Changing the world begins with bettering the self…
I recently celebrated my 26th birthday. On the morning of my birthday (which was a Sunday), I had to wake up especially early to work — giving out bottles of cold brew to the runners of the Run for Good Coffee Run. It was a lovely morning; good weather, nice vibes, and leftover bottles of cold brews gave me the opportunity to give them out to the vendors of the Farmer’s Market, as well as the masseurs from the Singapore Association for the Visually Handicapped (SAVH). Days before the Coffee Run, I had to arrive at the café hours before operations begin to grind my coffee and steep the cold brew and then stay a little bit longer to filter out the coffee grounds each evening. Living in Tampines and having the café at NUS University Town doesn’t help as I spend 3 hours daily on commute. It can be frustrating if the trains fail that day.
At the Run for Good Coffee Run held on a Sunday morning! Selling reusable wares along with our cold brews!
In an interview for a student project, I was asked, “how do you have work-life balance, if you have it at all?” I took a deep breath and chuckled, took a pause and think. The simple answer is that there is no work-life balance; the not-so-simple answer is that my work is an extension of my life, and therefore there isn’t a clear distinction between work and life, and as a result there isn’t a work-life balance. Whatever I’m doing in Foreword Coffee (henceforth, “Foreword”) is an extension of my beliefs and values and commitment to create something out of nothing, to fill in a gap I perceive, and hopefully to do something meaningful in a sustainable manner.
The past two months have been a whirlwind at Foreword. One of the major event is having my co-founder leave the company. It was an amicable parting and I wish him the best in his endeavors. I’m glad he continued to spearhead projects for the company to the last day of his work with us. Without my co-founder back then, I probably wouldn’t have started Foreword. Through the months, I have gained the confidence to run the company and it has gained momentum and lots of traction; there’s definitely no turning back. This is a major learning point for me in this journey thus far and I encourage every entrepreneur-wannabe to do your due diligence before your company’s incorporation.
Foreword has gained loyal supporters and one of them is my current full-time barista. I really appreciate him for his commitment, generosity, and patience towards Foreword and me. Just two weeks after he joined us as a full-timer, we welcomed a part-time trainee into our team. I’m working on a three-men employment team consisting of a Deaf person, an intellectually disabled / autistic, and an able-bodied person. Our current team is as such and I’m validating how this model can be replicated and scaled.
Serving coffee to support a student project to raise awareness on eating disorders.
At the same time, to learn how to work with persons of different abilities, Foreword has also accepted two students from a local SPED (special education) school to do their work attachment with us, every Monday and Tuesday morning. It can be trying at times because I’m filling in the shoes of a job coach, teacher and manager at the front-end, while managing HR, proposals for projects, coffee roasting schedules, and everything else that is needed at the back-end.
Things which are simple for us can be difficult for some people. For example, pouring milk from its bottle to the pitcher while monitoring the weighing scale for accuracy can be a difficult task because it involves coordinating motor skills and being attentive to the reading on the scale. The student can practise this the whole morning and get nowhere, and we experiment different ways of teaching.
Times at the café can be trying. Our trainee wants to learn how to froth milk and draw latte art, but we need him to start with housekeeping and other mundane stuffs which he may not be as interested and therefore do it half-heartedly. Behaviour checklists are in place and we use reinforcement techniques to encourage good behaviours.
STOP AT 240g! How hard can that be?
But there are silver linings.
Last week, the student from the SPED school left the café after a distressing training session of pouring water into milk jugs as practice. She was teary in her eyes halfway through training. Today, her first pour with the actual milk bottle was within the desired range we have been trying to get her to achieve! The student understood that actual milk is precious and she paid extra attention and care to it.
In a recent networking session during NUS Enterprise’s event, a person I just met reminded us to keep the emotional part of our social mission and not turn it into a marketing tool (she’s speaking as a marketing consultant herself). Navigating between business and social is tough, and I’m also exposing myself to the perspectives of thought leaders in the disability sphere to form my own perspectives. Sharing an excerpt from my personal Facebook post,
When in doubt, just think, “how would I feel if I were in XXX’s shoes?” If I were to use my people as a marketing tool to get business, how would they feel? Even though these projects could help raise awareness for the social mission (e.g. I’ve been asked for my “beneficiaries” to conduct workshop) it should never be done at the expense of the people who work with you.
With each passing day, I question my values and reflect on how they influence the way I run the company and how I interact with my team. Despite the challenges faced both internally and externally, there has been zero notion of giving up yet. This is an ever-changing learning journey not for the faint-hearted, and as long as we are creating real value, we will trudge on.
My idea of work-life balance: making time for people who matter, and enjoying my favourite foods when I feel like it :)