‘It’s a waste not to become an entrepreneur in Singapore’: Rilla Melati Bahri of Mini Monsters

Mini Monsters started off in 2008 as the Education Outreach arm of award-winning Dua M Pte Ltd. The company aims to revise an interest in the Malay language by offering an interesting and fun approach to the teaching of the language.

Its motto “Berhibur and Belajar” (Entertain and Educate) sums up the company’s philosophy in its approach of developing educational materials, courses and syllabus that are relevant to today’s generation of children. We interviewed Rilla Melati Bahri, Director of Content  Development and Co-founder of Mini Monsters. 

We’ve heard of stories of successful entrepreneurs playing dual roles in juggling personal and working life. While it’s common to hear of women doing that, Rilla seems to excel in it.

By day, Rilla actively plays the role of content creator for Mini Monsters. In the afternoons, she’d be busy running off for a shoot for her social issues talk show, “Rudy and Rilla” which has gotten her top spot in Mediacorp for 6 seasons in a row since it was first aired. While she admits being a single mom is a 24/7 full time job, Rilla is on top of her game and certainly at her finest.

Last November, she shared her story in social movement The Best of You, a platform that seeks to reinforce the spirit of appreciation and encourages people to reflect upon their experiences, challenge stereotypes and break down barriers between communities.

We managed to steal some time with media personality and entrepreneur Rilla Melati Bahri to talk about her journey donning multiple hats – and some insider tips to stay relevant in this industry.

Q: What have you been up to recently? I heard you were involved with The Best of You 2016. How was it like sharing your story?

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A: I shared my story about making the decision to walk out of my marriage and taking on the role of a single mother when my son was only 10 months old. It was a sharing of how I survived that journey, what inspired me and who supported me along the way for me to eventually give my best for myself and my company Mini Monsters Ltd.

Sharing that story was therapeutic. I actually wrote something similar for a Malay magazine some years back but with The Best of You, I realised that I’ve managed to revisit my younger self without questioning but rather, am more thankful and feel truly blessed at how much I’ve done and how far I’ve grown

I will be launching two new books in June this year. One is a Malay picture book of monsters that was inspired by my involvement with the Gardens by the Bay Writer’s Residency programme and the other is a bilingual English-Indonesian picture book that was commissioned by the National Book Development Council of Singapore (NBDCS) since the country of focus for this year’s Asian Festival of Children’s Content (AFCC) is Indonesia. I am so thrilled and excited as I am humbled. There is no better time to promote the learning of the Malay language than now.

Q: What were you doing before you started Mini Monsters?

A: When I first graduated I became an Education Officer in a polytechnic and then an Education Executive with a museum. I had about 5 years of corporate experience before deciding to venture out on my own. Mini Monsters Ltd is an educational company that combines entertainment and education.

It does Malay language and bilingual English/Malay enrichment programmes in schools in Singapore using original, customised materials and books that are developed and created specifically for the children of this generation. We also publish storybooks for children by local authors and develop creative content for television.

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What this means to a business environment – that we as business people must be ready to be flexible and understanding. Even when people don’t want to change, circumstances do.

Q: How do you think the essence of ‘The Best of You’ is important in a business environment?

A: At the centre of it all, people need appreciation, motivation and encouragement – no matter how much they’ve achieved in life. We are all humans. We will feel dejected and depressed from time to time. So what The Best of You is doing is good. It highlights the extraordinary in the ordinary. What this means to a business environment – that we as business people must be ready to be flexible and understanding. Even when people don’t want to change, circumstances do. So businesses must always be ready to innovate and move along with any challenges that comes.

Q: You co-host the Suria talkshow, “Rudy & Rilla” where you uncover social issues and related legal matters together with Rudy Marican, a reputable lawyer in the Malay Muslim community. For you, what is the most enjoyable part being in Rudy & Rilla?

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The fun part is after the studio lights are turned off. People think there is a sub-plot. The public wants to see if Rudy ends up marrying Rilla even though this is not a drama nor an entertainment genre programme.

Q: How do you make all of your roles work? How difficult is it to juggle so many roles at one go?

A: It helped that I have been doing TV since I was 2 years old. So I grew up having on-site training in how to manage my time and how to prioritise things. It’s coded into my daily system and monitored by a disciplinarian – my dad. Till today, he will check on me to see how I am coping and what kind of help I need. I can juggle so many roles because I have a good support system at home and at work. I just have to be careful not to over-commit or say ‘yes’ when I actually mean ‘no’.

I think Singapore is one of the safest countries in the world for a woman to become an entrepreneur, it is a waste if you don’t become one.

Q: What are some of the difficulties you face as a female entrepreneur in Singapore?

I think Singapore is one of the safest countries in the world for a woman to become an entrepreneur, it is a waste if you don’t become one.

Complete mobility is important when you are venturing out on your own and a woman can be super mobile without fearing for her safety here. The only difficulty I encounter in Singapore is not about being a woman but more so about being Malay. The difficulty in going onto the mainstream platform and convincing Singaporeans at large that there are good companies that are helmed by Malay Singaporeans.

I don’t understand why when Malays are outstanding, their achievement is only celebrated within the community. That only the community ought to know them and recognise them. The rest of Singapore seems oblivious to their existence. Either that or the same Malay individual is showcased again and again. That is the difficulty I face. How do I exist beyond being just a token representation of a Malay female entrepreneur in Singapore.

Q: As an entrepreneur, what motivates you personally?

A: Imagination! I am motivated by the need to change things and make them better using my imagination and making money along the way!

My advice is, focus on your goal – be an entrepreneur because you want to make a difference and affect change using the one talent and the one skill that you are really good at doing, maybe better than anyone else!

Q: What are some tips you have for female entrepreneurs who are just starting out?

A: They have to be clear on why they want to do business. A lot of women leave their jobs and go into business because of the ideal perception that this would accord them better time with their family and children. They miss their moments with their baby and so they think that owning a business would allow them that flexibility of juggling work and family. In reality though, the business IS their baby. My advice is, focus on your goal – be an entrepreneur because you want to make a difference and affect change using the one talent and the one skill that you are really good at doing, maybe better than anyone else!

Q: What’s next for you, Rilla?

A: Marriage maybe? Hah! Okay seriously, you do know that one part of me is an author so for myself, that part will have to keep growing. I want to produce more books for the children and more quality programmes for the schools, expand and continue spreading the wings for Mini Monsters and surprising the world with original, creative, transmedia content from this tiny island. Indeed, Mini Monsters Ltd is truthfully a very unique product of Singapore. We may be mini in size, but definitely major in ideas!

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