Leslie Mallart is the founder of dubaiconfidential.ae, a website primarily aimed at women living in the emirate that shares shopping tips, restaurant reviews and organises screenings of classic films. She speaks about the challenges of finding a proper illustrator for her site and the harsh lesson she learnt when starting up here.
You ran a business when you lived in the UK but decided to work for someone else when you first arrived in Dubai. Why?
I felt very lonely [running the business in London] because I missed the social interaction that you have in an office. So I thought I don't want to make the same mistake in Dubai, so if I set up a business I will set it up with someone else. It took me some time. I thought maybe I should try to find a job and I started working as a sales manager in a publishing company, but when you have worked on your own for five years it is very difficult to work for someone else, so I found it quite challenging.
What was difficult about it?
Taking orders [from a manager] when you don't think they're right. You disagree. It was a small experiment. I didn't stay long and then I had my first child. I stayed with my son for six months and then I started setting up the business. But it took me a very long time to set up because [my] website is made of illustrations and it was very difficult to find a good illustrator. I went through 200 people, maybe. I found one in France who is quite famous but I didn't have a good experience with her.
I paid everything up front. It was my mistake. I was too trusting. Then I found someone else but I made sure I did not just go to her directly, so if there is a problem she cannot just disappear. She's from the UK and does lots of illustrations for [magazines such as] Elle and Marie Claire. She's very good and a nice lady.
What gave you the idea for the website?
There are similar things in Europe and so on. I thought there was a gap in the market [here]. It is for women with refined taste. It could be hot tips or practical information, like where to get bespoke shoes in Dubai. We check and if there is nothing special about it, it doesn't go on the website. Everything that goes on the website is special. It's not a listing company. Everything has been visited. All the food has been tried.
Is Dubai an easy place to set up a business?
There are lots of things to be done, so there are lots of opportunities. Everything has to be built here. The only downside about Dubai is that it is a small market. If something goes very well here you can easily roll it out to neighbouring countries.