls with my teams across the 8 countries we’re present in, sneaking in as much quality time as I can with my family (or just bringing my daughter to the office!), and catching up on emails and industry news.
Darius ("D"): I’d say running 99.co plus raising our 1-year-old daughter takes up about 100% of my time.
What drives you? Where or what do you think shaped your entrepreneurial drive / gave you the confidence?
R: What drives me to this day is the reason I started Tickled Media in the first place. I think parenting is one of the easiest – yet under exploited – ways for us to improve the world that we live in. Parenting has such an enormous impact on the outcome of a person's life - better quality parenting leads to happier children who are more likely to reach their full potential. And it's a cliché, but children are our future - and if we can make sure that their parents give them the best head start in life, it'll make for a better world for all of us.
Long story short, I became an entrepreneur because I knew this had to be created, this dream had to come to fruition. 8 years later, I’m proud to say that we are now the largest parenting portal in South/East Asia, reaching over 10 million Asian mums monthly.
D: From nothing, my father built a successful printing company. Growing up exposed to its ins and outs, as well as being the frequent, sometimes unwilling, recipient of his business wisdom, I was put on the entrepreneurial path well before I knew it. Interning in Silicon Valley sealed the deal.
What it boils down to is that start-up life to me is irresistible. My drive comes from its draw. My confidence comes from my team. It’s an incredibly fulfilling career (though not for everyone) and there’s no other professional ecosystem I can imagine myself in.
Do you think women are subjected to many societal ideas on what a woman “should” be or what moms “should” do?
R: Gender issues and conversations manifest in very different ways across the globe, so it’s hard to generalize. This ranges from the basics like women still facing discriminatory treatment in access to health services and nutrition to the grave matters of sex trafficking and physical abuse to politics such as opportunity bias in the workplace.
In Singapore for example, despite closing education and basic labour gaps, it's clear that there's still a lot of work to be done to close the gender gap. Based on a report we did for Female Founders, Singaporean women are underrepresented in tech enabled startups and in the board room (compared to the US).
There’s still a glass ceiling for women in tech and entrepreneurship; and while that may take industry-wide efforts to shatter, what we can shatter individually is the notion that we can’t have it all. We absolutely can.
D: “Common sense is the collection of prejudices acquired by age eighteen.” – Albert Einstein. We all grow up in different circumstances, with varied influences that ultimately shape our world views. Gender perception is molded; and those ‘should’ and ‘shouldn’ts’ stem from collective thoughts.
Despite how much the world has progressed (and sometimes regresses), certain expectations – of both men and women, mothers and fathers, sons and daughters – persist. What I’d like to highlight, is precisely that they’re constructs. So break the mold. Think differently. Don’t let what other people think or what you yourself can’t help thinking, get in your way. Gender bias clouding anyone’s judgment is a self-imposed restriction.
Entrepreneurial journeys are fraught with obstacles, how have the both of you supported each other – were there things you had to “give”?
R: Thankfully Darius has been an amazing partner – by that I mean he’s both my worst critic and #1 fan. We’re both very focused on what we do, so another thing I’m thankful for is that neither of us has ever felt the need to ‘give way’. For us it’s really about support, not sacrifice. What’s had to ‘give’? Sleep. Lots and lots of it.
D: We’re both CEOs in the office, but at home, we’re partners. It’s not so much about ‘giving’ as it is figuring out how we can make things work. We sometimes find ourselves in seemingly impossible situations and have to get creative about our decision-making, but things always do work out.
What are some values that you upkeep in your relationship?
R: There are the core ones like honesty, trust, loyalty… but one value I’d like to point out is authenticity. Darius and I vowed to be always true to ourselves, letting each other be who we are – faults and all. You feel light as air when you can bare everything to your spouse. When you have nothing to hide you have so little to fear.
It sounds very abstract, but it has a lot of everyday implications. Not having to pretend means not having to hide how you feel, not having to put on a brave face when there’s something upsetting, being exhausted when you are, insanely giddy or disappointed when you are, removing all the masks you put on in the outside world. Being home with my husband is a breath of fresh air in this frenetic, complicated world.
D: Trust, honesty, respect.
What is it about Roshni that makes you proud to be the man beside her?
D: What doesn’t? She’s the strongest woman I know. Brilliant, tenacious. She’s the superhero. I’m the sidekick.
What is it about Darius that makes you proud to be the woman beside him?
