When three sisters met for lunch one lazy Saturday afternoon in April 2011, they had no idea that a business idea was about to be born. A month later, the trio were hosting their company’s first event. Middle sister, Sian Rowlands, 31, says, “The idea for My Ex-Wardrobe sort of crept up on us. While I have always enjoyed fashion, my passion is definitely shopping. So, part of the fun for me was working out how I could harness a personal interest and develop a company around it.”
The entrepreneurial sisters were already busy with jobs, personal projects and families – Sian is an interior designer; Teagan, 27, is a swimming instructor and jewellery designer (teaganjewellery.com); and Bekky, 33, is a mother of two and runs Lily Bakes (lilybakes.com), which sells homemade jams, chutneys, fudge and other delights. But once the idea had been voiced, it seemed to take on a life of its own and, within months, what had started out as a hobby had become a blossoming business. Now all three sisters are committing serious amounts of time to the new company, arranging monthly events where women can sell their beloved clothes to new owners – thereby offering women in Dubai the oppportunity to land a good bargain, helping the environment (the company’s ethos is: reduce, reuse, recycle, re-own) and helping compulsive shoppers make a bit of money back on their overflowing, underused wardrobe (some pieces still have the tags on).
The Rowlands sisters are perfect examples of multiple careerists – pursuing their main careers while making money out of their personal interests and hobbies in their spare time. What motivates them, and women like them, to take on projects that eat into their out-of-office hours? Sian says, “I would say it was a combination of things... I have a strong passion for shopping and, having been affected a bit by the financial recession, I was looking for ways to find a shopping solution. All three of us thoroughly believe in living greener, more sustainable lifestyles – and our business model meant we could bundle all those things up into one. It definitely started out as a hobby for all three of us, but has certainly got big enough that I could see myself doing it full time. It has been a massive learning curve, but a journey I have enjoyed immensely... I’ve wanted to be my own boss and develop a business concept for a while, and as soon as the idea was born we knew we were onto a winner. So it seemed like a natural way for it to go.”
Louisa Coates, career coach and director of Davos Consulting Group, says that, when faced with a client who has ideas for starting something new, or setting up their own company, she always encourages them to “dip their toes in the water first”. According to Coates, there is a misconception that people might be starting up their own extra-curricular company as a money-spinning project, when actually it is more about satisfying a passion, or an interest. She says, “I find that people are normally doing what they’re already doing for the money and that the extra job, or project, is out of passion. It’s not a new concept – the notion of one career for life is not working anymore, and hasn’t been for a while.” Coates says that, in the UK, the recession in the 70s and 80s made people realise they needed to be more versatile, to be able to weather the storm of redundancies and unemployment. The term ‘portfolio career’ was coined, meaning when somebody has multiple paid jobs, or careers, running alongside each other at any one time.
“Here in the UAE, portfolio careers are easier than in other countries,” says Coates. “Mainly because we often don’t need the same level of criterion in order to get into a new job, or an industry. Also, we have a young and vibrant community which is willing to give people a go.”
Stevi Lowmass, entrepreneur and manager of Heels and Deals Dubai, agrees that setting up your own company in your spare time seems to be more commonplace here in Dubai, but she suggests different reasons. “Women here have more help around the house, so more time on their hands,” she says. “They are free to be a bit more creative, and starting something up doesn’t necessarily need the financial commitment it might need elsewhere. Sometimes women have ideas they are passionate about, and sometimes it’s just about building a business and being their own boss.” Isn’t it a little bit to do with the organic movement and the recent trend for homemade, artesan items and slow food, over mass produced options? “Yes,” says Stevi, who makes and sells camel milk candles. “People do seem to be choosing beautiful homemade items over commercial products. But most of us who are making our own candles, or our own cupcakes, or our own greetings cards, want it to become a business which supports us. And there’s a limit to how far you can go with souks and artesan markets.”
Spicing it up
While some multiple careerists do it for the money, the passion, or the desire to be their own boss, there are those who do it simply because it makes life more interesting. One of those is Keren Bobker – a financial advisor at Holborn Associates, who writes articles for The National, she has regular stints on the radio and, in her spare time, makes jams. She says, “The preserve company is a hobby that got out of hand. My business partner and I were both into cooking, more as a way of releasing the stress of our busy careers – I’m in finance and she’s in events. But then we launched Well Preserved (wellpreserveddubai.com) about a year ago and started selling our jams and chutneys through Arte. It makes a profit, but not much. We both just really enjoy it... sitting in a kitchen, stirring a pot, then seeing people tasting it at the stall and liking it – it makes me happy. We have big ideas and plans, but we don’t have time to act on them now. And we both still really enjoy our careers.” As for the writing and radio work, although it is predominantly on finance-related topics, Keren says she likes it because it’s a different avenue which uses different skills than her main job. She says, “Having one job with one company for 40 years and walking away with a gold watch at the end of it, that’s all gone. I love my career, but the writing and radio is something I think I could do more of if I were to move, or if my life were to change. But for now it’s interesting doing all of these things and it keeps my working day varied.”
Career coach Louisa Coates believes that one of the main benefits of being a multiple careerist is that dedicating time to a hobby, a passion, or to your own start-up company, can make people feel more satisfied in their lives, thereby making them more settled in their day job. She says, “I have people coming to see me all the time who are simply dissatisfied – with their job, or with their place in the world. Starting up a second career, or launching your own business, can be a way of bringing more fulfillment into your life, which has the knock-on effect of refreshing and re-energising your current, or main, career. Sometimes people are employed, but they want to try out their entrepreneurial skills... setting up their own company on a small scale allows people the opportunity to experiment and explore.” This is certainly true for fulltime cosmetic dentist/part-time baker Dr Erica Edwards who says her custom-designed cake company, Cakelicious (find them on Facebook), started as a hobby, but now gives her an opportunity to use the “business know-how” she picked up on an entrepreneurial course back in 2008. She says, “I’ve always been interested in running my own company and the course was a real eye-opener. I think the experience of running the cake company now will be useful in the future. At the moment, I enjoy doing both of my jobs – and they are similar in a way as both have to appeal to the eye. It can be hard to juggle them sometimes... I am often cooking throughout the night, or getting up early to decorate a cake. But I enjoy it. Right now I’m just having my cake and eating it.”
Dr Erica isn’t the only one who seems to be treating her current, gentle exploration into entrepreneurship as a personal experiment – a try-before-you-buy of running your own company. The other multiple careerists all seem to have plans and ideas locked away for the future and a sense of career adventure about them – which brings us back to Stevi Lowmass’ point about how many entrepreneurs are motivated simply by a desire to be their own boss. She says, “A lot of these women like their jobs, but they want something that’s all theirs.. something that’s their baby, which they have control over. They want to be their own boss and create something that pays their bills... they want to be master of their own destiny.”
Four rules for setting up your own company
Career coach Louisa Coates is director of Davos Consulting (www.davosconsult.com). Here she shares her tips on becoming an entrepreneur for the first time.
Choose your partners wisely
Setting up with friends is often problematic.
Don’t give up the day job until you’ve really thought everything through. Spend time thinking about the ‘What ifs?’ of your scenario. See if you can start it around your current job, to see how it goes and see if it’s something you would like to do more of.
Do your homework
There’s a temptation to run into something because you’re just doing it on a small scale on the side. But no matter how small it is, you still need to do your research on potential opportunities in the industry, as well as finding out about the training you might need and ways of networking.
Start small and give it a go.