Special Interview by Shubhangini Arora
We are often told to follow our hearts and then see everything fall into place. Most of us are too scared and never do, spending our lives with ‘what ifs?’ on our minds. Some, however, just take the leap of faith and work towards their dreams and eventually see success. Sarah Appleton is one such woman.
British entrepreneur, Sarah Appleton is the founder and head of Mini Exchange, an online store where people can buy and sell children’s clothes. Despite being a new concept in Dubai, the venture has been doing extremely well and makes Sarah an inspiration for all the women who lack courage to leave the security of their well-paying jobs for starting their own ventures.
In an interview with Shubhangini Arora for SheThePeople.TV, Sarah talks about her venture and her journey. Here is an excerpt from the conversation
Less than a year old, your online store, Mini exchange has already made a name for itself. How did you decide on taking on this venture?
During my University years I dipped my toe into the consignment world by running an online store on eBay, which was a lot of fun, however after graduating I thought that I should get a proper job so left the fun of buying and selling clothes to join Deloitte in London in Mergers & Acquisition Advisory.
I seconded to Deloitte in Dubai after two years and then after a further two years in Dubai, I left Deloitte to start Mini Exchange. Working in finance, I was always working for other people, advising inspiring entrepreneurs on how to grow and sell their companies and I was always envious when they left the room. I wanted to be on the other side of the table! So one day, after a huge amount of soul-searching and more than one sleepless night, I decided to take the leap and now I’m here, absolutely loving my new role and excited by all the new challenges that lie ahead.
You are British but your services extend throughout the Middle East. Are their any unique challenges or advantages of doing business in that region?
A key challenge of setting up an e-commerce business in the Middle East is that there are still lots of people here that are apprehensive about ordering online. When and where will the item be delivered and will my credit card details be secure online? These are the common questions that we get from new users and although we believe that the e-commerce market is set to boom out here, it does take time to build user confidence in these areas.
Because e-commerce is still fledgling, a lot of the support services are also still developing – for example, setting up a “payment gateway” so that users can safely input credit card details is very arduous and expensive. I know that in Europe things like that would have been a lot easier.
There are however many advantages to setting up an e-ecommerce business in this region, one of them being that the market for shopping online is still quite under developed so direct competition is much less rife. People are also very excited about new businesses emerging in this area – both investors and consumers – so the support is definitely there if you have a good offering.
What are the most important traits a woman needs to succeed as an entrepreneur, according to you?
I think any entrepreneur needs to be passionate and ambitious. You’re going out there by yourself to create something new so you need to love what you’re doing and have the drive to work through all the ups and downs that will lie ahead.
What part of your work excites you the most? If you could go back in time, would you change anything?
I love having such a varied job. One moment I’m dealing with logistics, the next new brands, the next recruiting, then web development then digital marketing. I have amazing teams around the world and a fast growing team in Dubai and I love being involved in all areas of the business and being the ‘point man’ for all the different strands.
If I could go back in time, would I change anything? That’s hard question. I think you learn a lot when you set up your own business so maybe there would be things that I would have done slightly differently but then I wouldn’t have learnt from them.
Setting up a business in the Middle East, have you faced any barriers because of your gender?
I’ve been asked this question a few times and can honestly say that I haven’t faced any challenges by virtue of being a woman and, if anything, I’ve found quite the opposite. I’ve found that Dubai has a huge amount of support for woman entrepreneurs and as long as people can see that you have a passion for what you do and you’ll willing to work hard, both men and woman have been hugely supportive of both the business and me personally through my journey of starting Mini Exchange.
What do you think distinguishes you from your competitors?
Mini Exchange is something that’s never been done before in the region; we’ve built an online marketplace for brands, retailers and parents to buy and sell kids fashion. Thousands of items, all at a discount and delivered to the doors of parents with just the click of a button. There really is nothing else like it in the region.
What current plans do you have for your website?
Mini Exchange is planning to be the ‘go to’ place for kidswear in the region. The feedback so far has been incredible with mums, dads and stores already loving it so we’re hoping that we can keep that up. Next steps are spreading the word to more people in the UAE and then hopefully launching the site in a number of other neighboring markets, which I have no doubt will bring us lots of new and exciting challenges.