An Eye For Business: Mina Al Sheikhly On Starting Up A Beauty Brand In The UAE

Teaming up with Emad Khaffaf, a beauty industry expert, Al Sheikhly took three whole years to test and refine her future product- the timeframe is worth noting since mascaras usually take between six and 12 months to be developed and released into a market.

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Mina Al Sheikhly is perhaps best known as the host of MBC Iraq’s Beit Beauty television show, but the 29-year-old is now making inroads into the entrepreneurial domain, having recently launched her eponymous mascara brand in the UAE. “I’m a firm believer in eye contact and people being able to communicate through the eyes in all situations of life, whether you don’t speak the same language, or the right words cannot be found– we express ourselves so much through our eyes,” Al Sheikhly says. “To add to that, any make-up look feels incomplete without mascara. I always thought to myself, ‘This mascara would be perfect, if only…’ There was always something missing for me, and that’s how my mascara brand journey started. I couldn’t find any mascara to fulfill my criteria, so I came up with one myself.”

By Mina Al Sheikhly
Mina Al Sheikhly, Founder, By Mina Al Sheikhly

Teaming up with Emad Khaffaf, a beauty industry expert, Al Sheikhly took three whole years to test and refine her future product- the timeframe is worth noting since mascaras usually take between six and 12 months to be developed and released into a market. Released in two varieties, Tailored and Elevated, Al Sheikhly says she has built an A-class product in terms of quality, packaging, and experience. “Our most compelling USP would definitely be our formula and brushes,” Al Sheikhly explains. “They are co-related, which is why the formula is water-resistant, buildable, and very light on a woman’s lashes; the whole application process is smooth, and it really highlights them.”

Priced at AED70 (US$19), the two mascara brands have sold 55,000 units so far, generating $1,045,000 in revenue in less than six months, with Al Sheikhly revealing that the brand’s top-selling countries include Iraq, UAE, KSA, and the US. Its success is interesting given that the brand essentially came into the being in the middle of the global COVID-19 crisis; however, the pandemic has proven to be a blessing in disguise. “Beauty was the last thing on anyone’s mind when COVID-19 stepped in, so it delayed the launch for three months when the outbreak began,” Al Sheikhly remembers. “There was a lot of uncertainty, and it wasn’t the right time to introduce new products in the market. We ended up launching in summer, July 2020 to be precise, which is usually known to be the least successful season for any new product to launch.”

 Elevated Mascara By Mina Al Sheikhly. Image courtesy: By Mina Al Sheikhly

However, the campaign that followed the later-than-planned launch of her brand turned out to be successful exactly because of the reason that delayed it in the first place. “There’s an emphasis on the eyes now, since it’s mandatory to wear face masks,” Al Sheikhly says. “Essentially, they are the only part that’s not covered, and lots of women use mascaras or other eye makeup to really make their eyes stand out. Our campaign ended up being hugely successful– thanks to COVID-19! My customers were, in fact, so excited that my website crashed in the first few hours of launching, because there were so many of them trying to access it!”

Of course, Al Sheikhly’s large social media following has come in handy in this regard- the entrepreneur has over 2.6 million followers on Instagram “The social media content is from the heart, the collaborations I work on are from the heart too, and I don’t work on anything that I feel doesn’t benefit my following in any way. I wear mascara almost every day… so there you have it. 2 become 1,” she declares.

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 The By Mina Al Sheikhly team. Image courtesy: By Mina Al Sheikhly

Having had such a whirlwind experience as an entrepreneur, Al Sheikhly is honest in her advice for her peers in the MENA business ecosystem. “The region is, in fact, a blessing and a curse- a blessing for so much opportunity, and a curse for teething stages in the world of entrepreneurs, and I speak about beauty in specific when I say so,” she says. However, she also admits that the improvements in the UAE’s business sector on a daily basis are vast. “We live in a city like Dubai, where impossible is nothing, so eventually we find a way to make it all work,” she says. Her other advice relates to knowing one’s audience: “Dive deep into why they would want your product,” she says. “It’s no longer just about the 4Ps (product, price, place, and promotion) and the SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats) analysis, it’s also about the emotive reason behind buying your product/service. In recent years, for example, supporting regional products has become a broad topic that is being implemented by consumers, and retailers to support their region. Immersing yourself around your immediate audience allows you to start regionally, and go global.”

In terms of the future, Al Sheikhly’s plans for the business include an expanded mascara line, as well as a continuing focus on creating beauty products relating to the eyes. And arming her in her journey to realizing those goals is patience, she says. “Longevity and consistency are key,” Al Sheikhly says. “Slow and steady really does win the race. Seeing the numbers roll in the short-term doesn’t mean that this will be the case in the long term. Some entrepreneurs go all out in the beginning when it comes to products, ideas, etc., and then it all dwindles. I personally prefer and believe in building this little empire step by step.” 

 Image courtesy: By Mina Al Sheikhly

‘TREP TALK Tips for entrepreneurs from Mina Al Sheikhly

1. Don’t go at it alone “Even if it’s a friend helping you part-time, or it’s just one colleague, the energy exuded when everyone is aligned is magical for incredible performance. The power of a team, however small, works wonders for any business.”

2. Be open to feedback “Feedback of all kinds are welcome, and should be listened to, digested, either taken on board, or not. It’s all good.”

3. Quality over quantity-always “If you want to create a product, make sure it is a good one, and even if production is a bit more expensive, it’s better to work on smaller quantities and have a great product, than compromising the latter. Your product needs to speak for itself, this is what will make it successful.”

4. Time management is critical “Use your time wisely- you need to be able to prioritize, and sometimes, compromise as well.”

5. Don’t settle for short-term cash rewards “Always aim to improve, broaden your line, be better, think bigger. Use your opportunities to your advantage and keep creating. Most importanly, don’t slow down after you cut your ‘first big cheque’.

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Tamara Pupic

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Tamara Pupic is the Managing Editor of Entrepreneur Middle East.