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Dubai-based Indian expat's journey from dentistry to entrepreneurship

“Five years ago, when I got pregnant with my first child, I decided to take a break from work for at least a year,” recounted Dubai resident Ashima Kakar who eventually left her dentistry practice to pursue entrepreneurship.

It was during her time off from work that Kakar realised that despite her degree in dentistry and practice, there were other things that she was more passionate about. Being a person who thrives in social interactions, Kakar decided to move on from active practice to a more administrative and operational role within the healthcare industry. For a while she even spearheaded a mother and childcare program at a healthcare facility. After moving on from the healthcare industry, Kakar joined her friend’s start-up called TurtleCard, an online platform that enabled parents to book activities for children. When the pandemic hit, the start-up was placed on hold for obvious reasons.

But another idea took off.

Turning a passion project into a business proposition

Almost a decade ago Kakar and her close friend and now business partner used to enjoy making chutneys (or spreads) at home over weekends as a hobby and sold these at 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 a certain point they learned about the Spinneys Local Business Incubator Program and decided to apply and got selected among the finalists.

What is the difference between business ‘incubator’ and ‘accelerator’ programs?

Incubators focus on early-phase start-ups that are in the product-development phase and do not have a developed business model. Accelerators focus on speeding up the growth of existing companies that already have a product ready.

“I was seven months pregnant with my second child when we pitched to enter the programme. We made some chutneys in our kitchens, put out a cheese board and it clicked. We were chosen as one of the winners. In that moment our passion project turned into a business proposition. That’s when BottledUp became a real start-up,” Kakar reminisced, and shared some lessons from running her start-up.

Stock Dirhams

Be it entrepreneurship or any line of work, you’ve to set realistic goals.

Lesson #1: Set realistic goals

Kakar: “Be it entrepreneurship or any line of work, you’ve to set realistic goals. Write these goals down. Because on days when you feel low, which is normal for any businessperson or stray from your chosen path, these goals will help you to stay focused on your long-term vision. Start with small but realistic goals and keep building on them.”

Lesson #2: Stick to your core values

Kakar: “Anyone who comes up with a business idea should have a certain set of values. For example, as a home-grown food business our value is to use no preservatives in our products yet ensure a one-year shelf-life and stability at ambient temperature. We could have launched the brand at least six months before we did but developing the product range with zero preservative was non-negotiable for us. So, we waited until the product was 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’s important to monitor cash in and cash out. 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 many accounting apps too that help in keeping track of 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 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 around Dh15,000 for an annual renewable license. If an entrepreneur has a decent amount of investment, they can consider setting up their own licensed kitchen, which in the long run can reduce operational costs.”

Stock Entrepreneur Business

For any start-up with co-founders or partners, it’s important to allocate roles and responsibilities based on areas of expertise.

Lesson #4: Allocate roles and responsibilities

Kakar: “For any start-up with co-founders or partners, it’s important to allocate roles and responsibilities based on areas of expertise. We did this exercise quite early in the day. I handle the day-to-day operations, marketing, sales and communication related activities while my partner is responsible for accounting, bookkeeping and inventory management. Allocating roles and responsibilities helps in avoiding friction, which is especially important if your co-founder is a friend or a family member. Having seen that mostly finances tend to cause misunderstanding, we’ve set certain ground rules. There is a clear demarcation of our share in the business, coupled with a cap on expenses beyond which we are obliged to consult each other before taking a decision. Since every penny counts in a small business, if we can avoid a certain expense, we do that without hurting each other’s feelings.”

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 learnings. But don’t put in so much money into anything that might turn into a big financial mistake. For example, for any start-up digital efforts require a certain amount of spending so set aside a marketing budget. In our case, it includes everything from social media ads to hosting competitions and attending 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 shy away from telling your story

Kakar: “Everyone has a reason for starting a business. That story is what differentiates one business from another. So, whatever that push might have been in your life that drove you towards entrepreneurship must be articulated. Never shy away from telling 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 build. However, also be aware of your limitations, which most entrepreneurs know innately, to avoid getting to the point of no return. Sometimes an idea might be great, but the timing can go wrong. In such circumstances it’s okay to put the business on hold and revisit at a certain point.”