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Serial entrepreneur Ruth Ng-Qiu and her son.

Keeping the hustle real

Mother, teacher, and businesswoman. Ruth Ng-Qiu revels in the hustle for things that are meaningful for her.

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Flower bouquets have traditionally been seen as expensive and  romantic gestures to be whipped out during Valentines’ Day. Then came along Ruth Ng-Qiu, one of the pioneering florists who introduced the concept of flowers in a box, making bouquets more accessible for everyday occasions. She is also a mother, a pawrent, a fosterer and a published author looking to raise funds for Child@Street 11. She has worn multiple hats in her 36 years, starting out as a teacher before going on to start businesses in vastly different fields. The hustle is real but is worth it for things that are “meaningful” she says. 

We caught up with Ruth to find out how she makes the 24 hours we have in a day work doubly hard for her. 

Who is Ruth Ng-Qiu? 

I’m constantly evolving so it's hard to define my roles. I’m really a mish-mash of everything, wearing different hats depending on what the situation calls for. Sometimes, I feel like a magician, always ready with a bag of tricks to entertain and perform for my audience. In essence, I’m just somebody trying to navigate this world and am a work in progress.

In this current season in my life, being a mom is my greatest role. I try to centre most of my plans around my son but I don’t limit myself to just being a mom. Being a mom has pushed me to pursue things beyond my comfort zone and taught me that I can achieve way more than I could ever imagine. I also make an effort to put time aside to pursue my own interests and growth, and hope to be a role model for my son to adopt this continuous learning mindset.

Ruth Ng-Qiu and her family. Her hope is to be a role model for her son and that he will adopt a mindset of continuous learning. (Photo: Ruth Ng-Qiu)

How did you get bitten by the entrepreneurial bug? 

My dad started his own business when he was in his twenties and my mom said when I was younger, I would set up a booth in their office and try to sell snacks and my old stuffed toys to whoever was around. I’m not sure if that counts!

Fast forward to adulthood, I was a teacher for six years. After having my own child, I wanted to spend more time with him. The initial plan was to stay home and give private tuition on the side but I ended up co-founding my first business, an online flower shop that offers one design a day at S$35 with free delivery. Flowers in a box was a new concept and people loved that flowers could be affordable and easily accessible for everyday occasions. Customers could simply order online and get it delivered the same day. In fact, the idea was so well-received that many other florists started to offer similar products too!

One of my biggest takeaways is that we are in the business of people. When I was teaching, I’d put myself in the students’ shoes as I planned my lessons - would I be bored if I listened to myself teach? What would engage me? What kind of teacher would I enjoy learning from? I reverse engineered the process to ensure I achieved my lesson objectives while still incorporating fun elements in class.

Likewise for my first business: how do we make the experience enjoyable for the customer? They come to us because we offer convenience and the promise of delivering a surprise at a certain price without compromising on quality. At the same time, it was also important for my team to feel valued as individuals. That was crucial to build a strong team aligned with our mission. 

At the end of the day, human connection is the core of what makes life meaningful and purposeful. 

What are you working on now? 

2023 has been a pivotal year - my dad passed on suddenly from a heart attack in January, I bid goodbye to my flower business in June, started fostering a three-month old in August and my husband was finally awarded his PhD after four gruelling years in September.

It has been quite an eventful ride and I’m in a kind of transition now. There are a few things going on - I’m setting up my second business, getting a children’s book published, volunteering on a board of charity and trying to keep my son alive while caring for an infant. It’s been fun and I feel happy hustling for the things which are meaningful to me.

There are two questions I ask myself everyday:  “If I die today, what would I regret?” and “How would I live differently?” It sounds morbid but I find it gives me clarity and purpose in life. I try not to get caught up in the small things and to focus on what is important. Perhaps it’s because I’ve lost loved ones in recent years so I’m more cognisant of the way I live. The last thing I want to do is to live with regrets and so I consciously make an effort to live life meaningfully. 

Asking myself these questions daily has helped me to live life with purpose and meaning. I am venturing into furniture because an opportunity presented itself and I decided to grab at it. It’s a leap of faith but never try, never know!

Interestingly, I’m often encouraged by Rosy, the little rabbit in the children’s book I wrote. She left her comfort zone to seek her purpose in life, met obstacles along the way and overcame all odds to emerge victorious. Along the way, she realises that life is a continuous journey and adventure is always out there so we should make the best of things and not live with regrets!

I’ve also always wanted to foster because I love children. If you ask me what I would regret on my deathbed, it would be not having more children. But instead of focusing on what I lack, I had a change in perspective and started thinking about what I can offer instead and how I can contribute to make this world a better place. The answer always brings me back to children because they are so full of unfulfilled potential. I believe in nurturing and investing in them as they will be the next generation of change-makers.

In light of this, all proceeds from the sale of my children’s book will be donated to Child@Street11, a charity which provides education and after-school care for children whose parents cannot afford to send them to school otherwise. Having access to quality education will allow these children to have more opportunities in life.

Ruth Ng-Qiu believes in nurturing and investing in children as they are the next generation of change-makers. (Photo: Ruth Ng-Qiu)

Have your decisions made a significant impact on your life financially?

The decision to live life meaningfully and without regrets has allowed me to view money as an enabler and not an end goal. Money cannot buy health or time. It also helps that I can live on very little so I know I can survive through hard times!

When we emptied our savings accounts to buy our first house, I joked that I would have to eat bread and drink water everyday. Then, I had the mindset to reduce costs and limit spending when we have little. But I learned that the more ideal way is to think of how to earn more with the little you have. That was a paradigm shift.

For the businesses I started, we funded it with savings. This ensured that we kept operations as lean as possible and avoided biting off more than we could chew. We put in amounts we were comfortable with (fully aware that there was a possibility we wouldn’t get the investment back). We would then expand with the little we have and gradually scale up the business.

Our family also tries to practise minimalism and we generally are not too attached to material goods. I keep my dressing simple, and replace my clothes and shoes when they wear out. My husband’s wardrobe is also limited to black tees and a few pants. Over time, I have learned that this style of living is very efficient and life becomes less cluttered and we can focus on investing in things that make a difference.

We like to spend on books so if there is one thing we have a lot of at home, it's books. We value intangible things like experiences so we spend on travel, family, friends and giving back to the underprivileged. After all, if I die today, all the money would just be in the bank so a question I ask myself is: What experience/person is worth investing in today? This is not an excuse to spend excessively or self-indulge but a reminder to put things in perspective.

It’s also important to be adaptable and flexible. If all things fail, based on my background I can go back to teaching or be a florist. As long as I’m still able-bodied, I can do anything and as long as I’m open to learning, I won’t go hungry.

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