The Creative Concepts Of Emirati Serial Entrepreneur Anas Bukhash

Having launched businesses like Bukhash Brothers, Buka, and Chalk, Emirati serial entrepreneur Anas Bukhash is definitely clued in to the charms of being one's own boss.
The Creative Concepts Of Emirati Serial Entrepreneur Anas Bukhash
Image credit: Anas Bukhash
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"I believe the UAE leadership knows that entrepreneurship is one of the most important sectors for the development of the UAE economy, and recognizes this immensely; however, when it trickles down to organizations that are supposed to support entrepreneurship in the ‘right’ manner, there is still a disconnect,” says Anas Bukhash, an Emirati entrepreneur with a few businesses under his belt. “There are organizations that do support SMEs in the UAE, but I still don’t think they are at the optimum level or that they’re doing it as efficiently as it should be done.”

When you have done as many interviews with local entrepreneurs as I have done in the UAE, patterns emerge. Bukhash seems to be what we might now call the archetype of Dubai’s entrepreneurial ecosystem: one, he is immensely proud of his country; two, he works on several businesses at the same time; three, he invests time and effort supporting people around him (both offline and online); and four, he keeps on dreaming big. If not for all, but at least for the fourth point, concrete proof is in his next quote. “I would love to see a big flourishing of entrepreneurship, even a SME mall that supports local startups would be great,” he says. “Imagine that, with feasible rents, or revenue sharing models. I think the city really needs it, and they can be very popular. It’s really nice to see startups in the UAE that started as an idea on Instagram or the like, and now they’re thriving, and they have expanded even beyond the country. I love seeing that. So, I would love to see more focus on entrepreneurship in not only thinking locally, but how to even export these concepts across the world, because why not.”

Bukhash Brothers office. Source: Bukhash Brothers

After pursuing a degree in mechanical engineering from Northeastern University in the United States, Bukhash returned to the UAE, and keeping up with the afore-mentioned archetype, he kicked off his career by joining the corporate sector. This saw him work at companies like Abu Dhabi Company for Onshore Petroleum Operations, Dubai Properties Group, Dubai Cares, and Arabian Gulf League. “My 12 years of corporate life taught me a lot about the importance of structure, procedures, processes, and management,” he says. “It also taught me a lot of what I don’t want to do, and what I think is redundant or inefficient. I think that is one of the main reasons why I wanted to be an entrepreneur, to be able to create concepts out of nothing. That’s why I haven’t opened any franchises. Of course, there is the added charm of being your own boss; wearing shorts, a t-shirt, and a cap to go into work- I think these are great pluses!”

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By definition, entrepreneurs are not afraid to express themselves, and that particularly holds true for Bukhash’s businesses, which include Bukhash Brothers, an influencer and celebrity marketing agency for the MENA region that was launched in 2014; Buka, an online fashion brand; and Chalk, a unisex hair salon, both of which opened last year. However, his very first business in 2008, Ahdaaf Sports Club, which was billed as the first indoor sporting facility in the UAE, was a demonstration of one of the classic key success factors in entrepreneurship: spotting a gap in the market. During his college years in Boston, Bukhash took part in a match held in an indoor football field with artificial grass, and that’s when he realized a similar concept with high quality and temperature-controlled football fields would work well in the UAE. Today, Bukhash is more of a sleeping partner at that enterprise, he says; however, he still relies on the lessons learnt from that period in his career today.

“It took us years to start something like Ahdaaf,” Bukhash remembers. “We were fully committed to making it happen, and didn’t leave any stone unturned, but it took years just to secure funding, to secure approvals from different entities around the city, to convince people of the viability and need for such a concept. The struggles and challenges we faced were in a large part due to structural inefficiencies, and unfortunately, such unnecessary hurdles kill the idea of entrepreneurship and create a huge handicap.” Learning from that experience, Bukhash decided to self-fund his other businesses. “When we were pitching to outside investors, they would require multiple feasibility studies, people would criticize the concept without adequate information, and unfortunately, by the time you are ready to launch, the idea expires,” he says. “So, on the funding front, I think one of the most efficient ways is to do it in-house, but if you don’t have deep pockets or a bit of savings, it is still quite challenging. The most important lesson is that you need to be financially stable, because if you think it will take six months to open a business, it will probably take you a year and a half or so. You definitely require a bit of savings to have a chance at opening your own business.”

Bukhash Brothers, billed as the first celebrity and influencer marketing company in the UAE, opened in 2014, before the sector became “trendy,” Bukhash says, noting that the company had an organic start. “Over time, I [had] built a very strong network of influencers, international celebrities, and footballers who would come to the UAE, and since I’m fluent in both English and Arabic, a few of them would consult me for advice, and request me to negotiate deals on their behalf,” Bukhash says. “After a while, I realized that there was a big gap in the market, and this had the potential to grow into a formal business. We had a very good start with associations with Maxwell, Will Smith, and one of our biggest initial projects was with Selena Gomez, Gigi Hadid, and Kendall Jenner. They visited our beautiful city, and we were privileged enough to support that visit, and put together their agenda and itinerary. All these factors played a big part in establishing Bukhash Brothers.”

