This month we have with us Ee Ling, CEO of Smarter Me, an education platform whose purpose is to inspire kids to discover, grow and live their passion. Read on to find out more about her journey from being a former investment banker to --- inspiring our next generation!
1. Tell us more about Smarter Me. What was the purpose behind the idea? What are you focusing on at the moment?
Smarter Me was launched in early 2017. Our purpose was, and still is, to inspire kids to discover, grow and live their passion. We started as an aggregator business, listing curated enrichment centres and instructors and enabling parents and kids to find the classes that best fits them.
What we discovered during the year was worrying - one, that parents wanted to, yet were unclear about what lessons were needed to prepare their kids for a successful future. Two, kids and teens were lost when it came to what they like, and what they are good at - two key points in finding your passion and purpose.
The world has changed and advanced so much, yet education has not kept up.
2. Tell us more about yourself. Did you major in the Commence? Did you use to hold a full-time job elsewhere?
I graduated from the University of Queensland, Australia with a Bachelor of Commerce degree, majoring in Finance. To be honest, it wasn't until Year 3 of my degree that I knew what I wanted to do as a career. I remember it clearly, our Corporate Finance professor had invited 2 investment bankers to share what life was like in IB. And I was sold.
I went on to spend 9 years as an Investment Banker - first in CIMB Investment Bank in Kuala Lumpur, before moving to Bank of America Merrill Lynch in Singapore. It was challenging - in a good but crazy way - and I loved every part of it. Well, almost.
3. What was the life-changing moment/story that made you do a switch to your current role? Or has it always been your childhood ambition?
It's funny, you know. While some people knew since young that they would one day want to start their own business, I've never wanted to be an entrepreneur. But what I always dreamt of was to set up an arts & craft-focused preschool upon retirement. It's probably a mixture of seeing my mum teach and the impact she had on her students, and my own experience in teaching kids on weekends when I was younger.
Back to the question of my switch - one reason I loved banking was the feeling that I was adding value to my clients, helping them solve problems. But I had reached a stage of life where I craved for more - to be able to make a real difference to people on an individual basis, not a big corporate.
4. What are the difficulties did you face when starting out?
Having been in corporate for almost a decade, it was hard to suddenly start with a blank sheet of paper and having to build everything from ground up. But what I remember missing the most at the start of my startup journey was having a team. Being part of a work family. Related to that, the toughest part of running a business for me is really finding the people to build it together with, understanding my own strengths and being able to find people who can complement me and believe in our mission.
5. How did you overcome those difficulties?
I used to have a mentality that as an entrepreneur, you need to put up a strong front, but I think being open to sharing my story and difficulties with as many people as possible helped. You never know where good advice may come from, or if one of your friends could refer their friend to you. My first few hires were referrals from friends, and they turned out great!
6. What is the greatest satisfaction you have gained from taking the plunge?
Every minute spent, every piece of work done, is for a reason. When I think about the past 1 year, my happiest memories revolve around the kids we've taught. For example, having kids tell us that our Discover Me camp was the best camp ever. I conducted a financial literacy workshop, and when a student's mum told me how she kept singing "earn, spend, save and donate" and proclaiming that she wanted to save up for a goal - that is validation that I had actually made an impact.
7. Will you go through the same process if you have a chance to decide again?
Yes. I believe I made these decisions based on what I went through in life so I wouldn't change a thing. Without banking, I may not have been exposed to tech companies and the startup world (I covered e-commerce when I was a VP in IB). Without getting married and having 2 kids, I wouldn't have seen how education needs a revamp, and how tech can be used to do so.
8. What advice would you give your younger self, if you get a chance to?
Find yourself earlier - self-awareness and self-acceptance will take you a long way. Pay more attention to what you really like to do, what you're really good at, and then double down on that. Be more deliberate and make a conscious effort to develop yourself personally.
9. Where do you see Smarter Me landing 3 to 5 years from now?
In 5 years, I hope to have expanded Smarter Me globally and impacted the lives of 10 million children and teens, by giving them the education that will prepare them for the future.
10. Last by not least, where can our readers out more about Smarter Me?
Smarter Me is an online school that equips children with the skillset, mindset and heartset to define their own success and achieve their own happiness in the future. We currently offer live online Mastery courses in Coding, Robotics, Entrepreneurship and Design Thinking to kids and teens ages 9 to 17.