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Charicycles: Building Vintage Rides For Business And Social Impact Charicycles is a startup that designs and 'upcycles' old bicycles remodeling them into vintage yet modern rides, and further customizing them to suit the customer's personality.

By Sindhu Hariharan

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From Left to Right: Charicycles co-founders Rania and Zaina Kanaan

Launched in 2014, Charicycles is a startup that designs and "upcycles' old bicycles remodeling them into vintage yet modern rides, and further customizing them to suit the customer's personality. It operates primarily as an online store, where you can choose from quirky collection of colorful bicycles or request a custom design, which is then completed and delivered at your doorstep in 7-10 working days. Palestinian sisters Zaina and Rania Kanaan are the entrepreneurs behind Charicycles- as siblings who are also business partners, the duo is very clear about separating matters of work from their personal equations with each other. (Besides Charicycles, the entrepreneurial siblings also manage another e-commerce portal called Ananasa - an online marketplace for handmade art and crafts.) "As with any work relationship, we have our moments," says Zaina Kanaan. "But we've learnt to forgive quickly, and that could be the best advice we'd pass on to siblings at work."

Having grown up in Canada with cycling as their preferred mode for getting around, the sisters wished to recreate the experience when they moved to Dubai with Charicycles. "We realized that bicycles are too expensive in sports shops, and so we decided to make our own," Zaina remembers. "When we started using that bicycle, everybody on the street was asking us where we got it, and so we realized that there was a market opportunity." Thanks to the UAE's large community of cycling enthusiasts, she notes that the response to Charicycles has been rather good. Given their business model, the startup sees opportunities to expand regionally as well as globally with sound logistics support- a business area where, the founders feel, a lot more needs to be done in the region. "We are now expanding to other GCC countries which means we need reliable and affordable shipping partners that can do door to door on items as big as bikes," Zaina explains.

Image credit: Charicyles.
Besides creating cycles of artistic appeal, Charicycles also aims to promote sustainability and a clean environment by restoring vintage Japanese frames (that would otherwise go to scrap) into new bicycles and promoting healthier lifestyles along the way. But the startup's social contribution does not end there. Charicycles also pitches in to fund the distribution of cycles for children in refugee camps around the Middle East for every unit they sell. Given the growing sales of their bicycles, Charicycles claims to have sent around 30 bicycles for children last year. "Roughly, we try to keep our ratio at five bicycles funding one bicycle for a child," Zaina says. "When and where we can, we send out more, when the batches are funded by people who want to contribute but do not cycle." According to Zaina, more than anything, the venture and its social impact is a way of defining "freedom" for the children living as refugees, since cycling is all about "pushing that pedal, and feeling invincible."

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Q&A: Chaircycles co-founder Zaina Kanaan

What was it like taking the leap from having a full time job to becoming an entrepreneur?

We both feel that if you have entrepreneurship in your veins, and you have a passion for creation, you can still manage it while having a full time job. Of course, your social life may be affected, but the truth is that the transition from a full time job to a project that moves your very core is what every human on earth should be doing. Most people we know have a well-paid job but makes them feel lifeless and demotivated most of their days, weeks and hours. While being an entrepreneur doesn't mean the stress or workload is reduced (if anything, it's much more intense), but if you know that you're doing something every day that you love, that you believe in, that you can build a future with that will give you a sense of sincere accomplishment... that is enough.

What are your top three tips for an entrepreneur to start a business in MENA?

Firstly, be resilient. Love what you do so much; believe in it and don't let anything stop you. Second, nothing good comes easy, challenges are disguised growth opportunities. Finally, work with sustainability in mind, but don't do it for the money. When you build a business model that impacts more than just you and your direct customer, you will have developed something for the long run.

Image credit: Charicyles.

What do you think startups/entrepreneurs can do to support each other?

Be more open about their vulnerabilities. Sharing your obstacles and challenges in an environment like this, brings people closer together and helps solve problems. We live in an ecosystem where failure is condemned and being in turbulent waters is looked down on. The startup world is really tough and those who are in it know that it's not always great, and that's ok. Startups should share more information to build this eco-system and they should embrace failure when it happens and wear it like a badge of honor.

What were the biggest lessons from your endeavors?

Get all the support you can get, from a free hug to sound advice. Starting your own business is not easy and it is not for everyone, so unless you believe in what you are doing 100% do not take on this responsibility. Surround yourself with people that are more intelligent than you and try to learn from them as much as possible. Never say I can't before you try. Trial and error is how we learn most of what we learned, in addition to the amazing people we try and surround ourselves with.

Related: Dumyé Is A Means To An End

Sindhu Hariharan

Former Features Editor, Entrepreneur Middle East

Sindhu Hariharan is the Features Editor at Entrepreneur Middle East.  She is a financial consultant turned business journalist with a FOMO when it comes to everything technology.

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