You Can Have Your Cake And Eat It Too

By Rohma Sadaqat
Khaleej Times, Dubai, United Arab Emirates

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Sidiqa Sohail has some great advice for women in business who want to be entrepreneurs…always be learning!  Despite being in business for several years, this entrepreneur from the UAE says she is still learning on the job. She says, “There are many stages of entrepreneurship and business that you go through, and every few months or over a year, you enter a new stage.”

United Arab Emirates

Start a business when you have honed your skill set and are sure that you can handle the technicalities of running a business by yourself, says Sidiqa Sohail, founder and co-owner of Spontiphoria.

Sohail opened the specialty bakeshop and boutique in November 2013, though she says she got the idea for her own business in 2011. Located on Al Wasl Square in Jumeirah, Spontiphoria offers hungry treat seekers a range of homemade cakes, biscuits and other baked goods, all prepared fresh in the shop’s kitchen. The store also has a range of carefully selected clothes, fashion accessories and gifts for a number of special occasions.

When Sohail originally conceived the idea for her bakeshop and boutique, she was a student studying International Studies at the American University of Sharjah. From distributing business cards to fellow students and professors at her university, to taking part in food exhibitions across Dubai, Sohail had a very hands-on approach to bringing her unique business idea to life.

“Those early years were very important to me because I was gauging the reactions different people had to my baked products. Before I had even launched the cafe, I was noting what potential customers liked to see in a menu. I also tested the reception to my products by first starting a home business, where I took orders from customers,” she explained.

Sohail also revealed that running the business in its initial stages was a challenge, since she hadn’t taken any business courses in university. “Everything that I learned, I did through trial and error on the job. Even if I did have a business background in university, I feel it would have still been a process of learning for me,” she said.

Learning on the job
Sohail is quick to point out that she is still learning on the job. “There are many stages of entrepreneurship and business that you go through, and every few months or over a year, you enter a new stage. So, it is crucial that you keep learning on the job. Every step of the way, things are, and will be, different as your business model evolves.”

She also revealed that one of her biggest challenges was getting people to understand that there is a value to a Dubai-based concept that is an independent business.

“In the past year, I have seen a lot of Dubai-based businesses springing up everywhere, and people seem to have developed an appreciation of them. But, back in 2012, when we were approaching people to sign a lease and explaining our concept, they didn’t really seem interested because they wanted the bigger international coffee chains to enter the market, rather than a small start-up,” she said.

For many entrepreneurs, evolving and expanding their business is a natural process. For Spontiphoria, the catalyst for that evolution was the construction of the Dubai Water Canal bridge above Al Wasl Road that decreased visitor footfall.

“When we originally opened, we were leaning more towards a sit-in cafe and boutique, but now we do a lot of outside catering, and that has expanded to be a sizeable bulk of our business. Once construction on the road started, we realized that we had to capitalize on our catering side of the business to make up for the decrease in walk-in customers. We have also evolved into a destination that hosts a lot of events. We have our own book club, we do language sessions, we host baking classes for kids and we host regular workshops with different inspirational women in the UAE,” she said.

Sohail also said it is very important to be aware of what a customer expects from you. “You might have an idea of what your business is going to be like, but sometimes that is not how it is going to play out. When I first opened Spontiphoria, I never imagined that it would be more than a cafe and boutique, but then we saw what customers were looking for, and with their feedback, we moved into catering for special events. You have to listen to what your customers are interested in, because at the end of the day, they are the ones keeping you alive.”

Turning point in the cafe’s expansion
For those of you who thought what does ‘Spontiphoria’ stand for, it is a combination of the words spontaneous and euphoria.

For Spontiphoria, the catalyst for business expansion was the construction of the Dubai Water Canal bridge above Al Wasl Road that decreased visitor footfall.

“When we originally opened, we were leaning more towards a sit-in cafe and boutique, but now we do a lot of outside catering, and that has expanded to be a sizeable bulk of our business. Once construction on the road started, we realized that we had to capitalize on our catering side of the business to make up for the decrease in walk-in customers. We have also evolved into a destination that hosts a lot of events. We have our own book club, we do language sessions, we host baking classes for kids and we host regular workshops with different inspirational women in the UAE,” Sidiqa Sohail said.

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