About the Podcast
In Episode 1, join Margaret Herde in conversation with Åsa Ferreira as she covers the 5 major W’s of establishing a business in Dubai:
- Why choose Dubai
- What costs to expect
- Who to approach as clientele
- When to expect returns, and
- Where to expect challenges
M: Hi Guys… Good morning, Good afternoon, Good evening, whichever part of the world you’re listening from!
It's our episode 1 and I’m your host, Margaret Herde and in today’s episode, Åsa Ferreira, my Co-Host is going to talk about the most important aspects of setting up or expanding your business to the UAE.
A: Hi Margaret! It’s always a pleasure to chat with you. Thank you for this lovely coffee by the way!
M: You’re most welcome.
M: So Before we jump into the core of our podcast, Asa, could you share with us a little bit more about your background, who you are and how it all started?
A: So, I started my entrepreneurial journey in India at the age of 21, with SocioLoca which js an agency that provides Digital Marketing and Branding Services.
We soon expanded our operations and set up in the UAE in 2019, and with an overall team strength of 35 now, we’ve been running for nearly 7 years now.
M: That’s impressive! Didn’t you also start something else here recently?
A: Right, I recently took up the position of CEO at Logichron, which is a leading Demand Generation company in the US we cater primarily to clients in the North American, EU and Asian Regions.
M: Interesting! I’m always pleased to hear about Women in leadership roles! It’s a big part also of UAE’s mission.
Is Logichron established in the UAE as well?
A: Yes we are! There was ever increasing potential to work with B2B enterprise companies here and so one of my core responsibilities at the onset was to set up and establish a base for them in the UAE, to basically increase their footprint in the rapidly expanding MENA region.
M: That’s brilliant! More power to you!
So guys, she has successfully established and grown 2 businesses here and her story and accomplishments are quite diverse to say the least.
From managing 2 businesses to fundraising, to mentoring at the Dubai Business Women’s council and now podcasting, Asa! It's a very important question do you manage to get any sleep?
A: Hahaha, yes, I do my best! But I tend to get carried away most days!
M: (laughing) Don’t we all!
M: So today, Åsa will be covering the Big 5 W’s to know and consider before setting up in the UAE
- Why choose Dubai?
- What costs to expect
- Who to approach as a clientele
- When to expect Returns of the investment
- Where to expect challenges
A: Yes, that pretty much sums up everything I’d love to cover.
M: So, Asa, why did you choose UAE and why Dubai?
A: There’s a bunch of reasons I narrowed down to Dubai. We were already in India and were servicing clients in Dubai and the US. It was the right time to expand overseas and I was finally down to evaluating between Singapore and Dubai initially.
so I did my Research, spoke to a few well-established individuals here and the Stats on Dubai in terms of opportunity were positively increasing.
M: Talking about statistics, I recently came across the World Bank Ranking where Dubai is now just 1 rank away from entering the top ten, in the Ease of Business Rankings!
A: Exactly! The Ease of registering and scaling a Business was a prime factor on my checklist. Dubai was also recently ranked as the third best country in the world for expats to live and work in.
All in all, I sincerely believe that Dubai is the new Land of opportunity.
M: We used to consider USA as the land of opportunities?
A: True, I believe that’s a common saying, but in my opinion just based on everything I’ve seen especially amidst the pandemic, I think the label is better suited for Dubai.
Other than just business, it’s also home to diverse cultures and has played host to professionals in so many industries like finance, real estate, hospitality, trading and so much more.
M: I agree, especially with the expo on going, there’s a lot of opportunities that can be leveraged.
The Government also recently launched the United Global Emirates to attract more talent, businesses and people to the UAE!
A: Oh yes, great initiative! Other than the opportunity I saw here, Dubai was also closest to home for me, it was a central point for our clients from Saudi, Lebanon and the rest of the middle east. So, it served to be geographically convenient, both personally and professionally.
M: That Makes sense.
A: Another important factor was ensuring we could continue to service our US clients and increase our portfolio of offerings to them. Dubai enabled that effectively given the Fixed forex rate between US and UAE with the currency here being pegged to the US dollar.
M: Oh, is it? There’s always new information I take away from our conversations.
There’s always something new to learn each day, right?