CHALK. Source: Bukhash Brothers

Bukhash considers the UAE as one of the leaders in the digital marketing sector within the region, with the country’s National Media Council (NMC) recently deciding to license influencer marketing being a major game changer. “I think we’re one of very few countries in the world that have a formal regulatory system for influencers,” he explains. “It professionalizes and legalizes the sector. I believe influencer marketing in the global digital sphere is also something that we will see a lot more focus on, as a lot of people still haven’t figured it out yet and are learning as they go, because it is still ‘new.’”

Bukhash Brothers has grown from an agency into a consultancy, since the team is now in the position to advice and offer insights on the digital marketing sphere. This success, Bukhash says, has been derived from its three main strengths: the high-quality of delivery, the slogan ‘designing meaningful relationships’ as its brand purpose, and the local knowhow. “We are from the UAE, and we understand its culture, idiosyncrasies, and nuances,” he says. “The UAE is a beautiful melting pot of cultures, and we know what the people like, and what the wider Gulf region will be tuned into for campaigns, concepts and ideas; these are all factors that give us a very strong edge.” But while Bukhash Brothers had a relatively smooth set-up, it has since encountered significant obstacles during the growth phase. “Growing the portfolio of clients, hiring the right team, finding the right office space, and to just have a sustainable, stable business takes a lot of time and effort,” he says. “The learning curve with any new business is steep, but when operating in the digital space, it’s a constant challenge to manage client expectations, and deliver a service that not only meets, but exceeds, expectations, every single time.”

Bukhash’s newest endeavors, a high-end luxury clothing line called Buka, and his Alserkal Avenue-based salon, Chalk, are extensions of his passion for self-expression, and both have brought their own sets of hurdles as businesses. “With Buka, the most important lesson was about protecting your intellectual property (IP),” he says. “Creative expression must be protected through IP, because it’s very easy for your brand, designs, and concepts to be copied. There are so many other things that you wouldn’t know, unless you go through the experience. It’s been a crazy experience to really immerse ourselves in the unique world of fashion. With Chalk, it was funding. It was a huge investment, and approvals took ages. Contractors were a very big challenge; it was tricky to find the right contractor who would actually finish all the work on time. We decided to approach family and friends and to include Bukhash Brothers as a part-investor.”

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Reflecting on all the companies he has set up so far, Bukhash notes that the common denominator for their success has been having a strong team, and that has been his main challenge too. “Employees are the lifeline of any business, so it’s critical to ensure you hire the right people,” he says. “We have a rigorous application process where employees go through different phases. There is an assignment given to each in order for us to determine if they have the right attitude and competency that we are looking for. We don’t accept a CV alone. We request a video from each person who applies; they have to submit a video explaining why they should be considered for the role, and I think it is a very good filter rather than receiving hundreds of CVs. With videos, you know who is actually serious, and you also get to know them a bit better.”

In addition to all of this, Bukhash is also quite an active figure on social media channels, where he hosts #ABTalks, aimed at showing the human side of achievers and celebrities, and #ABQuestions, which addresses (and challenges) different social topics and ideas. Owing to efforts like this, Bukhash is someone who’s been regularly called an influencer, and as such, he has his own take on how to go about following this class of people. “People need to make informed choices about who is serious, and who is just riding a wave,” Bukhash says. “There’s a trend for motivational speaking and influencing, but not all of it is sustainable; not all of it is helpful in the long term. There are ones that approach it in a more realistic manner and more sustainable manner, and these are the ones that I would support and encourage wholeheartedly. Motivational speakers and influencers can affect lives, so it is a position that bears great responsibility. Some people just need a glimpse of hope, so it’s one thing to get someone excited and to get them to attend an event, but then what happens when it doesn’t work out in a month or two? I support the ones that have a more realistic approach.”

‘TREP TALK: ANAS BUKHASH’S TIPS FOR ENTREPRENEURS

1. Follow the golden rule “Don’t do it for the money. Do it for something that is really catching your interest. If your main driver is money, the moment you see that you’re not making money quickly, you will quit, because you’re not interested in the main purpose. Ask yourself if you are doing something you really enjoy, and that you’re good at. It eventually brings in the money that’s important.”

2. Be honest with yourself “What do you enjoy doing? If money was guaranteed for the rest of your life, what job would you choose? My honest advice would be to do something you love, because it’s your fuel; something that you’re passionate about, and something that you’re good at. Secondly, a lot of people love things they are not good at, which is a very bad combo. If you find something that you’re passionate about, and you’re really good at it too, then you have an above average chance at being successful.”

3. Always be agile “One of the biggest lessons is to be adaptable, and always reinvent yourself. Keep evolving and revisit your business model and core offerings to see if you are in line with market expectations and customer demands. Being flexible and open to change is the mark of a successful entrepreneur.”

4. Trust your team “It is important to trust your employees and don’t micromanage. Once you have hired the right ‘someone’ to do the job, it is important to empower them, and not waste time micro-managing.”

5. Track your time “Lastly, efficient time management is key for the success of any business. Time is the main challenge, because if you want to do things properly, you need to invest time. We all have the same number of hours per day, so how we dissect that, and how much we give each of the business is what matters. It’s important to ensure that you are effectively managing your time.”

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