They are only 28, but already boast three unique projects under their belts. The twin brothers Ahmad and Rashid Bin Shabib started the UAE’s first online shopping portal in 2006 when they were 23; a year later they brought out a magazine to dispel the stereotypes of the Middle East; in 2009 they launched Shelter — a venture to support entrepreneurial developments in the UAE.
Being entrepreneurs, they were well aware of the challenges of starting a venture in the UAE. Hence, Shelter was essentially conceived with the purpose of helping new entrepreneurs bring their vision to fruition without undertaking any huge financial risks. “We started Shelter in Al Quoz, converting a 7,500-square-feet warehouse to offer space to budding entrepreneurs — which was very affordable compared to regular office spaces in Dubai,” says Rashid Bin Shabib in an interview with GN Focus.
“When we first rented a warehouse to launch our magazine Brownbook, our friends and colleagues also began to work around us in that space. Later on as the Brownbook business grew we moved to Dubai Media City and transformed the Al Quoz warehouse into Shelter, an incubator office space where people could come together and work and build bridges through engagement, discussion and social interaction,” Rashid says.
The brothers started their first venture Brownbag.ae, an online shopping portal, with Dh25,000 — money saved from their earlier jobs. “The project, I believe, was ahead of its time. It was launched at a point when Dubai was yet to witness an inflow of expats from across the world. Though it generated lots of interest from Dubai residents, we failed to make the kind of traffic that we were looking at, and that’s why we decided to shut it down,” Rashid says.
They moved to their second venture Brownbook, a magazine mandated to portray the Middle East differently — away from the preconceived stereotypes. The magazine publishes articles on art, culture and lifestyle and today boasts a circulation of 15,000 and is distributed worldwide.
Commenting on the publishing industry in the UAE, Rashid says that the economic boom supported the launch of several ‘unnecessary’ products in the market. “Many international titles were launched based on content imported from abroad which had no regional relevance. Once the boom gave way to sluggish growth these magazines couldn’t survive.”
Both Rashid and Ahmad Bin Shabib were educated in the UK, US and Switzerland and graduated from Suffolk University in 2004. They credit their mother with helping them develop a fine sense of appreciation of art and culture, and their grandfather with developing in them an understanding about the nation.
“Growing up in close association with our grandfather Mohammed Saeed Al Mulla, the former federal minister of communication, helped us understand and experience what went in the last 40 years to build this nation: lots of people have given their time and effort to build the UAE. The nation is in a very strong position right now — economically we are gaining momentum and politically with Federal National Council elections common people are slowly being integrated into the decision-making processes. Based on the efforts that the older generation made and what we are doing now I can only see the nation going forward,” Rashid says.
When it comes to their future plans, they intend to continue on the same path: generating interesting contents, encouraging engagement and initiating dialogue.