In many respects, Donna Benton is very much a woman of her time, and her place. The founder and chief executive of The Entertainer (a book offering a collection of discount vouchers) is preparing to take the venture, which was founded in Dubai and has been very much part of life in the UAE for some years now, into the digital age.
And it is only now that this is even possible. Smartphone use has exploded in the past few years, bringing with it the ability to track and monitor the location of users. This opens up a whole new world of information to makers of apps, the small computer programs that run on smartphones, and for retailers, who previously could hardly know when and how their discount vouchers were being used.
But with the rise of location data, and the computing power to interpret it, suddenly there are more options. Ms Benton’s company can now offer retailers much greater understanding of what customers want, which means more tailored deals. A supermarket, for instance, can understand better how shoppers use their vouchers and tailor them to specific groups: those with kids, with a sweet tooth, or with a penchant for electronics.
All of that would not be possible in another time. But Ms Benton is a real UAE success story, because her journey to success might not have been possible in another place. She has spoken of how it was the sheer number of restaurants and retailers in the city, all the way back in 2001, that first sparked the idea. Combine that with the open business culture of our cities, where businesses are willing to try different things, and Ms Benton’s project was always likely to get more traction here than anywhere else.
The location, too, was a bonus. The first place The Entertainer expanded to was Qatar, a country also developing at breakneck speed, with a similar business environment and language, and right next door. Because many of the same companies operate in both countries, the idea of the business was quickly understood.
Ms Benton’s success says many things about her vision and tenacity. But it also says much about a country like the UAE, where a woman who came here for a job that, as she herself put it, “didn’t work out”, could swiftly find herself developing a business, finding investors, and expanding regionally and worldwide. Entrepreneurs like Ms Benton contribute much to the country – and they find in the United Arab Emirates a willing and enabling partner.