“We started from our garage — I am so happy we are not in jail right now”, says one of the entrepreneurs to uproarious laughter. She and seven others are gathered in the Savoir Flair office for a round-table discussion, all brought together by Apple, which earlier this month had selected 35 of the city’s top homegrown businesses to honor on the barricade of its Dubai Mall store, opening today at 4pm.
On the barricade, illustrator Dina Sami depicts the businesses creatively connecting with one another. Here, excerpts from the round-table conversation including Dina herself, Salt’s Amal Al Marri and Deem Albassam, Charicycles’ Zeina Kanaan and Rania Kanaan, L’Afshar’s Lilian Afshar, Mirzam’s Noor Al Mulla and Kathy Johnston, and Savoir Flair’s very own Haleh Nia.
The entrepreneurs, all female, discuss business in the city and, of course, being selected as the companies honored on the storefront.
ON BEING ASSOCIATED WITH APPLE
Zeina: As a nation, we always import western ideas. This barricade celebrates everybody here that is doing something very unique, and which shows off their cultural heritage and personal flavor. We in this room have all put our thumbprint on the nation. For Apple to recognize that is incredible. Maybe it’s time for the West to start importing our ideas!
Deem: Apple has given us an important lesson: No matter how big you are, you always have to be part of the community.
Lilian: It’s an absolute honor. Only in Dubai can you have this experience. It’s a new city, a creative industry, and very small, so whoever is really creative can actually stand out.
This city really encourages female entrepreneurs. – Rania Kanaan
ON BEING A YOUNG ENTREPRENEUR IN DUBAI
Rania: This city really encourages female entrepreneurs. I never feel that I am an underdog. And you see it with your own eyes. When they say something as impossible as “We will build the canal”, they do it. They actually do it. And that’s what keeps you going. If they can do it in such a short period of time, why can’t I? So it really feeds from the top down, and it’s inspiring.
Haleh: When I tell my story [about being a young publisher] to people living in Europe, they always respond saying “There is no way you could have been a publisher at age 24 in this part of the world”. Because I was born and raised here, I have adopted a sense of invincibility from the city. It never occurred to me that I could be “too young” to do something.
ON THE CHALLENGES OF RUNNING YOUR OWN BUSINESS
Haleh: Those hundred “nos” are so important. You have to hear it a hundred times, yet you have to keep believing in your vision. When I started, the digital industry literally didn’t exist. People didn’t understand how it would be monetized. They questioned everything.
Noor: It was really difficult convincing people that this is a local product. Step by step, day by day, we tried to get a product out that would speak up loud, and speak globally, from Dubai.
ON THE SUPPORT OF THEIR FAMILIES
Noor: Convincing old minds of new ideas is very hard.
Rania: Our parents are super supportive but in the funniest way. They were asking, “You’re leaving your jobs to become bike mechanics?”
Zeina: Our Dad would ask, “You girls went to the best universities, why do you want to fix bikes?” [Laughs]
ON BEING CHOSEN TO ILLUSTRATE THE BARRICADE
Dina: It was the best moment ever. They called me on my birthday! I couldn’t believe it. I mean, It’s Apple. It took me two weeks to design it, but I could never have imagined the scale of it and how big the space would be.
ON WHAT THEY LOVE MOST ABOUT WHAT THEY DO
Rania: I think for us it’s to give back. We love cycling, so it’s quite easy to be working with something you love. But I think every year when we give kids those bikes and seeing how excited they get it’s just… It’s so rewarding.
Lilian: I love how my brand has grown so fast. And people from abroad acknowledge it a lot. I am already competing with designers in France and the US. I love how fast it’s grown and how people accepted it really quickly.
Deem: It’s always challenging to find your passion. But when you are passionate about it, you enjoy it. It doesn’t feel like you are doing work. Plus, it’s a way of expression. We have created something new; given people a new experience. When I go to any of our restaurants and see people, especially kids, enjoying the food, it feels really good. We moved people from Happy Meals to being Salters. And that’s our mission: To give people good food.
Noor: Opening the door and sniffing on chocolate. That’s the best feeling ever!
ON WHAT THEY DISLIKE ABOUT THEIR JOBS
Amal: That you have to do everything. If you are not an accountant, and you don’t enjoy accounting, you still have to do it. Plus, the rumors. For some reason there is false information about us having sold our business. Completely untrue. We have no idea where the rumor even started. It harms our story as a homegrown brand.
Kathy: My entire day is chocolate. There is nothing I hate about it! You are so passionate about it that even if something terrible happens one day, it’s still fun and educational.
ON ADVICE THEY WOULD GIVE TO A BUDDING ENTREPRENEUR
Noor: No matter how long it would take you to do it, just do it.
Rania: Success is beautiful and great, and everybody strives for it. But it’s also overrated. You have to fail to learn, and it’s completely okay to fail. It’s okay to do something and not be good at it, because the number of things you learn when you fail is so much more than when you do something and succeed automatically.
Haleh: Never, ever stop learning. Do what you know, but also become an absolute expert at it.
We make sure that the comfort zone is a disaster. – Deem Albassam
ON DEFINING PERSONAL SUCCESS
Rania: Success is so personal. It’s a state of mind. No matter what the media and everyone around you tells you. If you have a lot of money in the bank and your business is blooming, but in your mind, you are still somewhere you don’t want to be, you are going to keep working hard.
Deem: I still wake up every moment feeling unsure. We make sure that the comfort zone is a disaster. I think when you reach your comfort zone you will lose everything. The drive and the motivation are to prove yourself to be successful, but when you reach there, it’s khalas.