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More Money Means More Opportunity: My Startup Got Funded In Dubai, And Now I'm Scaling The Business Like most entrepreneurs, thoughts of how I could scale my venture was constantly on my mind. How could I grow Mini Exchange into a business that could expand to other markets in an innovative way?

By Sarah Jones

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Entrepreneur Middle East
Mini Exchange founder Sarah Appleton receiving the E-commerce Agility Achiever Award from the “Green Sheikh” H.H. Abdul Aziz bin Ali Al Nuaimi at the 2014 Enterprise Agility Awards presented by du

Like most entrepreneurs, thoughts of how I could scale my venture was constantly on my mind. How could I grow Mini Exchange into a business that could expand to other markets in an innovative way? At the beginning, it was just me and my agency in London. I would work round the clock- I still do actually- by signing brands to the site, and working off of my dining room table. We then got picked up by ArabNet, and were fortunate enough to be chosen as one of the winners in Beirut just five months after we launched. The team was getting bigger; we brought customer service in-house and data analysts for uploading products, social media, and digital marketing.

We launched 18 months ago with just 500 products, and now have over 30,000 products across 120 product categories. We have also just completed our seed round of funding of US$1.1 million, which has definitely been my biggest achievement to date. This raise will allow us to achieve our next stage of growth.

The Path

Digital marketing was key for us. I knew that I wasn't very familiar with it, but that meant I had to learn fast and also find a team that wasn't just an agency taking a proportion of my spend. I identified Mini Exchange's priorities: I needed a team that was driven by data, that was driven by analyzing the trends and the results we were getting, and acting on these metrics and then going at it again, day-on-day, week-on-week. I found this in an amazing team with whom I've been working with over the past 12 months, Daphne Digital. They are solely driven by numbers, and we have all of the latest e-commerce tracking codes in the site and track every data point. I highly recommend this to every startup out there. Get as much data as you can from very early on, as it will prove to be very helpful in the long run.

The Funds

A year into business, we knew that we needed to raise money to allow us to jump to the next stage. We were outgrowing the dining room table (quite literally!), and I needed to bring tech in- house and hire some other team members. Fundraising is not easy, it's not fun, and it doesn't happen overnight! Here are my tips on fund-raising that I gleaned from my raise:

1. Start Fundraising Early

Fundraising takes longer than you think, and you don't want to get to a stage where you're desperate for cash. Prepare early, take your time, and don't panic if it doesn't happen in the first two months.

2. Keep At It

Fundraising is not easy, and it takes time to prepare for it in many ways. It takes time meet potential investors, and to build good relationships with potential investors. There are lots of ups and downs, lots of positive conversations, and there are also people that will turn you down. Don't get disheartened, and keep going. If you have a good product, you will find the right people to invest in your business.

3. Get a Great Pitch Deck Together

The way you present your company is key. Investors want to see that you've taken time to prepare your pitch deck. Don't underestimate the power of first impressions. For the same reason good design matters for your product, it matters for your presentation. Investors are just as impressionable as your average consumer. Properly designed slides send a signal that you know how to build and present a good product.

4. Find The Right Investors

There is a lot of money out there, but in my opinion, it's key to find the right money. By the right money, I'm referring to the people that will back your business, and that will support you. As one of my lead investors said to me once, "It's lonely at the top; we're here to help you." You need people that recognize that it's not all smooth sailing, and that there will be bumps in the road. Get the right backers from day one that will support you, add value, and understand your challenges as an entrepreneur.

5. Be Gracious When Someone Says "No"

It can be frustrating to hear someone say no to your business- after all you've put everything into making this venture happen. You'll probably hear no more often than you'll hear yes throughout your fundraising process. As tempting as it is to turn your back on an investor that rejects you, you have a lot more to gain by being gracious. Because this is almost certainly not the last round of funding you're going to raise, or the last startup you're going to launch.

The Future

Mini Exchange aims to become MENA's number one online destination for buying and selling mum and children focused brands. We're already well on the way to achieving this and have a very clear direction ahead. We are aiming to more than double the number of products on the site in the next 12 months, sign over 100 sellers to the site, launch our mobile app and an Arabic version of the site, and expand our marketing efforts even further afield. We have a long and exciting road ahead- as far as I'm concerned this is just the beginning. I love my day job, I love Mini Exchange and all that we're trying to create, and I love being part of the startup ecosystem in Dubai. The life of a startup is a fun and exhilarating one, full of good moments and challenging ones as well. Launching my business was the best decision I ever made, and one I doubt I'll ever regret.

Sarah Jones

Founder and CEO, Sprii

Sarah Jones founded Sprii at the start of 2014. Previously, she had a successful career in finance, spending four years at Deloitte in Mergers & Acquisitions advisory, first in London and then in Dubai. After two years in the Gulf, Jones left the finance world, recognizing the potential of the early-stage e-commerce market and the Sprii business model. Sprii is today the online destination for everything mums and kids in the Middle East, with over 800 brands and 40,000 products, all available at the click of a button.
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