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Q&A with GlamBox co-founder

Kippreport speaks to Shant Oknaya, former Google employee and managing director of the company.

October 10, 2013 12:13 by

The Dubai-based online beauty retailer, which sends boxes with sample-sized beauty products to its customers every month, recently acquired $1.36 million in its first round of funding.

The investment by MBC Ventures, STC Ventures and R&R Ventures will assist GlamBox in expanding its operations into the rest of the Gulf region.

Four former managing consultants, who decided to start their own company, founded the GlamBox network.

What are your immediate post-funding plans?

In the immediate future, the investment will enable us to expand our operations in Saudi Arabia, which is a high-priority market, simply because it’s the largest and we have a lot of impatient customers waiting for our boxes.

Our intent is to be a regional company; we launched in the UAE as a proof of concept, but we’ve always been looking beyond that. After Saudi, the idea is to expand into other GCC markets. We’re concentrating on the Gulf region for now, but in time, we’ll move to the Levant region as well.

Given the right resources, will you always remain a regional company?

The Middle East market is big enough and there’s enough demand to keep us busy for a few more years. We’re part of a network of GlamBoxes – which are independently owned and managed – and we each have our own areas that we look at.

What was the inspiration behind becoming entrepreneurs?

The four of us used to work together as managing consultants and we went on to hold senior digital roles at major companies; I was at Google and one of the other partners was at Yahoo!. Everyone in my family is an entrepreneur and I had reached a stage in my career where I wanted to prove myself and actually try and do something that’s my own, as opposed to being an employee in a company.

How did the idea come to you?

We looked at what’s really hot in the western world in terms of up-and-coming e-companies and we found New York-based Birchbox, which was founded by two Harvard students and has the same business model.

We looked at the offline beauty market in this region, which was – and still is – steadily growing, but there was no niche offering online. You have traditional companies, but nobody was catering to women when it came to beauty.

Did you immediately quit your day jobs?

No. The four of us hired a team with experience in digital, beauty and operations. We funded it ourselves with our own salaries and kept our day jobs. We started in January 2012 and quickly saw that things had started to pick up. Brands were interested and so were customers. So far we’ve worked with more than 60 brands and are now sending thousands of boxes to customers each month.

What advice would you have for someone looking to quit their job to start a company?

There are two schools of thought. Some say go all in or go home; quit your job and set up your company, because if you don’t dedicate yourself entirely, you’re not going to make it. Then there’s the more cautious approach of dedicating your evenings and weekends for setting up your new company, while keeping your job. That’s what we did. If I had to do it all over again, I’d probably use the same approach.

Did you consider crowd funding or investing to secure funds?

We were quite particular about who would invest in the company. We didn’t just want money, we wanted a strategic investor – someone who can enable us in key areas. We were lucky enough to land three regional investors who we value very highly.


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