A: Agreed! And that’s exactly what makes this city so special. Despite the learning curve, you never feel like you don’t belong here. You can be this one person, out solo, trying to make it in this metropolis of shiny glass towers, fancy cars and great work ethic all while embracing new experiences here.
M: That's very true
Another thing that astonished me (and I’m sure you’ll agree, Margaret) was how organised and systematic everything was here. I believe that has a lot to do with the regulation, systems and balances the Government has put in place. From business, to public utilities, everything here is extremely accessible.
M: Thats very true and do you know we are living in a city with more than 200 nationalities and it's a metropolis city that can compare to New York, London, Paris, Milan. The biggest cities that were like an inspiration I think for the government and thasy whywith all these elements you mentioned it makes people feel it's the right place to be
A: A few more factors that really swung my vote more in favour of Dubai was Safety- both personal and in business. The Leadership in the region has and is taking all the steps required to protect your interests whether you’re an emerging organisation or an established one.
M: Talking about safety, UAE also recently beat Europe in the best place to be during the pandemic.
A: Not surprising, I can totally see why.
M: If you think about it, we both launched our businesses here just pre pandemic and managed to make it through to 2022!
A: That’s true, Dubai’s been very kind to me in terms of opportunity, so if I had to go back and choose my next destination again, I would still pick Dubai.
And so, for everyone out there that is contemplating on expanding the footprint of their brand, or even considering starting their own business in UAE, I’d say “There’s no better time than now”.
So, now that we have established why Dubai, if you had to give advice to someone looking to move, what would the Starting point for them be?
A: I’d suggest exploring and understand the market at first. Because It’s not just about having the right services or the best products, it’s about ensuring that you know you have a market to cater to. Dubai has a diverse group of individuals from most industries, with this continuous influx of talent and hi-tech solutions, so spending some time in understanding your market is important.
for someone who was into providing Digital Marketing, Branding, Web and Design Services, it was just the right mix and market of businesses and brands for us to tap into.
M: Makes sense..
M: Moving on to Numbers- What are the core costs that one should consider while budgeting for Dubai?
A: Let’s see.. umm.. I like to categorize costs into Business vs Personal costs.
And most importantly - I believe one should consider hidden costs.
This is something I hadn’t accounted for initially, but I learned its value over my first year over here.
for example of this hidden or unseen cost would be “Opportunity costs”
Simply put, it is the cost you either sacrifice or earn when you choose one option over another. For me it was starting up in a new city, vs one where I was established, testing the waters here, finding the right network and leaving the comfort of familiarity behind.
Opportunity costs aren’t really quantifiable, and so they can be easily overlooked.
if you’re stumped with which option to pick while evaluating- you should pick the option that yields a higher return in the long run and not immediately.
M: This is definitely helpful..
A: True, Going back to Business and Personal costs: I like to further categorize these 2 into One-time vs Recurring costs.
So Under Business you have your general one time set up costs that most countries have- Business Registration, your licence, visas, banking, insurance. These costs obviously will vary depending on whether you set up in the Mainland or a Free zone.
And then once you’ve set up, you have your recurring costs to Scale which is primarily Hiring, training and all the overheads that come with it.
M: Got it.. Now that you’ve covered the business side of things, what would be some personal factors that you need to consider with respect to cost?
A: I'd say Primarily your Cost of Living. The right mix for you, would depend on different factors such as convenience and cash flow.
I’d say your stay is a major factor, it dictates your investment in multiple resources. Rent being purely a financial factor is obvious, but a factor that can consume a lot of resources and costs if not planned well would be your commute. How far you are from your clients, how far are you from people you need to interact with often, all of this will definitely play a major role in your cost planning.
Also, while projecting personal costs, one needs to account for “Time”. This is another hidden cost we all miss out on accommodating it into our decision making when we’re focusing on just obvious glaring factors that directly affect our pockets!
M: Well, apart from business tips we have a few economic tips! Thank you Asa, for it
A: Hahaha, I hope these are helpful.
M: So Asa, what’s the best way to bring your first client on board? How do you build a network and generate leads in a city like Dubai?
Let’s consider you’re new here, why should anyone work with you instead of established players?
A: That’s a great question!
You need to first identify where you can meet your potential clientele.
Dubai is an extremely dynamic city, so you need to keep your eyes open and your ear to the ground. There’s always something new coming up, something new going on.
