Saying Yes To Opportunities: Dana Baki, Co-Founder And Chief Operating Officer, MUNCH:ON
Since launching as LUNCH:ON in 2016, MUNCH:ON has enjoyed a double digit month-on-month growth, serving companies and residences across the UAE and KSA. Its co-founder and CEO, Dana Baki, reflects on her journey in the entrepreneurial domain.
"The adjustment from a steady corporate job was definitely tough, especially for a type A, high-achieving personality like mine, because I had to learn how to stomach the rollercoaster of entrepreneurship.” says Dana Baki, co-founder and Chief Operating Officer of Dubaiheadquartered food delivery app MUNCH:ON, as she recalls her decision to leave a sought-after role at Procter & Gamble to test entrepreneurial waters instead. “Everyone in my life was supportive of the jump I made, and I think that I was probably harder on myself than anyone else- going from a steady and high profile corporate job to a new country where I knew no one, and in a space where I knew nothing, was really tough, and needed a lot of patience, perseverance, and hard work.”
Was it the right decision?
Well, since launching as LUNCH:ON in 2016, MUNCH:ON has enjoyed a double digit month-on-month growth, serving companies and residences across the UAE and KSA. Its success stems from Baki, and her two co-founders Mohammed Al Zaben and Awn Ali, who seem to have an intuitive understanding of needs of residents in the countries they serve. The trio focused on using restaurant downtime and order consolidation to make restaurants more efficient and lower the price of ordered meals, thereby solving both the problem of overpriced meals with expensive delivery charges, as well as long ordering and delivery times.
Not only do their results speak from themselves, but the team has even managed to turn the COVID-19 crisis to their advantage- quickly, they pivoted their offering from being focused on corporate lunches to now delivering its discounted meals across all meal times to residential areas in the UAE.
Looking back at her career so far, Baki remembers being a newcomer to Dubai and using the time to explore jobs different sectors, from private equity to NGOs, until she ultimately landed in the startup ecosystem and venture capital, “because of the passion I had for the space,” she says. “I always knew I wanted to live in the Middle East, and always had my eye on Dubai, given the unfortunate situation in my home country, Lebanon,” Baki adds. “After getting my MBA in the USA, where I grew up and started my career, my itch for starting a new chapter of my life took over, and I did something very unlike myself- I moved to Dubai without a career plan.”
Before starting up MUNCH:ON though, she took the time to familiarize herself with UAE-based entrepreneurs, learning more about their business and financial models, and even ended up investing in a few. When asked about the qualities she looks for in founders before investing in their businesses, she replies, “Generally, I look for passionate entrepreneurs that demonstrated grit and the ability to ‘hustle’ and make things happen, solid business and financial models that could stand the test of changing assumptions wildly and that show a clear path to profitability, and scalable ideas that could travel across markets.”
MUNCH:ON team. Source: MUNCH:ON
Today, she leads a team of 135 people across five countries and credits her time at Procter & Gamble for instilling in her leaderships skills that brought her to this career peak. “Although I knew my long-term aspirations did not lie in the corporate space, I learned invaluable lessons on how a business should be run and what true leadership skills are from my time at P&G,” she says. “Firstly, my time in the corporate world helped define the true characteristics of a business leader, namely visionary leadership -bringing to life a vision, and rallying others around that vision- which is fundamental to building anything disruptive, especially as an entrepreneur.
However, it is also important to build realistic action plans for achieving that vision. Without the ability to build and execute quickly, you cannot succeed in any sort of startup setting.” The second lesson she grasped from the corporate world relates to nurturing a culture in which people are the greatest asset. “P&G invests a tremendous amount in their employees, and I benefited from a ton of on and off-the-job training, and was blessed to have many mentors and managers that were invested in my growth and development,” she says. “Similarly, I gained invaluable experience managing and mentoring global teams, and people management became something I truly enjoyed. We nurture a similar culture at MUNCH:ON- ensuring that our teams are challenged, coached, and provided the room to not only make mistakes, but grow as leaders, is incredibly important to the company’s growth.”
However, her entrepreneurial journey was not all smooth sailing. Baki explains that there have been many challenges along the way (“too many to count”) from finding top talent, to operational issues, and to fundraising. The MUNCH:ON team has so far raised a total of US$6 million in funding over three rounds. Her piece of advice for entrepreneurs raising funds in the post-COVID-19 era is to, more than ever, focus on developing their financial acumen. “Financial modeling and deep understanding of your unit economics and levers of growth is pivotal,” Baki says. “Further, if COVID-19 should have taught us all something, it is that we should always plan for the unexpected. Scenario plan for your business to ensure that your business model, team, and technology are agile enough to handle any necessary changes or pivots.”
Similarly, the value-add and global experience that an investor can provide to a startup is even more important in these times, she says. “The region needs investors that have a global perspective on financials, growth, markets, metrics, consumer behavior, scaling, and so on,” she says. “This is going to continue to be important even after the COVID-19 aftermath, as many startups in the region look to expand outside of the region.” If Baki’s story can teach us something, it is that entrepreneurship is more a vocation than a profession, leading one to build ventures and add value, even when it was neither planned nor envisioned before.
“Nothing good comes easy, and the path to something great comes with a lot of twists and turns, ups and downs,” Baki says. “Some leadership skills apply to life as well as business- set a vision for what you would like to achieve, build a plan to achieve it, and then expect nothing to go as planned. Take the time to build the solid foundation, because you will need to have confidence in yourself, and what you are building, but perhaps some of the most important skills to build revolve around agility, perseverance, and the courage to say ‘yes’ to opportunities presented to you, even if you don’t feel fully prepared. Even if you are not completely ready, the most powerful learning will come from the journey, and that’s half the fun and the challenge.”