“Five years ago, when I got pregnant with my first child, I decided to take a break for at least a year,” said Dubai resident Ashima Kakar, who eventually left her dental practice to embark on entrepreneurship.
It was while she was away from work that Kakar realized that despite her dental degree and her practice, there were other things she was more passionate about. Being a person who thrives in social interactions, Kakar decided to transition from active practice to a more administrative and operational role within the healthcare industry. For a time, she even ran a mother-child program at a health facility. After leaving the healthcare industry, Kakar joined her friend’s start-up called TurtleCard, an online platform that allowed parents to book activities for children. When the pandemic hit, the startup was put on the back burner for obvious reasons.
But another idea caught on.
Turning a passion project into a business proposition
Almost a decade ago, Kakar and his close friend and now business partner enjoyed making chutneys (or spreads) at home on weekends as a hobby and selling them at local markets in Dubai. They did this for a while, but were unable to continue due to their full-time jobs and family responsibilities. So when the pandemic hit and they spent more time at home, they started making their favorite chutneys again. At some point they heard about Spinneys local business incubator program and decided to apply and were selected as finalists.
What is the difference between the business “incubator” and “accelerator” programs?
Incubators focus on early-stage start-ups that are in the product development stage and do not have a developed business model. Accelerators focus on accelerating the growth of existing businesses that already have a product ready.
“I was seven months pregnant with my second child when we offered to join the program. We made chutneys in our kitchens, pulled out a cheese platter and it clicked. We were chosen among the winners. At that point, our passion project turned into a business proposition. That’s when BottledUp became a real start-up,” Kakar recalls, and shared some lessons learned from running his start-up.
Lesson 1: Set realistic goals
Kakar: “Whether it’s entrepreneurship or any field of activity, you have to set realistic goals. Write down these goals. Because on days when you’re feeling down, which is normal for any business person, or when you’re straying from your chosen path, these goals will help you stay focused on your long-term vision. Start with small but realistic goals and keep building them.
Lesson 2: Stick to your core values
Kakar: “Anyone coming up with a business idea has to have a certain set of values. For example, as a local food company, our value is to use no preservatives in our products while ensuring a shelf life one year and stability at room temperature.We could have launched the brand at least 6 months before, but developing the range of products without preservatives was for us non-negotiable.We therefore waited until the product was ready.
Lesson 3: Keep an eye on your finances
Kakar: “Managing finances is one of the biggest responsibilities of any business, start-up or otherwise. It is important to monitor receipts and disbursements. For any product-based startup, the process of tracking numbers is simple. In our case, we look at the figures monthly, do our accounting before moving on to the next month. There are also many accounting apps that help track numbers.
“As a start-up, we are fortunate to be part of the incubator program that helped us get listed at Spinneys and Waitrose, which in itself is an expensive proposition. [Shelf space in these supermarkets can cost upwards of Dh100,000]. Getting a license is another big expense. We spent about 15,000 Dh for an annually renewable license. If an entrepreneur has a decent investment, they can consider creating their own licensed kitchen, which in the long run can reduce operating costs.
Lesson 4: Assign roles and responsibilities
Kakar: “For any start-up with co-founders or partners, it is important to distribute roles and responsibilities according to areas of expertise. We did this exercise quite early in the day. I manage daily operations, marketing, sales and communication related activities while my partner is responsible for accounting, bookkeeping and inventory management. Assigning roles and responsibilities helps avoid friction, which is especially important if your co-founder is a friend or family member. Having seen that most finances tend to cause misunderstandings, we have established some ground rules. There is a clear delimitation of our share in the company, coupled with an expenditure ceiling beyond which we are obliged to consult each other before making a decision. Since every penny counts in a small business, if we can avoid a certain expense, we do so without hurting each other.
Lesson 5: Make mistakes but not too big
Kakar: “As a start-up or small business, it’s okay to make minor mistakes that often serve as a learning curve. But don’t invest so much money in something that could turn into a big financial mistake. For example, for any startup, digital efforts require a certain amount of spending, so plan for a marketing budget. In our case, this includes everything from social media advertisements to running contests and participating in pop-up markets, among others. [A monthly budget of Dh5,000 might be required for digital marketing efforts which might increase or decrease based on the business requirements.]”
Lesson 6: Never hesitate to tell your story
Kakar: “Everyone has a reason for starting a business. This story is what differentiates one company from another. So whatever push in your life has pushed you towards entrepreneurship, you need to articulate it. Never hesitate to tell your story, because that’s what people buy into and that’s what will help you build a community around your brand. »
Lesson 7: Don’t give up too easily
Kakar: “If you are passionate about your business, if you have a good product, keep developing it. Don’t give up too easily because a business takes time to grow. However, also be aware of your limits, which most entrepreneurs know innately, to avoid reaching the point of no return. Sometimes an idea can be great, but the timing can go wrong. In such circumstances, it is normal to put the business on hold and come back at some point. »