What helped me get started was networking platforms and communities such as Dubai Business Women Council and networking events such as BNI where I started off by narrowing down and visiting chapters. You need to understand the availability and exclusivity for your specific Business. And there’s also this app called Meetup- it gives you updates on all the events happening here- both business and local events.
and that also reminds me, there’s this lovely event I found through the app and attended called NUTS- short for Networking under the stars. I believe it’s a weekly evening event (at least it was- pre covid). I got to meet some brilliant individuals there that eventually converted into not just one time but recurring business.
M: I’ve attended quite a few of these myself and I definitely agree that networking is key.
I am a huge advocate of this form of exploring business opportunities. Especially when you are starting fresh in the new city, you should experiment to find out what works best.
A: True.. There’s also mentorships-
A mentor guides you and points you in the right direction. There’s no reason to feel any less or overthink how you may come across for asking questions and seeking guidance. As a mentee, I got to learn first-hand from more established players in the market about what to do and how to go about things.
M: I agree.. and you’re now mentoring at Dubai Chamber, right?
A: Yes, I was recently given the opportunity to mentor someone through the same channel and it’s been quite a fulfilling experience to be able to give back.
Similarly, there are these Mastermind groups and communities where founders and business owners come together, work together and help each other in problem solving. That really helped me understand other business owners’ journeys, and this is definitely in my top 5 sources of knowledge and exposure. I say exposure because these business owners become a part of your network and that facilitates their network to become a part of yours.
M: that's extremely Interesting.. you mentioned I also myself on the previous edition at the Dubai Chamber I also was one of the mentors, I must say it's a great way to really learn about you know the market opportunities, I always believe sharing is caring and people share their journey we can learn from them and vica versa, so Its a great way to explore the new city as well
A: And Other than this and most importantly, you need to focus on delivering your best from your very first client and then ensure that it’s followed by consistency. Because Nothing works and sells better than Word of Mouth. So If you do your part right, you can leverage your existing clients to generate more clients for you. Referrals according to me are the fastest and most reliable way to grow when you’re starting off, especially when you're from the service industry.
M: I agree thats the best way for reccomendations This was something we had discussed in one of our initial meetings as well. I remember you mentioning referral modules you used. How does this really work?
A: You basically provide a referral fee or a percentage of the contract value to anyone who refers a client to you. Consider this as a cost you would incur on Business development but with a higher chance of conversion because it’s been referred or vouched for.
I truly believe it’s so important to give to enable gain.
This is something that can really help smaller businesses with expanding especially in a short span of time and cost effectively because this way you’re increasing your inbounds and effectively decreasing your need to generate outbounds so overall your reducing your cost for sales.
M: That’s very interesting, Asa.
M: Okay, so we’ve set up, started outreach and covered what costs to expect.. What according to you would be a realistic timeline for a Business to see the returns of the investment?
I think that would be subjective, it would vary from industry to industry and business to business.
But in my personal experience and if I was to compare my timeline for returns in Dubai, despite my investment cost here being higher, I saw returns at twice the pace in comparison to US and India. This was primarily because contractual obligations, payment schedules, communication, and respect for timelines are very well adhered to here..
If you’re in the service industry, a well-planned strategy is likely to start paying off within first two to three months itself and is likely gain revenue as a result in 6- 12 month.
And in the service industry ROI is continuous. So as long as you keep investing in talent, scaling, expanding your offerings ,you can keep seeing returns.
But to answer your question I don't this there is one way for everyone to ascertain a timeline on returns given how different everyone's circumstances, resources and clientele are.
M: That’s very true..you know everybody's story is a completly different story so we should go over every individual to be able to forecast the investment on a particular company
A: that's true, I think It also depends on what your investment has been..
If you’re Self-funded or bootstrapped, you reach your break-even and see returns quicker but your growth and scaling cycle is much longer.
Whereas If you’re a Start-up- your projected returns are higher but at a higher risk and over a much longer duration. Although in Dubai, there’s a bunch of govt initiatives through funds, incubators and accelerators, that support start-ups for this reason.
M: yea, great sources are there guys so definitely you can do you own reasearch. My only concern is this 9% tax which they have recently announced so how do you feel about this?