R: Darius is extremely accomplished, yet he’s the easiest guy to be around. It’s rare to find that combination of incredibly sharp, relentlessly passionate, and so very humble. What more? He’s wickedly funny, a fantastic dad and a stellar husband, plus he cooks a mean crab bee hoon.
How did parenthood change you?
R: It feels like it has changed everything and nothing at the same time. There’s even more purpose to the things I do. The future generations I want to make the world a better place for now includes my daughter. And suddenly, I’m one of the mums our platforms speak to and I’m seeing all our content in a whole new light.
But also, I’m still pretty much the same person I’ve always been. Just more. More driven, more loving, abler. Motherhood is an added dimension that has been nano-injected into my being – awkwardly at first, but now it’s so much a part of me that it feels so natural to proudly call myself a mum.
D: I’ve been sleeping less, aching more, laughing way more, and have made more unnecessary purchases in the last year and a half than I have my whole life prior. As any father would tell you, it’s all worth it.
How do both of you split your parenting roles?
R: We’re both extremely busy people, in and out of meetings and business trips, so the ‘split’ is pretty dynamic – we just try to make as much time as we can for our daughter, alternating between roles of teacher, carer, disciplinarian, playmate, chaser (since she’s a toddler), and mentor (since I bring her to the office a lot).
D: Roshni has this huge capacity to love and to care, so definitely a lot of the nurturing comes from her. She’s also a master at logistics so she’s able to execute all the coordination that is required of child-rearing. I don’t know how she does it. I think she secretly hired a personal assistant for Shan.
All things said about stereotypes, I love playing the role of typical dad, which means half the time playing with my daughter – throwing her up in the air, chasing her around the house, reading to her – and the other, being stern and strict about implementing rules. Did we mention that she’s a toddler?
What is the biggest gift you can each give to each other & your kids?
R: We work so hard to be able to provide the best for our families: education, basic needs + luxuries, safeguards for the future. One thing not on this list but we are intent on instilling in our daughter is an awareness that she’s not just living her life for herself, she’s part of a world solution.
We are fortunate enough to be in a position to do something about the things we see wrong in the world, or just the small ways we could make it the least bit better. I don’t know what my daughter will grow up to become, but one thing she should be is willing to challenge the status quo and be able to do what is necessary to make things better, if not right.
D: Trust, honesty, respect. Plus she’s got 2x the entrepreneurial gene so I think she’s got a real head start.
Any advice for other partners who have aspiring women entrepreneurs in their lives?
D: I’ve recently been reminded that being a good father means being a good partner first. Take your supporting role seriously throughout the planning and birthing process of the business, which in many ways is a baby. Failure, stress, long hours come with the job, so be prepared. Always be honest when she asks for advice or feedback. Celebrate wins – big or small.
Any relationship / family advice to aspiring women entrepreneurs?
R: Whether male or female, my advice to entrepreneurs would be the same: Don’t give up. Resilience is the one trait that matters beyond all others in entrepreneurship. Failures are inevitable in this journey, but what separates the ones who succeed from the herd is just that they never gave up.
Also, set up a company only, and only, if you’re prepared to be in it for the long haul. You need to be able to see yourself committing at least the next 7-10 years of your life. Plot that out vs. your life plan and the many roles you play to many entities/people. Don’t just be ready, be prepared.
Finally, get a really good mentor and support network. You may have the best idea or business plan around; but it takes a village to raise a child, and the same is true for launching your ‘baby’.
We all speak of change and making the world a better place, but change actually begins with us, and whatever little steps we can take.
You have the power to uplift women entrepreneurs, and/or support businesses that empower women! Here are 7 simple ways to do so.
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Roshni Mahtani is the Founder and CEO of Tickled Media, the publisher of theAsianparent.com / theIndusparent.com and creator of ParentTown, a mobile-first platform for mums and dads. Collectively, Tickled Media reaches over 10 million parents monthly.
Roshni has over 10 years of media and marketing experience across the US and Asia Pacific. As a mentor at the Crib and JFDI, she is also actively involved in the startup community. In 2012, she founded the Female Founders Network, a group of over 300 female founders. She also sits on the board of TIE Singapore and is the executive producer of Untouchables: Children of God, a film about child trafficking and abuse in Nepal.
Darius Cheung is the founder of tenCube, a mobile security startup acquired by McAfee in 2010, and 99.co, a fast-growing Singapore property portal, of which he is currently the CEO.
He has been awarded the Singapore Youth Award and BusinessWeek’s Best Young Entrepreneurs in Asia.
Darius is an angel investor in start-ups both in Singapore and overseas. He is also an Entrepreneur-in-Residence at INSEAD.