Her adorable felt creations featuring local culinary delights first caught our attention on Instagram. After all, masak-masak (playing pretend cooking) has got to be every little girl’s favourite game to play. So when we found out that a mummy was behind the beautiful felt food creations we were eyeing, we were absolutely delighted. And of course, we knew that we had to hunt her down for a chat to find out more about her fascinating business.
In this story, we interview Lianne Ong, the owner of Heartfelt Makan and Singapore mumpreneur, who shares about her vision behind her business, how she manages to juggle it all and her plans for Heartfelt Makan.
Mummyfique: Can you share about the catalyst behind Heartfelt Makan?
A lot of food for pretend play does not feature Asian foods. For children in Singapore, it just seemed very odd that they were not playing with foods they were actually eating. I felt that that this was a niche we could fill. Hence, I started the business with my mother, Janet, in early 2016, taking orders from friends before we launched our e-store in November.
Creating play food out of felt also offers a level of detail and texture that plastic and wooden food don’t. A slice of felt bread for instance, is much more realistic than wooden or plastic bread. Our focus is on Asian/Singaporean felt food items and we hope we are doing our part in preserving our food heritage.
Do you have a favourite product from Heartfelt Makan?
The 4-in-1 Soup Kit, which includes four types of soup with pork ribs as the key ingredient. It’s the most labour-intensive product we have, but we feel that this menu item really resonates with what many Singaporeans think of as comfort food. Every family cooks soup slightly differently. And for mothers, it’s a great way to teach your kids what your family’s method is!
What was it like when you first started your business?
It was slow initially as many people tend to be practical when it comes to buying toys for children. But there is a growing number of people who appreciate our craft and we even have some adult fans who buy our products for display!
Even now, we are still learning and trying to make our products better. We are trying to improve the sewing techniques we use and are sourcing for the right felt so that the final product looks realistic. We are also still fine-tuning our packaging.
How do you manage to juggle your business and other responsibilities?
I run another business, Pinwheel Jewels, and am also a children’s book author, so things can get quite hectic. I work from home and try to work around my kids’ schedules, stealing pockets of time here and there. I try to be really efficient, and technology has helped a great deal in this respect.
For example, I reply to emails on my phone while waiting to pick up my kids. I am heavily reliant on my iPhone and will write multiple task lists so that I can keep tabs on everything. I do occasionally let the ball drop — like when I double book my kids or myself! My mum, who helps me with babysitting my kids a few times week, spends her free time sewing. Somehow we make it work!
What’s it like being a mum and an entrepreneur at the same time?
Being a mum has actually helped me understand my business better, given that our end customers are mostly children. For example, I know when sales will dip and when it will rise, according to the school calendar and what is happening that week. I know a lot of mothers in my circle, due to the phase of life I’m in, and because of my other work outside of Heartfelt Makan. They give me a lot of encouragement and feedback about the products.
Other mumpreneurs are also very supportive and it’s helpful to be able to commiserate and exchange information with them.
What are some misconceptions people have about you being a mumpreneur?
A lot of friends think it is amazing that I can do this, and that it must be easy or that things are smooth sailing just because my work gets mentioned in the press. But a lot of it is hard work, and many times I wonder if it is worth all the trouble.
I started off as a full time stay-at-home-mum and have had two stints as a trailing spouse overseas, both of which made me yearn to do something creative, and related to my home. I’m just happy to be doing things now that I think are meaningful to my family, my customers and for Singapore.
If you could start again, would there be anything that you would change?
I don’t think I would change anything. I have learnt from everything that has happened, whether good or bad. My Christian faith has helped me to change my perspective about the good or bad things that happen to me or to the business.
That said, I wish I had known that there are some aspects of running a business that I would really dislike. However, when I see our products bringing delight and joy to children and even adults, that makes me want to keep creating and expanding our menu.
What do you think are three things you need to make it as a mumpreneur in Singapore?
2) A spirit of excellence — to always strive for a high standard of work in every aspect of the business.
3) Problem solving skills — things sometimes don’t turn out exactly as you want!
Any advice for other mums who are looking to start their own business?
Do what you love. Your business must reflect your values.
What can we expect from Heartfelt Makan in the year ahead?
We are trying to come up with more hawker fare. That’s all I can share for now.
Want to read more stories other mumpreneurs? Click here.