Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 15 November 2019

TripAdvisor-style plastic surgery app a runaway success

The online platform allows users to book hundreds of cosmetic procedures at the touch of a button

Marwa Al Mansoori, founder of the Malena plastic surgery app. Leslie Pableo for The National.
Marwa Al Mansoori, founder of the Malena plastic surgery app. Leslie Pableo for The National.

A “virtual marketplace” for cosmetic surgery has won a government-backed prize awarded to Emirati entrepreneurs working in the private sector.

Marwa Al Mansoori came up with the business idea - called Malena - after it took her 45 minutes to book a simple facial.

Now she is seeking to capitalise on the country’s booming plastic surgery industry through a smartphone app.

The programme allows users to compare prices of hundreds of procedures, from teeth whitening and skin exfoliation to nose jobs, at hundreds of UAE clinics.

Appointments can be booked with a click of a button and customers are also notified when leading plastic surgeons fly into the country or if new discounted procedures are offered.

Ms Al Mansoori said she was alive to concerns that increasing demand for plastic surgery was being driven by an unrealistic images posted on social media and a continuing culture of celebrity.

The 26-year-old said she was concerned to learn young women were increasingly asking surgeons to make them look like they appear on photographs enhanced by ‘filters’ on popular apps.

However, she insisted that by offering a well-regulated platform, where clinics have to prove they are licensed before being included, and where users can leave Trip Adviser-style reviews anonymously, Malena would help protect consumers.

“I’ve heard from clinics that girls nowadays go to plastic surgeons, show them their Snapchat filter, and tell them I want to look like that,” she said.

“So educating people, and especially the younger generation, is very important.

“We need to tell them if you need to do something you need to do it in the right place, you need to know what you’re doing and how it will affect your short-term and long-term future.”

Malena was recently announced as one of four winners of the Khalifa Fund for Enterprise Development and startAD’s Ibtikari program.

The scheme is designed to offer advice and support to Emirati entrepreneurs, with winning businesses assessed to see what financial support they might qualify for.

Ms Al Mansoori said around 14,000 people were currently using the app, which launched in 2017.

She said the ratings tool helped consumers receive an honest impression of a clinics’ offerings, with many people unwilling to discuss plastic surgery with family or friends and instead passing off results as “natural beauty”.

It is hoped that a “transparent and well-governed platform” will also help protect against rogue operators.

Last year, UAE doctors reported a large rise in cases in which they were left to deal with the aftermath of botched treatments carried out by unlicensed surgeons or practitioners.

“Someone will not want to pay extra to go to a certified plastic surgeon, so will see a cheaper option and say ‘why not’,” Ms Al Mansoori said. “Then the girl gets deformed, it messes up her life.

“People don’t like to talk about [cosmetic surgery], especially girls. They will say this is natural beauty.

“People do not want to call someone and ask ‘where do I get botox?’ We have that type of secrecy where people don’t want to share this information.

“If they don’t want to tell anyone about it, they may be directed to someone not certified. But on the app, you will receive all the information [from anonymous user reviews].”

Marwa Al Mansoori, founder of the Malena plastic surgery app. Leslie Pableo for The National.
Marwa Al Mansoori, founder of the Malena plastic surgery app. Leslie Pableo for The National.

By some estimates, Dubai has the highest concentration of plastic surgeons in the world, with more clinics even than Hollywood.

Ms Al Mansoori said she had discovered a cutthroat mentality among businesses, which she has spent the last two years persuading to sign up to Malena. The platform now boasts more than 300 clinics and 600 doctors, offering more than 5,000 services.

She initially attracted US$200,000 (Dh734,000) of investment through family and friends, and has recently attracted a further US$300,000 (Dh1.1m) from other sources in a second round of fund raising.

So far, the business has made money by taking a 20 per cent cut of all procedures and appointments booked through the app.

It is now also creating content, such as blogs, for cosmetic surgery businesses, allowing them to market their products to its audience and build their reputations.

“The amount of competition they have, it’s like a battlefield,” Ms Al Mansoori said.

“The clinics are suffering. Clinic A will spend thousands of dollars getting a plastic surgeon from abroad. He goes in then the clinic invests all its money marketing this surgeon.

He gets all the database, goes to clinic B and does the same thing. Then he opens his own clinic, so clinic A and clinic B closes down because of that. It’s very commercial and competitive.

“Every other day the clinics are getting a new marketing manager, a new marketing company. We can give them packages where we take care of content creation and market them to our users.”

As a result of its recognition from the government-backed Khalifa Fund, the business could now be eligible for financial support.

The scheme sees businesses assessed depending on their needs, with no upper limit for fundraising.

Ms Al Mansoori, who is from Abu Dhabi but now lives in Dubai, said the scheme had helped her and others take the risk of moving into the private sector.

As well as financial backing, mentorship schemes and international trips are provided with the aim of encouraging entrepreneurs and diversifying the economy.

Ms Al Mansoori quit her job with the General Secretariat of the Executive Council in Abu Dhabi two years ago, and has also run her own events firm.

“Before, being an entrepreneur was very risky,” she said. “If you fall on the ground, no-one will help you out.

“Now, there is government support for SMEs and it has given me the confidence of taking that step.”

Updated: April 25, 2019 12:41 AM

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