Emirati pilot
From pilot to successful business owner: UAE national Hani AlQattan, 38, reveals his entrepreneurial journey. Image Credit: Supplied

"Nothing ever replaces the thrill of creating a profitable business from scratch and seeing it grow," said Hani AlQattan, 38, an Emirati airline captain who also runs multiple businesses in the UAE.

He started his flying career at age 19. As an airline captain, he has travelled to over 100 countries and seen many businesses operate differently. This inspired him to bring a new concept of renting books and toys via an online portal in the UAE, helping parents save money without compromising their kids' demands for the latest toys and books.

"I plan to venture into the business full time and end my flying career in the next couple of years. A sense of achievement is great, especially when you know that your business positively impacts the wider community."

However, he stated that being a business owner comes with several challenges and responsibilities.

AlQattan’s entrepreneurship journey started at age 20 with a small bakery business running in the UAE. Over the years, he invested in various industries, including an F&B (Food and Beverage) concept, automotive, and a car rental business. Two of these are also operating, including a new venture that is a UAE-based toys and books rental platform.

What has been your vision behind starting this new educational books and toys rental platform?

AlQattan would often spend a lot of time away from my family and children due to his flying career. He said, "I would buy books and toys for my children from every country I visited. However, I realised that I was spending a great deal of money on these books and toys that were very short-lived. It sparked my interest in launching a ‘Toyshare’, an online rental platform for families to access quality books and toys every month."

Four essential lessons AlQattan learnt from being a business owner:

Lesson #1: Always have a substantial strategy and plan when starting a business and take well-calculated risks.

AlQattan emphasised the importance of adopting a substantial strategy and plan, especially when you want to introduce a new concept to the market that was not done before.

"Never invest in something you don't fully understand or is totally out of your field and experience; if desired, then you must read about it and learn before investing.

"I have prioritised my business to plan, allocate assets according to needs, and set specific targets. My parents wanted me to develop good habits that would last a lifetime. Therefore, I always apply business money management skills that allow me to take calculated risks and prepare for the worst-case scenario.

"For example, with my toy rental business, I purchased a book and toy library enough to accommodate up to 2,000 members. Although this was a risk, it was a calculated one. I looked at myself and my friends' children and their needs and surveys of other parents suffering from the same problem. They all wanted to economise without cutting down on the happiness and development from books and toys for their children."

AlQattan learned essential budgeting and money management skills from a very young age. "My parents gave me a set amount of pocket money, which stayed the same regardless of whether it was a weekend or not. With this budget, I had to learn how to limit my spending in the week to enjoy my weekends. On days of receiving my report card, my parents would reward me based on good grades, which further taught me a valuable lesson of working hard for money."

As an airline captain, AlQattan has travelled to over 100 countries and seen many businesses operate differently. This inspired him to bring a new concept of renting books and toys via an online portal in the UAE.

How did you turn your business idea into reality and arrange for the business's funds?

For funding the business, AlQattan took the support of his family and used his savings. He had saved 30 per cent of his salary into a saving account with a retirement plan in mind since the start of his career. He and his sister put up a total of about Dh3 million to start the online rental sharing platform.

Later, he raised Dh1 million from an investor, which covered team building, logistics, warehouse solutions, and marketing expenses. He plans to open the second round of fundraising by the end of the second quarter of 2022.

He used about 25 per cent of the initial funding in sourcing and acquiring inventory. "The most significant expense was purchasing thousands of age and gender-appropriate organised, educational playful, and recreational books and toys."

Lesson #2: Depending on the nature of business, acquire the right mix and quality of stock to meet people's diverse needs and tastes in the UAE.

Buying books and toys that met the needs of a highly international populace in the UAE was AlQattan’s biggest challenge. "It was time-consuming as we had to ensure to acquire the best mix and quality to meet an extensive blend of taste and needs. I had to consider the diverse society we live in that led to sourcing books from the UK, USA, and India to provide an inclusive range of books and toys."

Lesson #3: Building an online platform that displays the products user-friendly is vital for an online business.

AlQattan’s best friend introduced him to a specialised app developer who helped bring his business to life with a user-friendly app. "He translated my idea to a well-designed app. I spent 20-25 per cent of funding on app development, creating an online platform that displays the products in a user-friendly manner with images, discerption, parts and creating tutorial videos of how to play and make full use of them."

Lesson #4: Invest in automating operations, learning and improving yourself.

AlQattan stated that automating warehousing and logistics and integrating it with the platform was the next challenge, and the learning to improve it is still on. He added that mainly logistics, where most of the players in the market are still far from being perfect to depend entirely on.

"With the help of an app developer, software to manage the immersive inventory and enable automated operations was designed to allow future scale and growth and mitigate human error as much as possible," he added.

"Since we launched during the pandemic, it was essential to consider the safety and sterilisation of books and toys; therefore, I invested in a 3-meter cleaning and sterilisation machine containing an omnidirectional UV light chamber that kills 100 per cent bacteria and germs."

AlQattan’s passion is for kids all across the UAE to have access to educational books and toys without the need for parents to spend thousands each time. He has also set up a charity partnership for less fortunate kids to receive donated books and toys from the platform.