In the Spotlight

In the Spotlight: Marrying Work and Hobbies Drives Me to Achieve My Personal Goals!

By a stroke of luck, I had the immense pleasure of meeting one of Singapore’s top lifestyle writers at an event, and I simply had to steal a photo moment!

Material World Singapore, Singapore female and lifestyle magazine
Stealing a shot with Denise Li! :D

But, why was I acting like some fan girl when I saw her?

Friends around me would know that I loveeeee reading magazines, and was once an ardent subscriber to Cleo, and counted such female glossy pages as my staple of reads. Denise Li used to write for Cleo, and truth be told, I’ve seen the editor move from Corinne Ng to Deborah Tan (we talked about her below!), and then to Cheong Kamei. So seeing one of these writers in person was just surreal to me!

So I jumped at the chance to steal some of her time to snag an interview piece with her. Now that she’s an entrepreneur, there’s so much to catch up on her new adventure!

Hi Denise! Could you share an introduction about yourself?

I’m one of the four founders of Material World, a content agency and lifestyle website. Outside of work, I am a martial arts enthusiast who has trained in muay thai, boxing, and now pursuing my newest passion, Brazilian jiu-jitsu.

As the co-founder of Material World, how did this idea come about and what made you venture out on your own?

The idea for Material World came about when Deborah and I were one day talking about how hard it was to find good, reliable freelancers for editorial work. After further discussion with our two other founders, Lili and Vanessa, we realised that there was a gap in the market that we could fill. We wanted to leverage on our combined editorial experience to fill the gap in the market for quality freelancers who will produce reliably good work for our clients every, single time.
Material World Singapore, Denise Li
Denise and Deborah goofing around as always! Credit: Instagram @MaterialWorldSG
Besides brainstorming for ideas and writing, we can also do art directing, styling and coordination – we’re basically an all-in-one package! With just one phone call or email, our clients can reach four experienced writers to help them with their content needs.
We write for a number of print magazines on a regular basis. These include: Tatler Weddings, Scoot’s inflight magazine, Oishii, and much more.
At the same time, we wanted to explore the big, wide world of digital publishing, which is why we decided to launch the Material World website at the same time we launched the content agency. For the website, we write on a variety of topics that we know and love – from beauty to fitness, entrepreneurship, relationships and much more.
In the two and a half years since the launch of Material World, I am proud to say we have expanded our suite of services to include PR, as well as content marketing. I’m glad that our clients now understand very well how good content can help strengthen their branding and drive their businesses.

How has managing your own business been? Any nerve-wrecking challenges so far?

Like every entrepreneur out there, we faced our fair share of obstacles. For instance, when we first started, we initially had to do a lot of education. We had to help clients understand how content can help them reach their marketing goals.
Many of them were used to more traditional forms of advertising, such as running full-page ads in magazine. But not many saw the value in, say, creating a blog about their business or related industry to help drive click-through to their website. I’m happy to say that things have indeed changed a lot in the past two years and a half years that Material World has been in operation.

Spill the beans about a lesser known fact of your business partner/friend, Deborah Tan! :P

She is a wonderfully talented and experimental baker. Check out her mouth-watering creations on Instagram at @alpha_bakes. She’s also a more than decent cook … and I’ll say she’s come a long way from her days of saying “I’ll never step into the kitchen!”

We have been reading about your adventures since your Cleo days – backpacking, fitness and now Brazilian jiu-jitsu and….. calligraphy?! How do you find time to do everything?

Of course, I must say that I’m very fortunate that being your own boss helps a lot. My business partners are used to seeing me zip out of the office during lunchtime so I can get an hour of Brazilian jiu-jitsu training in. But my “dedicated hobbies” do require a little bit of sacrifice at times. Sometimes, I choose to forego dinner or drinks with my friends to train.

Material World Singapore, Denise Li
Denise gets in touch with her creative side and dabbles in calligraphy. Credit: Instagram @smackeral83

That being said, I think it’s about time that more bosses start re-examining the benefits of a 9-to-6 weekday. I feel that I am working fewer hours these days, compared to my days in magazines, but I get a lot more done. I feel a lot less stress now that I’m no longer pressured to be in the office by 9am every day. I get way more sleep and exercise than I used to, and that’s done wonders for my productivity.

I believe that bosses should set targets and goals for their employees and leave them to execute it to the best of their abilities within the specific time frame. Chaining someone to their desk for nine hours a day is not the most inspiring way to boost productivity!

Were there any turning points in your life that made you determined to live life fully?

About six years ago, I was partying a lot and I did NO exercise. I woke up one morning with a hangover and realised that I couldn’t carry on that way forever. I was very taken with the idea of learning a martial art, so, two days later, I made a beeline for the one nearest my office at the time, signed up on the spot, and the rest, as they say, is history.

The cliche goes, “Don’t regret the things you do in your life; regret only the things you do not do.” I’d say that’s how I live my life. I’ve made a number of seemingly risky decisions in the past six years of my life, and most of them have paid off.

Do you eat to live or live to eat? :P

I live to eat … Most people think I subsist on rolled oats and chicken breast because I’m so active. But I really do love my deep fried chicken wings, ramen, and beer and I don’t ever see myself giving those up!

Where do you see yourself in the next five years?

This is a challenging question as planning so far ahead is not really my thing. But I certainly hope that our baby Material World would have expanded by leaps and bounds by then!

What do you hope to be remembered for at the end of this lifetime?

I hope to be remembered as someone who lived her life fully and fearlessly. My colleagues always say that I’m all about “go big or go home” – and I don’t necessarily think that’s a bad thing!

Material World Singapore, Denise Li
Denise Li enjoys a rush of adrenaline after a session of Brazilian jiu-jitsu!

Please do share some tips with the rest of us who are trying hard to work an active and healthy lifestyle into our crazy schedules!

It’s really all about priorities. If something is really important to you, you will make time for it. For me, fitness is not something I try to fit in as and when I can – it’s a non-negotiable aspect of my life. I recognise that I am a better person for it – I’m happier and mentally stronger when I do it – which is why I always make time for it no matter how hectic things get. In fact, the more stressed I get, the more I need to go work out to stay on top of my game.

At the same time, if you’ve been largely active and want to take a day or two to slack off, I say: Just do it! Previously, I used to guilt trip myself whenever I decided to forego my workout in favour of beer and chicken wings. Now, I just take it that it’s my body telling me to take a break, so I fully “own the feeling” of slacking off. There’s really nothing wrong with cutting yourself some slack at times – and I think this applies to most aspects of Life, not just fitness.


It was such an interesting sneak peek into Denise’s adventures and how she strives to keep a balance with work and personal interest. I guess many of us covet a balance too (me, included!), and it always seems so hard, but definitely do-able!

Thank you so much for sharing a slice of you, Denise! Feel free to follow her on Instagram (@smackeral83) and see what else she’s up to these days!

If you’ve got an inspiring story to share, or know someone who should be featured, drop us a note! Follow our adventures on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and G+ too!

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