From working at industry giants to helping small businesses compete with them: This is French entrepreneur Benjamin Mouflard's journey. Image Credit: Supplied

Benjamin Mouflard, 37, sold golf balls to make money when he was only eight years old. This was a successful and fun idea he implemented to make money, as his parents had often told him that money should be earned, not given.

"I picked lost golf balls on a golf course and sold them back on the same golf course just after a lake when gulf players usually lost balls in the water. It was the best spot to sell balls," recalled Mouflard.

Hailing from France, Mouflard spent nearly a decade leading divisions at industry giants like Facebook, Microsoft, L'Oreal, alongside firms like apparel brand Quiksilver and social advertising platform MakeMeReach.

So, what brought you to Dubai?

"I came to Dubai as I had an opportunity to move here with my employer at the time. I'm now starting my tenth year in Dubai, an incredible place to create opportunities as you get inspired by being surrounded by so many smart and talented people. It creates an environment where everyone feels empowered to take risks and innovate."

Here are two key rules Mouflard follows in his life:

Rule #1: To spend your money on assets, not liabilities

Mouflard suggested spending a lot of your money buying assets, especially at an early professional age, when you usually have minimal expenses.

"Liabilities are things like cars that lose almost all of their value the minute you buy them. Assets increase in value over time, such as shares or real estate."

"I apply the 80/20 rule – 80 per cent of my investments are within safe investment plans (real estate, long term financial placements, etc.) and 20 per cent in risky ones with a high chance of failure but very high return if it succeeds," Mouflard added.

Rule #2: Trade your time for capital, not a salary

Mouflard recommended trading your time for capital, not a salary. “I never joined a company not offering access to shares of the capital. It's also why I want all of our employees to own some shares of our company so they can get a reward over time.”

Mouflard firmly believes that trying to earn money is not the best way to make money; instead, one should do something he has a passion for. His approach towards work is to "solve a problem you care about, do it exceptionally well with a lot of consistency and discipline, and eventually, money will follow."

Mouflard also shares how he developed entrepreneurship skills

Mouflard comes from a family of small business owners. His father ran a retail store selling sound systems and television, where Mouflard worked after his school time.

"I helped him from a very young age with small marketing actions (flyers, loyalty cards, etc.) and selling to his customers, especially at busy times during Christmas. I loved the experience and knew I would want to build my business later," he said.

But that’s when a neighbouring large business outpaced his father’s small scale business.

"During that time, one defining moment shaped what we're doing now as a company. A mall with hypermarkets opened next to the city where my dad had his retail store, which offered competitive prices by marketing itself aggressively."

Following this, Mouflard remembered how helpless his father and many neighbourhood retail businesses felt for some time on how they could compete and grow their business.

Mouflard shares how he developed entrepreneurship skills.

Fast forward many years later, he added how in a world where technology and digital are everywhere, food businesses face a similar challenge.

"Industry giants arrive and change the market because they have access to capital and technology that small businesses can't afford. Suddenly, they have no other choice but to pay high fees to sell online, and even worse, they are quickly losing direct access to their customers."

This inspired Mouflard and his business partner Vinicius Rodrigues to start an online mobile ordering and payments platform ChatFood in 2018 in Dubai, aimed at helping Food and Beverage (F&B) and hospitality businesses sustain amid industry competition.

The platform allows small local businesses sell their products online to large-scale restaurants, cafés, bakeries, giving them access to technology needed for selling directly, owning profits and forging customer relationships.

"Over the last 18 months, we helped more than 6,000 of them open their online store or digitise their ordering and payment experience in-store. We drove over Dh100 million in sales, and more than 1 million customers decided to support their favourite businesses by ordering directly."

Mouflard shares two entrepreneur's tips from his business experience

Entrepreneur tip #1: Validate your idea with your first paying customers before investing in it

Mouflard advised validating your ideas with your first paying customers and then investing more money. "We waited for a customer to confirm he would pay us Dh100,000 for a project to create the company."

"It's straightforward to test ideas at almost no cost these days. Most of the tools offer free trials and do not require any developing skills. However, the mistake that many first-time entrepreneurs make is that they believe that they need to spend money upfront with a trade license, a website and app, before even making sure that people are willing to pay for their product or service."

If you spend more than a few hundred dirhams before your first paying customer, you're probably doing something wrong, he said.

What were your different expenses?

"Our initial costs for starting the business were licensing fees, shared offices and bank account. The expenses were around Dh20,000 for a free zone license and a shared office at places such as entrepreneur innovation platform In5 or Sharjah Media City. Then for opening a bank account, you need a minimum deposit (Dh15,000 to Dh20,000). Overall, I would say that you need at least Dh50,000 to launch your company officially."

"From there, we knew we had nine months of savings ahead of us. So we had nine months to generate enough revenues to give ourselves a small salary and keep going."

Entrepreneur tip #2: Proper cash flow management is essential to keep business up and running

Mouflard added that cash flow management is the number one challenge at a very early stage in most businesses. "Money can go out very quickly, and if you don't pay attention, you can quickly kill a great business because of poor cash management."

"We were all focused on building a great product and selling it initially but less on money collection. And because of that, a few times, we got close to catastrophe, and we had to pull out some magic to keep the business running."