Mona’s world

Founder of Mumzworld.com, Mona Ataya, explains what it takes to be a success in ecommerce
By Neil King
Sun 01 Sep 2013 01:38 PM

Mona Ataya is a woman who doesn’t do things by halves.

“My mission is to make Mumzworld the undisputed leader in mother and baby shopping,” she says of the e-commerce business she founded in 2011 which already stocks 90,000 products and expects to hit 200,000 registered users by the middle of 2014.

Having recorded 23-times growth in sales, six-times growth in registrations and a 40 percent consumer loyalty rate within its first eighteen months, Mumzworld has established itself as the go-to website for mothers, but according to Ataya this is just the beginning.

“I wasn’t empowered when I became a mother and I want to empower the women who are mothers now. I felt constantly compromised by prices and quality,” she continues. “It’s a personal mission to give mothers the best they can get.”

Given her track record, perhaps this comes as no surprise. Even a quick glance at her CV shows Ataya to be a continual high achiever with a desire to excel.

After graduating with a dual honours degree in marketing and finance, Ataya worked on leading brands for fast-moving consumer goods giant Procter & Gamble in the USA before joining its rival Johnson and Johnson in both MENA and Europe.

It was during her time with Johnson and Johnson that she first found her feet as an entrepreneur.

Contacted by her brother Rabea, she was invited to help revolutionise the way people found and applied for jobs in the Middle East.

“I was called by Rabea, who is the CEO of Bayt.com. He wanted to reinvent recruitment in the Arab world,” she recalls. “In 2000 the information and communication flow between job sector and employers was limited. You had to know people, there were logistical complexities, and so on.

“The whole idea of an online recruitment site was unheard of, and it was also the time of the internet burst. People were losing money online, and it was not the place to be. But the concept was compelling and important for the region, so I was intrigued.

“Also, the team he had put together was the best of the best. Rabea was a seasoned entrepreneur and knew everybody there was to know, so the key persons who came together were amazing. I thought this team and this concept was really quite exciting, so I took a leap of faith and I left a career that was very successful and vertical to start a career as an entrepreneur.”

The success of Bayt.com speaks for itself. Having started with “one sofa, a desk, and a shoe-string budget,” the company became a force to be reckoned with within months and now, thirteen years later, it is the largest recruitment site in the Arab world.

“There are now 450 employees, and eight million people finding jobs on the site,” says Ataya. It’s gone from strength to strength over the years and I’m so happy to have been part of that.”

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Her entrepreneurial zeal grew in 2003 when a life-changing occurrence forced her to look at things differently.

Giving birth to not one, but twin boys, Ataya experienced a gap in the market that she decided to fill.

“The experience was very interesting for me. I thought I was a fairly resourceful person, but I just didn’t know where to find everything I needed for the children.

“A few years later a third child came along as well, but the missing needs remained. I wanted to find out who could help me find the items and what the best value was. So many times mothers go to stores and feel they’ve not got the best value for money in front of them.

“Women are so important to the market here. E-commerce is a $350bn industry globally and is the fastest growing market ever. Women in the region have an online worth of $315m and they are not being catered for properly. Women are on the internet and, most importantly, you have mothers who have maternity requirements. There are certain things they have to buy.

“All of these factors came together to create the concept of Mumzworld.”

She recalls that the vision for her new company was very simple: To become the go-to destination for mother and baby shopping, and to become the gold-standard for e-commerce.

High ambition indeed, but as Ataya explains, there is a reason for attaining to perfection.

“Mother customers are risk-averse. They won’t tolerate late shipments or poor quality. We had to be perfect in service and products, otherwise we would fail.”

Not wanting to lose time, Ataya set up the business in record time, revealing that she drew up the business plan in July 2011, incorporated the company in August, and went beta two months later.

“It usually takes a year to get it all together,” she says. “We went live in November and had 15,000 products in month one. Today we’re just short of 90,000 products in Mumzworld, and it’s the largest mother and baby store in MENA.”

The speed at which Ataya was able to launch the company was partly down to the eagerness of suppliers to establish a foothold in the region, which for many of them was a new market. But another motivator was that many of the suppliers were familiar with Ataya’s background and experience with Bayt.com.

