“Five years ago, when I became pregnant with my first child, I decided not to work for at least a year,” said Dubai-based Ashima Kakar, who eventually left her dental practice to pursue entrepreneurship.
It was during her spare time that Kakar realized that despite her degree in dentistry and practice, there were other things she was more passionate about. As someone who thrives on social interactions, Kakar decided to move from active practice to a more administrative and operational role within healthcare. For a while, she even ran a mother and child care program at a health care facility. After leaving healthcare, Kakar joined her friend’s start-up TurtleCard, an online platform that allowed parents to book activities for children. When the pandemic hit, the start-up was put on hold for obvious reasons.
But another idea arose.
Turning a passion project into a business proposal
Almost ten years ago, Kakar and her good friend and now business partner made chutneys (or spreads) at home as a hobby and sold them in local markets in Dubai. They did it for a while, but couldn’t 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 the Spinneys Local Business Incubator Program and decided to apply and were selected from among the finalists.
What is the difference between ‘incubator’ and ‘accelerator’ programs for businesses?
Incubators target 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 companies that already have a product ready.
“I was seven months pregnant with my second child when we pitched to join the program. We made some chutneys in our kitchens, put down a cheese board and we clicked. We have been chosen as one of the winners. At that point, our passion project turned into a business proposition. Then BottledUp became a real start-up,’ Kakar reminisces and shares some lessons from running her start-up.
Lesson #1: Set realistic goals
Kakar: “Whether it concerns entrepreneurship or another industry, you have to set realistic goals. Write these goals down. Because on days when you’re feeling gloomy, which is normal for any entrepreneur or straying from your chosen path, these goals will help you stay focused on your long-term vision. Start with small but realistic goals and build on them.”
Lesson #2: Stick to your core values
Kakar: “Anyone who comes up with a business idea must have a certain set of values. For example, as a homegrown food company, it is our value not to use preservatives in our products, yet guarantee a one-year shelf life and stability at ambient temperature. We could have launched the brand at least six months earlier, but developing the preservative-free product range was non-negotiable for us. So we waited for the product to be ready.”
Lesson #3: Keep a close eye on finances
Kakar: “Managing finances is one of the biggest responsibilities of any business, start-up or otherwise. It is important to check in and out with cash. For any product-based start-up, the process of monitoring numbers is simple. In our case, we look at the numbers monthly, do our accounting before moving on to the next month. There are also many accounting apps that help keep track of numbers.”
“As a start-up, we are fortunate to be part of the incubator program that has helped us get listed with Spinneys and Waitrose, which is expensive in itself. [Shelf space in these supermarkets can cost upwards of Dh100,000]† Obtaining a license is another major expense. We spent about Dh15,000 for an annually renewable license. If a business owner has a decent investment, they may consider setting up their own licensed kitchen, which can reduce operating costs in the long run.”
Lesson #4: Assigning Roles and Responsibilities
Kakar: “For any start-up with co-founders or partners, it is important to assign roles and responsibilities based on areas of expertise. We did this exercise quite early in the day. I take care of the daily operations, marketing, sales and communication related activities while my partner is responsible for bookkeeping, 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. Since we have seen that financial matters often lead to misunderstandings, we have established certain ground rules. There is a clear delineation of our share in the company, linked to an expense cap above which we are obliged to consult with each other before making a decision. Since every penny counts in a small business, if we can avoid a particular expense, we do it without hurting each other’s feelings.”
Lesson #5: Make mistakes, but not too big
Kakar: “As a start-up or small company it is okay to make small mistakes that often serve as learnings. But don’t put so much money into something that could turn into a major financial mistake. For example, for any start-up, digital efforts require a certain amount of expenditure, so set aside a marketing budget. In our case, it includes everything from social media advertising to hosting contests and attending pop-up markets, among other things. [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 be afraid to tell your story
Kakar: “Everyone has a reason to start a business. That story distinguishes one company from another. So whatever that push in your life has been that propelled you into entrepreneurship needs to be articulated. 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 soon
Kakar: “If you are passionate about your company, if you have a good product, keep developing it. Don’t give up too soon, because a business needs time to build. However, be aware of your limitations, which most business owners are naturally aware of, to avoid reaching the point of no turning back. Sometimes an idea can be great, but the timing can go wrong. In such circumstances, it is okay to shut down the company for a while and revisit at some point.”