Phyllis Narula is an entrepreneur who is a firm believer in dreams. Starting with nothing but a vision and a determination to succeed, she's built one of Australia's most successful childcare brands, setting a new benchmark for quality early learning along the way.
But for this Telstra Business Woman of the Year alumni, being a strong female role model, mother and wife will always be her most significant achievements.
Tell us about Little Peoples Place. What inspired you to start it?
As a young mum heading back to work in the travel industry after my first daughter's birth, finding a loving and nurturing childcare environment was paramount. Visiting daycare centres around Perth left me feeling nervous about finding the right place. I realised that if I felt that way, there must be many other parents who wanted a more holistic, family-oriented style of early learning centre too. I guess it was one of those lightning bolt moments, where you say, 'if you can't find it create it yourself, and that is what I did.
I convinced Vijay to sell our hard-earned family home to buy a run-down centre in East Fremantle. I didn't have any qualifications or experience in childcare. Still, I knew what sort of exceptional care experience I wanted to create. We took the plunge, which led to plenty of sleepless nights and days when we didn't know how we would keep the doors open or pay the wages. However, there came a turning point when families began embracing the Little Peoples Place philosophy. Fourteen centres, and 15 years later, we still love what we do and still want to keep raising the bar for early learning in Western Australia.
What challenges did you face along the way?
Being inexperienced, the lack of a financial buffer and having to build a business from the ground up were all barriers.
But the biggest challenge was crippling self-doubt.
I wasn’t afraid of hard work, but I thought I needed the advice and support of experts to make it in the industry. So, I reached out to other childcare operators for tips and advice. Whether it was the fear of competition or their scepticism that someone without any experience could succeed, nobody wanted to share their insights.
I have to admit it was tough going it alone, and in the beginning, I cried almost every day. But those early years proved to be the making of me. Once I stopped my inner critic and backed myself, the Little Peoples Place vision started turning into reality.
What piece of career advice would you give your younger self?
To believe in me.
I would tell myself that no dream is too ambitious or too crazy.
Just be clear about what you want to achieve and surround yourself with people who 100 per cent share your vision.
Drown out the external voices of the doubters and the questioners, with a strong, confident, consistent voice that says if you believe it, you can do it.
And make DREAM BIG and DREAM BOLD your mantra.
What was your biggest learning from the year that was 2020?
Being forced to take things slowly was a powerful reminder that there is much more to the human experience than our day-to-day lives.
Yes, the pandemic and its impact on the entire world created plenty of challenges, but it also generated an unexpected opportunity to see my life through fresh eyes.
In terms of our business, it gave me a different perspective on the role childcare plays in supporting families and shaping the future of every little person who walks through our doors.
It also made me think about my own family and how the simplest, most minor everyday things can create the most poignant memories.
Personally, I was reminded that nothing is more valuable than your health.
The year 2020 reinforced the importance of having gratitude and the unexpected rewards that come with resilience and patience.
What are you most looking forward to for the rest of 2021?
Perth is home, but I am ready to once again experience the intense beauty, sense of wonder, and cultural diversity that comes with global travel.
My wish list includes much-loved destinations such as Atlanta, Georgia, where I have family. It is a bustling city brimming with museums, galleries, gardens, and stunning architecture that tell the story of its eclectic history.
I think people would be surprised to know Atlanta also has a very cool food scene. It’s become a magnet for seriously talented young chefs who are making their mark by turning traditional Southern cuisine on its head.
Then there's the promise of new adventures in Japan, where tradition and pure nature meet cosmopolitan buzz. We had a holiday booked and then had to cancel due to COVID, so finally landing in this country of incredible contrasts will be amazing.
To me, travel is the ultimate inspiration. I always return home from overseas full of ideas, creative spark, and new dreams.
How do you find balance between work and family?
I believe work isn’t work when you are driven by a fierce passion for what you do.
But I have learned that life’s most precious moments can slip by unnoticed if you never ground yourself in the present, so spending time with my family is a priority.
Whether it's connecting with Vijay over a romantic dinner, cheering my son on at the school sports carnival, or time spent one-on-one with my two daughters, I want my family to know unequivocally that my most important job in life is wife and mother.
Selfcare is also incredibly important for keeping yourself mentally and physically strong for those around you.
For me, that could be going to the gym or sitting at a favourite café and looking out over the ocean or sharing conversations with some of the gorgeous and talented women I am lucky enough to call friends.
It is ultimately about filling yourself with positive energy to ensure you are the best you can be for those you love.
What motivates you?
Without a doubt, it is passion.
When I am genuinely passionate about something, it fuels my determination and fills me with energy and creativity.
Discovering my passion for childcare has led me to a life full of excitement, love, and laughter, and that's what keeps driving me forward in business, even today.
I certainly don’t feel that my entrepreneurial journey is finished and imagining what might come next is thrilling and keeps me on my toes.
But perhaps my biggest motivation is being a role model for my daughters and for the young women that work for us, Little Peoples Place.
I want them to know that strength, kindness, respect, and hard work is what make a great leader, and the only limitations in life are the ones we put on ourselves.
What are some of your favourite things to do in Perth?
I love stylish, high-performance cars that turn everyday driving into a sensory motoring experience. So, you will often find me hitting the open road and heading to one of our sandy white beaches or the Swan Valley accompanied by the perfect cruising soundtrack.
Cheeky staycations in the city are a chance to explore our thriving urban restaurant and bar scene – heaven for an unashamed foodie and cocktail devotee.
When it comes to the regions, you can’t go past our stunning South West. From Margaret River all through Dunsborough, Yallingup, and Eagle Bay, there are world-class beaches, towering forests, spectacular nature trails, and of course, mouth-watering cuisine.
The bottomless brunch at Meelup Farmhouse nestled in Eagle Bay is sensational.