Necessity, the mother of invention

“After my first child was born, I realized quickly that nobody prepares you for motherhood. They may prepare you for how to become a mother, but not after that,” Ekta Tejwani, founder of the startup MUMZ, which provides a community app and web portal for mothers, says. In 2013, Ekta had moved to Hong Kong after getting married, and besides being in an unfamiliar land, she was also going through an experience totally unfamiliar to her.

“When you are pregnant, they line up more than 20 appointments for you, all the way to delivery,” she continues. “But only one appointment at six weeks after giving birth — the doctor does some checks, asks you a few questions and you’re good to go.”

The blues of giving birth

Ekta is hopeful that her platform, MUMZ, will be able to create awareness to a far too common issue that new mothers face — postpartum depression — a complex mix of physical, emotional, and behavioural changes that happen soon after giving birth. Postpartum depression varies in severity and need for clinical support and there are six types in general, from postpartum blues at its mildest form to postpartum psychosis at its most severe.

Some studies have estimated that as many as eight in 10 of new mothers will suffer from some type of postpartum depression. Compound this with being in a land away from ‘home’ and not having the support of your extended family, it can be a bewildering experience that can deteriorate, especially if left unchecked.

Ekta herself grew up in India in a large extended family, with no lack for doting uncles and aunts, as well as 33 cousins in total to play with. “It was a time when we grew up sharing food, being fed by multiple hands and always having that warm, fuzzy feeling throughout,” she recollects. “And birthdays were always about family, coming together and celebrating festivals together.”

“Life was good, and we were always looking to the next day without seeing the struggles that your own mom was going through,” she adds.

Conception of a community

As Ekta struggled through her postpartum blues after the birth of her first child, she realized that there were other expatriate mothers in Hong Kong who would be in a similar situation to her. In June 2018, Ekta decided to turn her problems on its head and started a Facebook community for mothers to connect with each other. Within two months, the group had reached 100 members, providing a ‘proof of concept’ of sorts for the movement she had initiated. Capitalizing on this momentum, Ekta started organizing events and talking to businesses. She found support quickly — within 6 months of launching on Facebook, she had already organized 20 events, and had inked 10 partnerships with businesses. During this time, she had also given birth to her second child.

Buoyed by the strong interest, Ekta launched a crowdfunding effort at the turn of the year, with a modest target of US$ 3,500. She surpassed the target within just two months. The money raised was used to support some developmental features — the listing of brands and businesses on the platform. MUMZ also organized its first pop-up bazaar in March 2019, with 18 vendors participating. In that same month, a beta version of a mobile application was launched, for both the iOS and Android operating systems.

By October 2019, MUMZ had organized 100 events and was collaborating with as many as 45 different business partners. Over the course of the following year, MUMZ broadened its value proposition progressively, through the launch of ‘Mum Talks’ a web series, the Launch of ‘Who Am I’ in celebration of mothers and a broadening of the app’s features.

Mumz today has 3,000 cross-platform members across Hong Kong, Singapore, and India, all of whom were acquired without any paid marketing. MUMZ was born out of a real necessity, Ekta emphasizes. She says: “Upon becoming a mom, you realize the exponential learning curve ahead of you, medically, financially, socially, psychologically and emotionally. You need to start figuring out things on your own, at your own pace, at your own time, often with a crying baby behind you. It can be quite overwhelming.”

A lifelong responsibility

And a mom’s job is never ending, she adds. She says: “As time passes by, you figure things out, you see your child growing day by day. When your child starts becoming responsive around eight months, you start having proper conversations with it, and you see them moving, you think about their motor skills development.”

“And they grow up some more and you suddenly realize that you have to find friends for them, because mom alone is not enough. You need to think about their social skills development. And this continues. It doesn’t matter how old your child is, my mother to this day is always thinking about me. And even if you are lucky to have a supportive partner, the onus to figure out things, in most cases, is primarily on the mum.”

Things would have been easier if she was bringing up her family back home in India, Ekta believes. “You would then be surrounded by family and friends you grew up with, whereas in Hong Kong you have limited friends and limited exposure to like-minded mothers in the same space. That is when you realize there is a need to venture out and find friends who are like-minded to you.”

