It’s Not All Child’s Play

By Muhammad Riaz Usman Khaleej Times, Dubai, United Arab Emirates

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Saima Khan is a british-born serial entrepreneur who moved to Dubai in 2002. After co-founding a financial advisory firm, she shifted her focus to children, not only her own but creatively caring for other children as well.

DUBAI

Being a mother of four, Saima Khan, co-founder of Cheeky Monkeys Playland, recognized a need in the market for a place where children could learn while they play.

"When I had my third child in Dubai, I realized there were very few venues where I could go with my toddler and be in a stimulating environment. A place where I could play with my baby and also meet other mothers and not feel isolated," she recalls.

Cheeky Monkeys was not her first venture. When the British-born serial entrepreneur moved to Dubai in 2002, she co-founded Taktical Advisory Group, which specialized in financial consulting and advisory services for North America-based investors focusing on investment opportunities in the Mena region.

In 2009, she shifted her focus to children's edutainment and co-founded Mini Monsters. This was the largest indoor soft play area in Dubai (at that time) specializing in birthday parties.

In 2010, she co-founded Cheeky Monkeys Playland. Cheeky Monkeys and its sister company Sweet Surprises operate in the dynamic industry of children's indoor and outdoor events and edutainment concepts.

Cheeky Monkeys' facilities are located in Al Barsha, Mirdif, Jumeirah Beach Residence, Umm Suqeim and Arabian Ranches in Dubai and in Abu Dhabi, Al Ain and Ras Al Khaimah. Each facility includes features such as an arts and crafts garden, a monkey clubhouse, a brick building station, a mini gym, kids salon, classrooms and party rooms.

Game-changer The company offers full turnkey solutions for kids' events along with affordable venue services. It conducts more than 2,000 children's events each year.

"Before we opened Cheeky Monkeys, there were no Montessori-based play area for kids. We do not offer TVs or video games. just old-fashioned play, arts and crafts and encourage kids to use their imagination. The idea was to bring the community together with this platform. Most of our staff come from performing arts or early childcare background and they are trained to be interactive with the children," she adds.

Saima is aware that everyone in Dubai come from their own unique culture and sometimes it's hard to integrate all of them. "We specifically set out to hire diverse nationalities. When we started the business, we had 18 employees and today we have approximately 250 professionals," she says.

Saima says an eco-system must encompass harmony between governing policies, finance, culture, human capital and an environment that is receptive to innovation.

"I would say the UAE has a successful element of these components. The government is now offering initiatives such as the Khalifa Fund, Dubai SME and incubators such as the Impact Hub. We are seeing successful local start-ups such as Dubizzle, Cobone, Fetcher. which is really encouraging," she observes.

In terms of mentors, she feels fortunate to be a part of the Entrepreneurs Organisation, which provides UAE entrepreneurs great learning opportunities and support.

She advises young entrepreneurs that tenacity is everything. "You don't need to have a degree in business if you are passionate about a concept. Stay committed and disciplined, chart out your vision and it will happen."

Due to the success and exponential growth of Cheeky Monkeys, Marka acquired a majority stake in the business. Saima now sits on the board of directors of Cheeky Monkeys and remains involved in the company's operations.

"We are confident that our partnership with Marka, the UAE's first and only market-listed retail company, will provide the direction, structure and resources necessary for this growth."

Saima now plans to expand into more verticals that cater to family entertainment. "We just opened a two-storey laser tag arena called Xtreme Laser. We are working on introducing a new concept combining play, exercise and well-being for the entire family," she adds.

Saima has empowered her employees to take decisions on a daily basis. "As the business grows, I cannot be at each location simultaneously. I spend a great deal of time coaching and supporting my staff to make good executive decisions that will benefit our customers. To do that effectively, they must have an element of EQ and that comes from understanding all aspects of what is required."

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