Ee Ling, co-founder and CEO of Smarter Me, took a leap of faith to pursue the startup route. She is using her life learnings to better prepare the next generation for the technology-charged future.
What’s your story?
I’m Ee Ling, co-founder and CEO of Smarter Me, an edtech company. Before this, I was an Investment Banker for almost a decade, clocking 100-hour work weeks working on transactions in South East Asia. I loved every bit of it – the intensity, challenges and endless learning.
When I became a VP, I started covering the technology, consumer and retail industries – and it struck me – how much technology could improve daily lives and solve real-life problems which we have always taken as the status quo. Specifically, I was more and more convinced of the vast potential of using technology to solve real-life parenting challenges.
So in 2016, I took a leap of faith and quit investment banking to pursue the startup route!
What excites you most about your industry?
For decades and centuries, education has remained largely unchanged. The subjects taught in our parents’ generation are the same as those being taught today to our children. Yes, some schools are adopting more technology – apps and hardware – than others, and Singapore was recently ranked as being at the forefront of preparing kids for jobs of the future. But there’s still a lot to evolve and change.
The majority of children still do not have the opportunity to learn coding, robotics, entrepreneurship and digital art – key “hard skills” for the fourth industrial revolution. Beyond that, what I’m super passionate about is helping kids understand their purpose and goal in life, to discover themselves. I’m so excited about the changes that can take place in education, it’s just dependent on how open we are to driving and embracing such changes.
What’s your connection to Asia?
Asia is home. I was born and bred in Malaysia, and moved to Singapore almost 7 years ago.
Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Singapore, without a doubt. The Government’s support for innovation and startups is immense, coupled with a strong infrastructure that makes almost everything possible. But if any opportunity presents itself, I would also try setting up a business in Hong Kong. It’s another melting pot of cultures and simply bustling with action.
What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
Run your own race. Most of us grew up working towards a future that was defined by our parents (who wanted only the best for us) and shaped by society around us – but what happens then is that we do it not for ourselves, but for the recognition and validation from others.
Now I ask myself, what race am I running? I should re-define what success means to
me, and let that be the guiding principle to all my actions. It doesn’t matter what naysayers say, as long as I hold true to myself.
Who inspires you?
It may sound like a cliché, but this goes to my husband and my kids. His ‘everything is possible’ mindset has pushed me to explore business directions and my own personal development far beyond my comfort zone. Before we started this entrepreneurship journey together, I had serious doubts about the success of working with one’s spouse. We were such opposites. But I’ve come to realise that he compliments me professionally, and challenges me to be the better version of myself.
My kids also inspire me. Parenting is tough! In order to be able to guide them, I find myself needing to grow more and develop myself further and that has motivated me to keep learning.
What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
I’ve recently discovered Mindvalley. There are so many teachings by global thought leaders there that have blown me away. I am inspired by these life educators including Vishen Lakhiani, Robin Sharma, Jon Butcher and so many more. They are able to inspire individuals and enact changes in mindsets and lifestyle, and to make individuals more in tune with themselves. These are the true changemakers and they have inspired me to embark on the journey of inspiring young children.
If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
Nothing. I believe everything happens for a reason at the right time, and I value the experience and knowledge that I have gained through my banking days.
If there’s just one thing, it would be that I would have taken up more personal mastery courses and kept growing myself. I was too busy being busy back then.
How do you unwind?
This one’s easy. I love reading a book in bed as my pre-bedtime routine.
Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
I would have to say Japan and Bali. To me, a good holiday is defined by the food I had – so Japan wins hands down in that aspect. But Bali is the epitome of relaxation, whether you choose to be hanging out on a cliff, by the beach, or in a paddy field, and coupled with the wide variety of quality food options – ranging from local Balinese food to hipster cafes. Bali also holds a special place in my heart as it’s where I got married!
Everyone in business should read this book:
I know quite a few have said this, but I have to go with ‘Start With Why’ by Simon Sinek. I think it’s vital to not just understand your ‘ikigai’, your “Why do I get up in the morning,” on a personal level, but also learning how to apply it to your business and communicate it to your employees and customers. It’s quite the game changer. (I’m still reading his new one – Leaders Eat Last). I also like Contagious: Why Things Catch On by Jonah Berger, which sheds light on what makes things go viral.
Shameless plug for your business:
Smarter Me was formed to inspire children to discover, grow and live their passion.
We believe that education for children can be more relevant and realistic, to better prepare them for the technology – charged future. We believe that education can be more meaningful when children understand who they are, what their purpose in life is, and why they learn what they learn. We believe in making quality education accessible to all children.
We believe that the children of today are not yet sufficiently exposed to the skillset which they need for the future, and so this year, we will be releasing a series of curated and holistic classes which not only equip children with key skills in coding, robotics and entrepreneurship, but more importantly, with core 21st century skills which will hopefully better prepare them for the future. Do check out our site if you are a parent!
This interview is part of the ‘Callum Connect’ series of more than 500 interviews
Callum Laing is an entrepreneur and investor based in Singapore. He has previously started, built and sold half a dozen businesses and is now a Partner at Unity-Group Private Equity and Co-Founder of The Marketing Group PLC. He is the author two best selling books ‘Progressive Partnerships’ and ‘Agglomerate’.