x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

'For us, home is just where the family is'

Online entrepreneur tells how she started her business.

Franciska Schwarz
Franciska Schwarz

I come from a very entrepreneurial family. My father is an architect and engineer from Germany, and we left in the early 1970s so he could start a business in Saudi Arabia.

I grew up in Jeddah and my father always insisted that we could do whatever we wanted. You just need the right stepping stones and believe in yourself.

I decided to get a degree in hotel management in Australia and afterwards I did my MBA in Scotland. My first job was in Australia while I was going to school.

I had the good fortune that I could ask my parents for help if I needed it, but I had way too much pride to call and get money, so I would call on my boyfriend, who is now my husband. Back then I had huge phone bills to call him, running about A$2,000 (Dh7,220) every month. I actually had to work two part-time jobs. One was valet parking at the local Park Hyatt hotel. I also worked at the school library.

We now have two daughters named Alexis and Silippa. They are twins and are four years old. In 2007, my husband, who works in finance, had the opportunity to move to Dubai for a job. I pushed him because I really wanted to return to the Middle East. The children were just five months old. It was new to my husband, but he caught on pretty fast.

Being here alone without other family and friends and with two small kids, I decided that I needed a support group. So I joined the Twins, Triplets and More group in Dubai and met some great women there, including my eventual business partner, Emma Kristensen.

Together, after many walks in the park with our kids, we decided we needed to do something around the children. We didn't want to get into full-time jobs that would take us away from our families too much, but we also wanted to use our brains creatively at the same time. So, eventually, babysouk.com was born. We founded the company in late 2008 and the website went live in January 2009.

Babysouk.com is an online store and we offer next-day delivery in the UAE by working with various courier companies.

Our most popular products are the Ergo baby carrier (Dh450 to Dh550) and our nursing covers (Dh170 to Dh180). Children's clothing is very popular as well. We have more than 640 products on our website and about 40 suppliers from New Zealand, Australia, the US and Europe. There are also several local businesses we support.

The majority of our customers are in the UAE, but we've had orders throughout the GCC. We have travelled to places in the region, such as Qatar and Muscat, to expand our brand.

We sincerely believe in giving back to the community. We donate Dh5 to charity from every purchase. So far, we have given thousands of dirhams to charities such as the Little Wings Foundation. It helps children with muscular skeletal deformities. They regularly fly children to the UAE and perform operations. They also fly to the Gaza Strip twice a year and perform numerous operations on children who would normally never have a doctor.

The biggest expense when launching the business was the designer who came up with the image of Babysouk.com . We don't have a large overhead and we figured this was our shopfront and we better get it right. We came up with the name and she put together our whole identity.

When it comes to money and my children, they got the hang of it very quickly after a few visits from their grandfather. They both received little cow banks to put their money in. So whenever they do something well, like clean up their room, they get a coin to put in them. The idea is they save something and exchange it for something they want, and we usually go for ice cream on the weekends and spend it.

When my daughters get older they will receive a small allowance for them to spend themselves. I want them to understand budgeting and that when money is gone there is no more left. They are in nursery school and education can be very expensive. For both children, we're looking at Dh21,000 per term, or about Dh65,000 (a year) for both.

And then you have after-school activities like ballet and swimming, and these things add up. We are definitely spenders. My husband and I have a weakness for good food, nice hotels and we enjoy collecting things, like carpets. If you are going to buy something, you might as well do it properly. We'll wait, save up and buy a very nice carpet, or we'll wait and go to a very nice hotel. We have about seven carpets that we spent way too much money on, but my husband adores them. Our house is full of things we collected over the years and each piece is unique to a different experience. We bought one of our carpets for about Dh25,000.

My husband and I bought an off-plan property in Sanctuary Falls at the Jumeirah Golf Estates. We purchased it in 2008, just before the property bust. That was a huge wake-up call. We just bought it and obviously invested a lot of money. When the bubble burst, we got very worried. After that, I learnt not to jump into something quite so quickly and that has helped me in business. Fortunately, the house is now being built and should be finished late next year.

Dubai is home for us now, although for us home is just where the family is.

* As told to Jeffrey Todd