HERstory profile: Mona Ataya

Celebrating International Women's Day, Ananke launches its #HERstoryUAE series of women trailblazers, starting with Mona Ataya, CEO and Founder Mumzworld.com, Co-founder Bayt.com.

How did you get this novel idea to start your business?

You could say Mumzworld was born out of firsthand frustration of not being able to find the right products for my children, let alone being able to find them in one place. As a parent, you are information hungry, you are risk averse and you want the best for your children, but there was a real gap in the market in this regard. So when Mumzworld was founded, it was founded by parents and entrepreneurs equally. We saw a shortage of high quality products at affordable prices, a shortage of product information and a tremendous opportunity to make life easier for busy parents due to the growth of e-commerce in the region.

Most importantly, we wanted to be a source of empowerment for mothers in the region, offering access to comprehensive product information, the widest range of original products at the lowest prices and the ability to order from the comfort of home so that nobody is exempt from making the best decisions for their children.

Today, mumzworld.com has over 100,000 products under one umbrella of which close to 20,000 are exclusive to us and can only be found on our site. We search high and low 365 days a year to find unique products, best sellers, award winners and niche finds to give mothers access to the best of everything for their children, 0-12 years.

How can this idea change the world or UAE?

We fundamentally believe that Mumzworld has the potential to become a brand with an important social impact, as when you empower a mother to make informed choices, you empower her to raise great kids. We are not solely an e-commerce shopping destination for mothers – we are an indispensable online extension of a mother’s life and we have created an online community for mothers seeking support and information.

Why this idea is a game changer?

We were pioneers in the regional e-commerce landscape and have set an e-commerce gold standard that challenges the traditional ways e-commerce has been managed regionally. The journey, however, has not always been smooth and we have certainly not done everything right. With every stage of growth we have faced challenges. As pioneers in mother baby and child pure play ecommerce we were operating in an ecosystem that was still in its infancy. We did not have deep pockets so we were reliant on service providers such as couriers, payment gateways, warehouses and more that were outsourced. We learnt very quickly that when you operate in an underdeveloped ecosystem that your standards of excellence are compromised. Our customer obsession meant that every customer order that was not delivered with 100% excellence was treated very seriously and new processes and systems were quickly put into place to ensure we delivered consistently with excellence and we never repeated the same mistake twice. Q4 2016 was challenging as we saw huge growth yet the ecosystem could not support our growth and demand for speed, so we built our own. We are starting 2017 bigger and better than ever. We have partnered with the most reliable service providers and have tripled our own team to make sure that mumzworld continues to be the go to destination for all things mother baby and child in the region and challenge the traditional levels of excellence in e-commerce. With over 1 million mothers using our services regularly we are starting 2017 with an exciting expansion plan and new wow products and services that again will pioneer this vertical space in the region.

How old, how large is the team?  [Present and when you start the business]

We started with four people in 2011 and today we have a team of more than 80 people. We will be at 200 by end of 2017.

Your role model business and role model companies?

We are a customer centric company and everything we do is to make the lives of our customers easier. We are constantly listening to customer feedback – both good and bad – and are constantly reassessing our processes and technology to explore ways we can create a superior online platform for our users.

Your first source of funding — was it personal, was it family & friends, or a VC?

Our first round of funding was personal – the founders put in all their savings to start this business and worked without salaries for extended periods in the early days to aid its growth. This is a project built from the heart with a social impact as its core driver.

How do you find UAE star-up environment?

The UAE is an incredibly fast developing country with incredible international accessibility for trade and for information. Even though e-commerce was new to the region when we launched, we knew it would not take long for it to be adopted across the region. Additionally, there is such a large expatriate network here, and new mothers do not always have the same luxury of borrowing baby products or getting the advice they need from nearby family and friends, so this is a market that proved extremely receptive to our offering. Nowadays, the market has the right entrepreneurial and innovation DNA to allow for startups to take off.

[in terms of mentors, funds and size of market]

The region is rich with mentors. I am fortunate to be a part of several entrepreneurial mentorship programs such as Endeavor UAE and Entrepreneur’s Organisation – mentorship is invaluable.

In size of market, we are fortunate that e-commerce has granted us access to a much wider market, and we now ship to 20 countries.

Other than your present business, which new areas/sectors you will like to explore to expand your business empire?

We are remaining primarily focused on the mother and child consumer segment. We have incredibly exciting projects in the pipeline and are working every day to enhance our offerings for mums.

What do you advise to other entrepreneurs?

Find a niche idea that addresses an important consumer need that is not currently being fulfilled and execute it with excellence and uniqueness. Focus on your own unique selling proposition that works and is in demand, instead of mimicking other businesses. Innovate every day. Create a business that has unique intrinsic value – as when you build relevant value you build success.

What are the strongest and weakest points of UAE’s start-up eco system?

Dubai is a fast-growing, innovative city led by inspiring leaders. The introduction of free zones and economic reforms have reduced many of the challenges formerly faced by individuals wanting to set up businesses in the UAE, increasing its attractiveness alongside a growing economy and geographic centrality that makes it the perfect gateway for several countries. What remains a challenge, however, is ready access to cash, which can be a significant barrier for startups as well as the expensive ecosystem to survive. Deep pockets are needed to survive and the ecosystem has little patience for slow growth as regulatory barriers to entry for copycat players are typically low.

How do you see the role of technology in your future growth plans? Do you properly use social media, online and digital to strengthen your business?

In the e-commerce sector, you have to be a technology company first and foremost. We use technology to reinvent traditional ways of shopping, communication with our customers and creating a community. It is technology that allows us to create a more seamless, limitless shopping experience, and we are constantly evolving our technology to give the customer a personalised, enjoyable, empowering experience, as well as immediate gratification.

Just this year, Mumzworld launched the first mother, baby, child e-commerce app in both Arabic and English, making it possible for mums to shop on the go.

Your favourite leader, book, movie, place [in UAE/Int’l] where you want to go again and again?

It’s rare I am able to completely switch off, but when I do, I prefer to be anywhere by the sea listening to a podcast.

To whom you attribute the success?

My family, who encourage and motivate me every day, and my numerous business partners who have dedicated countless hours and ideas to make Mumzworld what it is today.

What new measures have you adopted that resulted into success of your business?

Patience. Grit. Never compromise your standards of excellence even though it is easier to do so. Stay different.

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