United in motherhood

However, once she started reaching out to the like-minded in Hong Kong, she realized that the city has its own unique charms. She elaborates: “The multi-cultural and multinational diversity in Hong Kong is great and everyone wanted to just come out and welcome each other with open arms because we were all mothers. And every year we would hold celebrations and festivals together.”

Beyond providing access to other mothers in an area, MUMZ also provides access to subject matter experts who can provide counsel on specific areas, through topic-based communities. There is also a chat function to get real-time help from an expert or support from another mother.

“It is just a matter of extending your hand and asking for help. MUMZ is making that easy,” Ekta says.

However, with so much information available on the Internet these days, why would anyone need a knowledge platform like MUMZ? Ekta answers: “Yes there is a lot of information, but what you need is verified information. And with paucity of time and resources to sift out unwanted or uncredible information, having an expert in the community is important.”

Work aspirations

For many women who become mothers, their career or entrepreneurial aspirations take a back seat. This itself can be a cause of depression. Ekta is living example that this is not necessarily so. And she is through her platform, attempting to change mindsets and provide avenues for self-fulfilment.

To motivate would-be mumpreneurs, Ekta started a section called ‘Who is She?’, a section that profiles inspiring stories of mothers who found the time and energy, amidst their motherly duties, to pursue their passion projects or business ideas. There are currently 60 such stories and by March 2022, Ekta hopes to have 100 stories on the platform.

To provide a business avenue for mothers, Ekta also recently launched MUMZ shop, an e-commerce facility for brands to market their products to mothers in the community. It is also an avenue for mothers in the community to create solutions and services for their fellow members. The platform to date has generated HKD500,000 for participating brands.

In 2022, MUMZ will also be launching its pregnancy self-care kits for mothers, something that Ekta hopes will further develop the e-commerce proposition and support awareness building and expansion across the region.

Security in every sense

While MUMZ is all about giving a sense of security to new mothers, there was another dimension to security that the platform needed to provide — protecting the personal information of members of the community. This is a key technical priority to Ekta. “Coming from an IT background, I understand the nuances of how data needs to be protected,” Ekta says.

“Whether it is the payments data or whether it is the personal information relating to the mother or their children, trust is a core priority to us that we cannot compromise,” she adds. “The platform complies with all the key authentication standards required.”

And MUMZ is focused on fortifying its protection for its members even further: “We are currently creating a stricter policy and upgrading our systems and algorithms to disable accounts that don’t match some of our key criteria, to avoid spammers and irrelevant users. Being a mother myself, it is key for me to ensure that my community is safe.

MUMZ is also currently engaged in basic data analytics and trying to understand customer behaviours, through polls and mapping them against region, age, number of kids and other parameters, to get a good insight on the demographics of its members. “There is so much more that can be done,” she adds. “I am keen to build a research-based AI feature for mothers that provides real-time support for the community. But one step at a time.”

Ekta’s third child

So where does Ekta intend to bring her creation?

Just like how a mother’s job is never done with her child, Ekta feels that the scope for her startup is unlimited. “It’s more about how you overcome the challenges,” she says. “We are looking at further fundraising, to create more technologies to offer more services and to enhance the experience itself.

She passionately believes that “no mother should have to do it alone, to be left figuring out things on her own. “No matter where she is, where she belongs, what nationality she is, what language she speaks, what her experiences are, there should always be an ecosystem to support her and to help her embrace her motherhood with confidence,” she envisions.

In view of this, the platform can in fact be made available in any country “at the click of a button,” she says. However, before she can do this, there are the challenges of operations, marketing, and awareness building at a country-to- country level that need to be overcome.

Ekta reminisces about her own mother at times. She says: “It’s a cliché thing that mothers are superwomen, juggling 10 different things, standing on one leg while being tugged by a toddler. So, imagine the core strength that a mother needs to still be standing with her head high amidst all these challenges. It’s not easy. I guess you never fully appreciate the value of a mother until you yourself become one.”

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