I will never be happy with what we have, says Cobone founder
Paul Kenny, founder of UAE's Cobone.com says that focusing on your vision is more important than looking at competitors.
October 31, 2012 5:10 by Muhammad Aldalou
At 28 years of age, Paul Kenny, founder of e-commerce site Cobone.com was recently named the Ernst and Young Emerging Entrepreneur of the Year. At 22, Kenny felt lost and had no idea what he wanted to do. Both his mother and sister had encouraged him to leave Ireland and venture out into the world and – while vacationing in the Middle East – had the inspiration to set up the retail website.
He says the last thing he expected was that 6 years later, he would be winning such a prestigious award.
Looking at severe financial losses that sites such as Groupon and Living Social have incurred; one can hardly say that the last few years have been a walk in the park for regional ‘e-tailers’. When the word surfaced that Living Social were selling their Middle East operations for less than $3 million because they wanted to pull out of this market, many understandably questioned the potential of the industry.
But, according to Kenny, even when others were closing, they continued to grow. He says that focusing on your vision is very crucial and that the journey for them has only just begun…
You’ve been described as having the inability to see boundaries. How do you feel about that?
I think it is great to be recognised for one who takes challenges head on as the market in which we operate in can be incredibly tough to work in on a day to day basis. I believe what has been achieved by the Cobone team in the past two years has been outstanding. While many would think that Cobone is just another website, we are in fact part of a small group of companies that have reached huge scale in this market. I don’t think anything would have been achieved without the team supporting me through this journey, one we have not reached the finish line yet!
You won in the prize in the ‘emerging’ category. Do you think Cobone will ever be ‘emerged’?
One of the things I have noticed since launching Cobone is that I will never be happy with what we have. I think it is part of any entrepreneurs DNA to always want more and push for the next big thing. I believe the Cobone journey has only begun, we started over two years ago as a daily deal website, moved into products one year ago and just last week we launched a hotel booking engine. Within two short years we have pivoted the business a number of times and I expect the same in the future.
Do you think it’s all about Geography? Could you not have found this opportunity in Ireland or elsewhere?
I believe every entrepreneur can operate in any market. It’s not the geography that really matters it’s the challenge and the ultimate goal that drives me. When I looked at the Middle East I knew the dynamics of the market were perfect; a young population, high GDP per capita rates and growing internet penetration. With that in mind there were still no websites available catering to the MENA region and I knew that was an opportunity I wanted to take.
How many members does Cobone have currently and how many new members are joining every month?
Cobone is fast approaching the 2 million member mark and we are averaging 70-100k new members every single month. In fact, our member growth has grown significantly since we launched our Cobone Rewards program where our members can earn points every single day that can redeemed for cash and other amazing prizes.
Does Cobone have any current plans in the pipeline?
We have significantly changed our business in the past 12 months, from a daily deal business focusing on services to a more diverse product offering. Just in the past month Cobone has launched a loyalty scheme called Cobone Rewards, a shopping cart and a fully integrated travel booking engine for hotels. Changes are happening every month on Cobone!
What is the single biggest challenge you’ve faced in the past 12 months?
Every business goes through growing pains and for the first two years the business has grown extremely fast. Managing that growth has overall been the biggest challenge, which is a nice excuse to have but in fact, it has been extremely hard to keep up with.
Were you worried or discouraged by the Living Social closure?
This did not really affect Cobone too much as we do not focus on competitors in the market. Our business model has also changed to focus more on loyalty, travel and products in the past twelve months. In fact, our business continued to grow during the news of their closure.
How much attention do you pay to competitors and new ventures starting up?
On a day to day basis, competitors are good to keep us on our toes but overall my focus is on our strategy and what our vision is. We have achieved a lot in the past two years, but the next few are going to be even more exciting. It is great to see more ventures launching in the market as the region needs more entrepreneurs to get out there and create value in the society. It is better to have more players in the market as the overall awareness of eCommerce will continue to grow.
What is the best advice you can give to young adults who feel completely lost in their lives?
Focus is probably the most important thing I have learned in the last 5 years. It is very easy to get distracted and try and do to many things. Ultimately you end up doing nothing well. Focus on one or two things and try them out, if you fail, try again but never ever give up.