Al Ain-based Emirati AlDhabi AlMheiri read 1,200 books by the age of six. She eventually turned her hobby into a business proposition by launching a children-focused online platform, finding herself a place amongst UAE’s young entrepreneurs.
It’s befitting to call ‘Rainbow Chimney’, an online platform that sells children’s books, stationery and toys, a little girl’s legacy. While AlDhabi is an ardent fan of Mary Poppins’ books, by the age of three she also knew a lot about the solar system and would ask her mother questions such as, “What makes us stick to earth, is it possible to ever fall off? Is there another planet around us, do people like us live there?”
During an exclusive interview with Gulf News, AlDhabi’s mother Mouza AlDarmaki said, “AlDhabi is very curious by nature. I realised this when she was barely two years old and started reading to her using the phonics methodology. The funny thing is I wasn’t fond of reading at that time, but I started to read for her sake, to learn about the best ways to impart knowledge to her and my other children. By three AlDhabi could blend words together and gradually started reading on her own and when she turned four, she expressed her desire to open a book shop.”
Lesson #1: Encourage children to pursue what they like
“Give children the independence to choose and pursue what they like,” AlDarmaki says. “Having the independence to choose will bring out their innate potential. It will also prepare them to make choices independently – be that completing homework or pursuing a certain career later in life. As parents we can guide them along the way, support them but not impose our decisions on them. AlDhabi loves to read, write, colour and at the same time she is learning coding because she wants to. It’s important to realise that a child is not a copy of their parents. They are individuals and must develop their own characteristics, interests and ultimately carve out their own life.”
Hobby led to a business idea
Even before setting up Rainbow Chimney, AlDhabi was fond of handpicking and packing gifts, mostly books and toys, for her cousins and friends. Seeing AlDhabi’s genuine interest to read and how she encouraged others to read, her parents decided to support her to set up Rainbow Chimney with an initial capital of Dh8,000.
“We wanted AlDhabi to test out her idea by creating a minimum viable product, personalised boxes offering educational aids in this case. We started with slightly over 100 titles and two to three books under each title. My husband and I agreed that if the proposition works well, we will support AlDhabi with more investment until the business becomes self-sustaining. So, when we started receiving positive feedback from customers, we invested more money. As of now, we have invested a total of AED480,000 to grow Rainbow Chimney, and we constantly reinvest earnings from the business into the business,” AlDarmaki shares.
Adding on, AlDhabi says, “I love running Rainbow Chimney, it’s a lot of fun.” The things that she loves doing the most are packing the boxes with books, toys and stationery, based on selection that includes gender, age, interest as well as special needs if any. Then she places labels and price tags on the boxes often with a handwritten note. She is also learning to catalogue books and toys, checking each item before they go online.
Lesson #2: Teach children the value of money as early as possible
“A few years ago, we were in a mall and AlDhabi insisted on buying a toy. I thought it was an opportune moment to explain her the difference between want and need. Thankfully she understood that she didn’t need that toy, it was only a want that could wait. Now she teaches the same principle to her younger siblings. It’s important to teach children the value of money. It’s because we started teaching her simple money management principles that today AlDhabi knows that she can buy one book for Dh50 or even three with the same amount, it’s a matter of choice. In fact, now whatever money she earns as reward from family members she reinvests into the business. We also follow another ground rule of never taking any item for free from Rainbow Chimney even if it’s our own business,” AlDarmaki shares.
Growing a business requires careful planning
“Our new shipment of books is coming soon and if I stick them all up, it will reach Burj Khalifa,” AlDhabi proudly declares.
While business can be fun, it also requires careful planning. A lot of thought goes behind sourcing books, toys and stationery, an area that AlDhabi’s parents handle.
“We work with around 15 publishers based in the US, Canada and the UK sourcing books [in bulk] directly from them, which helps us to save cost,” AlDarmaki explains. “In addition, we have also formed strategic partnerships with delivery platforms such as Talabat, which helps us to record daily sales. Otherwise, the nature of our business can be seasonal with some months being very busy and the others quiet. Another source of revenue for us is attending various local, regional and international book fairs also leading to brand awareness.”
Asked if she enjoys doing calculations because business is also about keeping track of cash in and cash out, AlDhabi says, “Most people find it surprising that I like doing calculations with support from my parents. They also help me with the pricing of the boxes.”
Lesson #3: Be aware of local laws and regulations
If a child aged under 18 decides to run a business, the license is issued under the parent’s name in most cases, AlDarmaki points out. “In addition, now that AlDhabi has started an initiative called ‘writing a book: from children to children’ wherein she will select 10 children’s books written by her friends and publish it under her publishing company we will need another license that allows book publishing. So, it’s important to be aware of local laws and regulations.”
Building a community
After becoming the youngest Emirati entrepreneur at age six, AlDhabi who is seven years old now has been named as the youngest publisher by Sheikha Bodour bint Sultan Al Qasimi during the Sharjah International Book Fair. AlDhabi’s book is all set to release this year in November. A big step that will strengthen the mother-daughter duo’s vision of building a community of readers in the UAE.
“We have over 7,000 subscribers on our website, excluding customers we reach via Talabat and other platforms. But it’s not about how many people buy from us but more about how keen they are to be part of this community of eager readers. Sometimes we see customers ordering one book from us spending more on delivery than the actual price of the book. This is one of the reasons why we are thinking of setting up a shop,” AlDarmaki says.
“Beyond business Rainbow Chimney delivers an even bigger message to parents. And that is to acknowledge a child’s abilities and help them discover new things and eventually their innate potential.”
• Work hard to make your ideas work and never give up
• Always remember what Mary Poppins said: “Everything is possible, even the impossible.”
Message from a parent to parents: Mouza AlDarmaki
“Every child is born with talents and abilities. Some parents discover it in time and sometimes it’s too late. On discovering some parents are supportive and nurture children with the right opportunities. But some may not be as much supportive for various reasons and to them I’d like to say believe in your children and their abilities. Spend time with them to find out what their real interests are and trust their choices. You’ll be surprised to know that most of my conversations with AlDhabi about the idea of setting up Rainbow Chimney happened during our playtime or during bedtime storytelling sessions. Children have magical abilities and its upon us to discover and nurture their talents.”