A: I'm not sure how I feel yet, if I'm being practical and doing the math, it doesn't really balance out in comparison to you know paying tax in another country where your overheads and your cost of living and investment and set up is much lower. I'm not sure about how I feel about it cause I understand that Dubai is doing its very best in providing systems and facilities to it's people, so i understand why the need for this but im not sure I'm quite happy about knowing that we have less than a year or slightly more before corporate tax kicks in.
M: Yes, it's like more than a year to go, let's see. I hope there are no more surprises regarding the tax, let's hope for the best and as you mentioned we do not like the tax idea. However the government invests alot in the country, so this where the money will go at the end of the day
5. Where to expect challenges
M: Getting to our last topic of the discussion is where shoulp people expect challenges?
A: There’s the general challenges you would face when you’re staring up in any country.
But specific to Dubai- my Initial challenges were the- Working days over here.. which was Sunday to Thursday
it was a challenge Managing Global Teams that work monday to friday but now from Jan that system has changed and so that isn't really a challenge anymore.
M: that's very true, I think for majority of the people it's still very difficult to adapt that were working on Friday and sometimes it feels like people are actually not working and should I contact them because it was a family day and actually Sharjah became of the favourite, the city across the country because the rule of Sharjah he decided that his people are going to work from Monday to Thursday and have three days of weekend to manage their work life balance in a better way, which the majority, I mean there are several countries which already adapt this system and have a good result so let's hope for the best.
A: Another major challenge which I continue to face and you’d know this too.. is the systems and laws for employers here. There’s definitely huge benefits for employees that the country has put in place given the number of expats here but as an employer it can be challenging.
For example- when you look at talent acquisition. You need to consider multiple things apart from just hiring. there’s a 30 day annual leave policy apart from the general sick leaves and public holidays. That along with yearly bonusses essentially means you need to account for paying for 13 months of salaries for 10 months of services.So this is apart from visa and insurance costs. I’m all for these benefits but it takes some getting used to and definitely requires better planning on an employers part in terms of cash flows to ensure business doesn’t take a hit.
M: I completely get where you’re coming from. Payroll administration and ensuring compliance with employment laws is easier said than done.
A: Agreed. The Economy here is so dynamic and there’s ever changing laws and compliances like now there's ESR, UBC and so the Scrutiny for new companies registering here is quite a bit.
M: That’s true. Dubai has quite a few business challenges for those looking to start up but if you expect challenges it’s easier i think to overcome them. And Is there any personal challenges you faced?
A: Personally – Time management –between work and personal Life was a challenge initially. Making sure I could focus on health, getting in workouts regularly.. It all takes discipline to be able to balance that with everything that’s constantly happening in Dubai and so getting a routine in place was initially a challenge.
And also the Heat here for about 8-9 months a year really took some getting used to. Planning meetings around and planning meetings outside was a challenge but i think with cloud seeding thats currently ongoing, it's going to change. we’re already seeing better climate here. So hopefully..
M: That's true and you know we always have a different perspective depends from which part of the world we are coming from. I'm from London and before that I was in Dubai multiple time so over the years when I moved actually it didn't feel that moving the new city, the new country as I was quite familiar with I would say the system the regulations. It is a different perspective when you're coming for a week or two and actually to live in the country you have a different perspective. However, the big city and challanges we need to go accross bring you also great opportunities.
So Asa, I think we do very very well and I also quickly want to jump and dive into 3 big choices we have to make while starting up, and I want to ask you, i would love to actually hear your opinion
M: would you go for an agent or would you go and manage everything by yourself?
A: For me it would be- Working with agents
A: I’m sure there are ways and means to get this done on your own, but ideally it’s going to take longer, and if you’re trying to start off with your business - time is valuable.
So I’m sure there are many founders out there, who’d prefer spending money on things that would mean they can plan for more productive work that requires their time
A: Plus I had mentioned earlier, that safety and transparency were key parts of my decision making in setting up here and all agents are here as far as i know so all the agents here are mandated by UAE law to have licenses in place to be able to help you. So all of the information you require is available at your fingertips. You can always ask the agents to give you their license number and check wether they are authorised to work or not so there’s lesser risk of fraud.
M: okay, so that's helpful, so that's the agent casestudy and my experience was the opposite. I decided to do everything bymyself and it was challenging, it was a journey, it was interesting because I said let me be a student, I want to learn everything from the scratch, i want to meet people, I want to go to the government offices, i want to really understand how these things work so it wasn't easy. However, no regrets. I think it's a good lesson, specially you know when you are in the new country, ofcourse you can use the service which is everywhere over the country. However it was my character even if it takes time and it will be a long journey I prefer to do the things bymyself.
