By Yasmin Al Heialy
Sarah Jones, Founder & CEO of MiniExchange.com, the Online Marketplace for Everything Mums & Kids, shares her footsteps and tips to reaching the top.
Mini Exchange.com is the online marketplace for everything mums and kids, selling the latest products from over 750 global brands with items sourced directly from brands, retailers and distributors around the world.
In January 2015, Mini Exchange was selected as the GCCbased startup for the 10th edition of the UShosted Google Blackbox Connect programme, which founder Sarah Jones attended in Silicon Valley. Blackbox’s vision is to empower entrepreneurs in startup communities, and it did just that.
In fact, Sarah has won multiple accolades and awards herself and for Mini Exchange, featuring in Arabian Business’ UAE Brit List 2014 and winning Small Business CEO of the Year at the CEO Middle East Awards. According to Sarah, the entrepreneurial community and collaborative spirit that pervades the emirate are two of the real benefits of the region; benefits that have allowed start-up businesses such as Mini Exchange and other SMEs to collaborate to create a new generation of operations.
Being a woman business owner
I often get asked if it’s more challenging for a woman to set up a business in the UAE, and can honestly say that the answer is “no” and, if anything, I’ve found quite the opposite. I’ve found that Dubai has a huge amount of respect for woman entrepreneurs and as long as people can see that you have passion for what you do and you’re willing to work hard, everyone is unbelievably supportive.
Changing the retail landscape
Mini Exchange was born to be a technology platform. The business is successful if it doesn’t see or touch any stock at all. We wanted to create a platform that allowed brands to be online, to have an online presence in the digital world, to have an additional sales channel and to be accessible online. That was the aim and it’s working. Mini Exchange is transforming the way that distributors work in the region – it’s a simple drop ship model, hugely scalable and hugely beneficial to all parties within the chosen vertical.
Team is key
Talent plays a crucial role in retail but for an up and coming business it’s even more critical to hire the right talent. I often get asked, “What’s the best piece of advice or tip you could give a company starting up” and my answer is always the same.
Invest in great people
In my opinion, it’s very easy when you’re a startup to try to cut corners, try to save and try to do things on the cheap. When you’re investing in a team to help drive your business forward, I believe you need to invest in great people. These people will take ownership of tasks, set your business apart from the rest, and most importantly, allow you to focus on growing all other areas of the business. Great people make the organisation what it is and what it will become. I think if you invest in your team from day one, it will be the best thing you do.
I never hire people that are driven by money or driven by the title they have, I hire people that want to be part of a start up and want to help create something great. None of my team clock watch or are twitching to get out the door at 6pm, I’m normally the one kicking them out at 7pm! It’s amazing having an environment and a group of people that are so passionate – it gives me the passion I have and infects all the new people joining the team.
I’m also a big believer in empowering staff with the right knowledge. I spend a huge amount of my time teaching and training people in the team and also learning from them. I’m no superstar and am the first to recognise that most of my team can do their jobs much better than I could do them. I try to give them the confidence in their roles so that they can succeed and grow and try to inject my passion into them to let them deliver to the best of their abilities. In my view, that’s the only way a business can grow into a great business.
There are a lot of loopholes to jump through when starting a business, a lot of red tape, and information that’s not readily available – getting a trade license, recruiting, visas, payment gateways, logistics contracts. The opportunity however, is growing exponentially every day with the online market starting to boom. No one wants to go all the way to the mall to buy a big box of Pampers and carry it home when a you can have it delivered free of charge to your front door. Platforms like Mini Exchange are helping parents shop online in the region in a hassle free manner. With online businesses, it’s all about building trust – a trustworthy company with great customer service is key. The growth of acceptance of this way of shopping really is phenomenal.
The corporate world vs the entrepreneurial world
I did the corporate world and that wasn’t for me. The entrepreneurial word keeps me passionate, keeps me learning and keeps me striving for the next big milestone. The life of a start up is a fun and exhilarating one, full of ups and downs and full of excitement.
At Mini Exchange we have a long road ahead and a very exciting one – as far as I’m concerned, this really is just the beginning.
Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do.
– Steve Jobs –
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