Jenny Haddad, 35, from the UK, is the managing director of Db Babies, a chain of UAE-based baby gift stores. Since launching six years ago, Jenny has three boutiques and an online shop.
Know your market When I started Db Babies in 2007 there were no online baby websites in the UAE. Knowing that people in Dubai love convenience, I decided to start a service for newborn baby gifts to be ordered online. The idea was to give people with no time to hit the mall, or inclination to wander into a baby store, a chance to shop for friends and colleagues. As it turned out, people started wanting to order our items for their own babies too, so our portfolio of products grew quickly.
Start small, but think big Initially I was doing this from my spare room, as we were only an online business and we didn’t require premises. My poor husband had to watch as our house was taken over by boxes of products. Then, in 2008, we opened a kiosk at Mercato Mall in Jumeirah, so it wasn’t long before we were out of the spare room. Six years later we have 15 employees and three locations. The kiosk at Mercato Mall is still going strong and we also have stores in Town Centre Jumeirah and at Al Wahda Mall, Abu Dhabi. Customers can order through the website too.
Always over budget Never underestimate the hidden costs of setting up a business in Dubai. For your first two years at least, always have some spare cash to fall back on. Everything in Dubai requires money up front and cash flow is the hardest thing when it comes to running a small-to-medium business.
Ditch the doubt Each time we open a new store or make a huge order of stock it’s nerve-racking, but I always tell myself that there is no reward without fear.
Learn on the job Running my business has been an amazing learning curve. I never went to university because I was always a hands-on kind of person, preferring to go straight into work. But starting up a company has given me the opportunity to understand how real businesses function. It’s like getting an MBA.
Be prepared to graft I started Db Babies when I was pregnant with my daughter. I was looking for something less time-consuming than a regular nine-to-five job at the time… How deluded was I? I have worked solidly for the past six years and when you run a business it is never-ending. A holiday isn’t really a holiday because your phone has to be on and the laptop is never far away.
But there are big bonuses On the upside, I have two young children and working for myself means I can write my own schedule. I get to pick them up from school every day, which might not be possible in another job.
Play the long game We turn a good profit, but because we are continually growing the business, the revenue goes straight back in to build the next phase. I blame my husband because he’s the one with big visions!
Love what you do There have been some amazing moments. It was such a thrill when we got our first kiosk, which seems funny now that we have a big 1,500-square-foot shop at Al Wahda Mall. But there is definitely something fabulous about the first one.
For more information about Db Babies visit www.dbbabies.com.
Marta Yanci, 33, from Spain, is the owner of Marta’s Kitchen, a catering company that has been running for three years. Before she launched her business, Marta was a lawyer.
Don’t be afraid to change course I come from a background where being a chef is not regarded as successful, so it never occurred to me to study cookery. Instead I obtained a law degree. However, I quickly discovered that the corporate world was not for me, so in my 20s I decided to become a chef.
Go with your instincts I am totally self-taught, so a lot of my friends thought I was crazy to embark on a career in cooking. My father was a little disappointed because he didn’t understand why, after spending so many years at university, I wanted to be a chef. That said, these days he is very proud of me and often tells people about his daughter who runs a catering company in Dubai.
Do the math I encourage everyone thinking of becoming an entrepreneur to secure their finances before embarking on the journey. My husband and I had to save for a long time before we were able to venture into the world of catering.
Never give up There were times when I faced issues with setting up the business. I remember once, our kitchen was complete and we had an inspection to see if we were ready to open for business – at this point the work had been delayed by several months – and the inspector told us there were still a couple of things we needed to fix. I was so disappointed that I burst into tears, right in front of the inspector!
Find a niche I decided to launch Marta’s Kitchen because I felt there was space in the market for a boutique catering company, offering reasonable prices.
Invest in good staff Initially I worked on my own, but then my home help showed an interest in cooking, so I brought her into the business. Now she is a fully trained chef, working alongside three others.
Cherish the moments I remember when I got my first premises – it was incredibly exciting. My husband and I took our two boys to see the space and told them, “Boys, welcome to Marta’s Kitchen!” They didn’t understand as all they saw was an empty space, but it was a thrilling moment.
Bide your time It took Marta’s Kitchen about a year to see any profit, which I hear is pretty good going. However, running a business means that you don’t get a salary any more. In fact, you are the last one to receive anything, as you need to pay the staff first. In spite of this, I’ve been fortunate and due to the success of Marta’s Kitchen, I have a higher return than I did when I worked as a lawyer.
The drawbacks I almost never get to have a day off and I often have to work weekends and holidays.
But the pros outweigh the cons As a mother of two, the good thing is that I go home in the afternoon to spend time with my boys.
More than just an income It is the opportunity to walk your own path and learn in ways that you never thought possible.
For more information about Marta’s Kitchen visit www.martaskitchen.com
Ex-marketing exec Becky, 31, from the UK, launched Ripe in 2008 while pregnant with her first child. Now, as she awaits the arrival of her second, she shares how her weekly market grew into the flourishing business it is today.
Identify a gap I started Ripe after a tip from my husband. He was working on an agricultural project and saw a gap in the market for local organic produce, so he suggested I start a local food market working with organic farms in the area. I’d already started my own brand consultancy, so I just saw Ripe as another project.
Dream big I wouldn’t say it started off as a hobby... I launched it to become the business it is today. I am passionate about supporting local farmers and the farms here are in the middle of nowhere so it is impossible for people to get to them – I wanted to find a way to get this fresh produce to people and to keep it affordable.
Utilise your experience I haven’t had very much exposure to commercial farming, but my husband grew up in a farming family, so he has taught me a lot about it and manages that side of the business. My background is in marketing – I moved here to launch BlackBerry then managed other FMCG brands – so the industry sector I work in has definitely changed. However, my marketing and business experience has helped me in many ways.
Take things step by step The first step was getting a local sponsor and a licence. The next was setting up a warehouse and an office, working out the logistics, drivers, vehicles, packing facilities... Then it was the fun bit – branding, marketing, events, my own retail store, online sales, schools programmes and also corporate customers.
Expect the unexpected It is very difficult and extremely costly to set up your own company. There are endless processes and paperwork, but you have to accept that – I was lucky to have a very supportive sponsor and PRO. But running your own business in any country, you’ll come up against hurdles.
Be sensible We didn’t want to get into unrealistic debt so we have grown slowly, only investing when we have been able to. I think anyone starting up a business must accept they aren’t going to take home a salary while the company is being built.
Enjoy the benefits I love being able to be around for my daughter. We have a really good routine where I can work but on my own terms, so I can be flexible while having a family.
Take the lows with the highs The industry I am in is extremely tough and there are so many issues that make every day challenging for me. There are days when I wonder if I made the right decision, but I’ve remained true to what I believe in and my husband has been an amazing support.
Best moments I first realised we were on to a winner when my first market sold out by 10.30am – I couldn’t believe it! I have always wanted to have my own shop so I was really excited about the Ripe Farm shop... We sell fresh organic fruit and vegetables, chicken, milk, eggs, cheese, yogurt and more.
Be prepared to work When we started, it was just me. I did everything from packing the boxes to running the market. Now we have 12 full-time staff and five part-time.
Be honest I’ve always managed the expectations of my customers sensibly and been honest with new business partners – if I can’t deliver 100 per cent, I will say so.
For more information on Ripe store and deliveries, visit www.ripeme.com.