A: And I think that really works for a business like yours where you're able to understand and now you're able to register products for your retail business yourself instead of having to rely on an agent, so I get where you're coming from. I tied up with a very helpful and professional agency out there, they provided me with the guidance and all the necessary help in order to understand to get through with the processes. And plus they charged me a basic service fee over the direct govt fees involved so it was totally worth it.
M: That’s great to hear!
So guys anyone interested in knowing little bit more about this, please reach out to us through our website or social media we are really more than happy to provide you more information maybe share some contacts which might be supportive for your businesses
So Moving to the Second of your Choicec- In your opinion, in terms of renting what would you suggest for those who are just planning to move to Dubai what would you suggest, Long term or short-term rentals here?
A: This one’s tricky. I’d say Initially short-term rental, and eventually long term.
Because Dubai has so much to offer when it comes to options.
When you’re just starting off here, you need to get familiar with the city. Short term rentals will give you the opportunity to explore different parts of Dubai, and different communities in Dubai to see where most of your business and networking is frequently happening.
M: I agree, and there’s plenty of great choice between air bnbs and hotels in different areas which you can explore. Because when you're moving to the new city I think you have one idea and to explore slightly different areas as it gives you a great understanding of the time and how you should plan your schedule and if you really like the area and the community around and what you have what you are looking for because the perspective where you're just a visitor versus you're the resident are two different stories so I think these airbnbs and hotels and we have actually really great rates accross dubai. Very different prices of the hotel doesn't make you feel it's actually expensive. We can stay in the hotel for the whole month on the amount of the rental, that's the good part of our city
A: True. I think this choice also depends on your overall budget and whether you’re going to be using public transport or driving here since the cost of your stay and commute is dictated by the distance from the heart of city and how accessible it is to the Metros and to other commercial hubs.
M: Yea, that is actually I think a really important part of moving around and myself I'm driving and some people ask that how is the drive in Dubai when you have eight lanes and it's kind of the like the states specially in Dubai makes you feel you are in America but the Abu Dhabi is more like Europe elements to consider if you are using public transport, driving, taxi, or Uber.
A: Choosing short term rentals initially enables you to travel back and forth between different business geographies or home and it doesn’t pin you down until you’re ready.
So once you have set your base and built your network it makes sense to opt for a long-term rental which requires you to invest in setting up a place. By this point you’ll have more cash flow and you can focus on the convenience that comes with long term rentals.
M: That makes sense. And the last one regarding choices So Networking by yourself or hiring sales?
Definitely start off by networking yourself.
I always started on my own… whether it was Dubai or even in the US.
I'd say When you put in the hours yourself , you get to go out to position your company and Tell your story vs someone else translating your vision and brand promise for you.
But Once you Build a foundation and Personal relations with people, they have more trust in you, and your brand offerings and they are more positive to refer you.
So Once that’s established then definitely move to hiring sales and you can focus on growing your business, expanding, adding new verticals etc.
M: I really agree. Asa I really want to say a big thank you and you're doing really interesting and very impressive things as i said earlier Im always really pleased to see about the women who are in CEO positions, running their business, they are successful in the multiple elements around you so I believe our listeners can really take a lot from it. So thak you so much for your time.
A: My pleasure, I’m so gllad we did this, and I appreciate you very much.
M: Guys, so this the end of our episode please reach on our website and social media and also if there are any other topics you are into it across dubai we are happy to cover it.
The Big 5’s:(2:38)
Building a network: (11:10)
Timelines to see returns:(16:08)
Personal challenges: (22:00)
The 3 big choices: (23:38)
-Agents vs DIY
-Short term vs Long term rentals
-Networking vs Hiring sale
Ever wondered how businesses set up and start off in Dubai? What are the obstacles involved? Or what tricks do entrepreneurs need to know to grow and become successful in Dubai? In this episode we give you all the answers as our hosts, Åsa Ferreira and Margaret Herde, address why choose Dubai, what costs to expect, who to approach as clientele, when to expect returns, and where to expect challenges while setting up or establishing your business in Dubai.