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“Ultimately,” she says, “if you have a proposition that’s valuable enough then the suppliers will follow you. Of course it helped that I’d been in the online industry for many years by that point, and been successful, but they had to take a leap of faith too.”

Regardless of reputation, however, success is never guaranteed. Any business, on or off-line, is only as good as the quality of work put into it. Planning, value, logistics, user-friendliness, and many more aspects have to be constantly kept at their optimum if the company is to thrive. Something Ataya always has at the forefront of her thinking.

“The success of an e-commerce business comes down to the details,” she says. “If you can’t deliver with speed and excellence then you’ll not have customers coming back, which is a disaster, especially when you’re competing with other websites. Online customers, especially mothers, have zero tolerance.

“We want to provide mothers with the largest catalogue of products in the region so they can search, compare and buy. We wanted to give transparency in price, and give as much information as possible. Information is vital – a mother won’t buy a stroller online unless she has all the information she needs.

“We need to make sure we’re giving added value for customers and suppliers, and we have to be fast, easy and reliable when it comes to shipment and delivery. If a mother is ordering diapers, she needs them very quickly and won’t wait to receive them any later than she is already doing.

“Another important aspect is logistics. Not a lot of people know how to do it right here. There are lots of great websites, but when it comes to logistics they let themselves down.

“Supply chain, accurate inbound and outbound, and customer service. It’s all so important. It’s one thing to have a great idea, but the way you execute it makes all the difference.”

It’s this attention to detail which drives Ataya to constantly evaluate and refresh the brand and the way its mechanics work, ensuring the company not only maintains its existing success, but that it also grows.

True to its own philosophy, in August this year Mumzworld announced a revamp of its website which it expects will lead to a tripling of sales in the next twelve months.

The new version of the website promises to offer a faster and easier service, and comes as the result of listening to Mumzworld customers.

“We are in constant touch with customers,” says Ataya. “If a customer is unhappy, we ask why. If a customer is happy, we ask why. We’re always talking to them and listening to what they say. There are many metrics that let you have dialogue, throughout the e-commerce experience. There are many touch-points, from the first time you log on to the time you leave the website, and even beyond that.”

It’s not just customer feedback which drives the direction of the business. Monitoring global trends is a vital part of the Mumzworld machine.

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“You need to grow and evolve your catalogue to what’s going on globally, not just locally. Our catalogue is hard to replicate because we have exclusive brands. Evaluation, exclusivity and consistency of service is an important part of what we offer.”

With so many customers turning to the internet for purchases, it is little wonder MENA is expected to reach $15bn in e-commerce sales in 2015. But according to Ataya, the e-commerce boom does not necessarily mean a reduction in offline shopping across the board – rather it gives brands a chance to cover more ground.

“There is definitely room for offline and online shopping – both have their place and I think both will continue to grow. But e-commerce is booming around the world and brands are moving more online, giving them new opportunities.

“The real benefit to being online is that there are no limitations to how much you stock. If I have a store that’s only so big, how many strollers or car seats can I fit in? Not many. In the virtual world there are no limitations.”

But while people appear to be flocking to their keyboards, not everything is rosy in the world of online shopping.

According to Ataya there are three areas of e-commerce which need to catch up.

“The first is the delivery service. At the moment this region is not equipped to delivery quickly and easily. We’re dealing with thousands of products at high speed, and couriers have to adapt and change their policies in order to keep up and give the best service.

“Secondly, payment gateways need to improve. When you commit to paying online there’s an element of safety that has to be considered, and I think that the gateways have to up their game in this respect, helping to make people feel more comfortable.

“Thirdly, there’s the matter of regional needs. This region has some similar needs to other people in the world, but some things that are individual to this region. It’s like adverts replicating adverts around the world – sometimes it just doesn’t translate well. There has to be a cultural element to it.”

Rather than be concerned by these issues, Ataya believes they will be tackled swiftly, which backs up her belief that the UAE is a great place to start a new business.

“This is a fantastic country for new opportunities. When starting Bayt.com all those years ago, the facility and assistance we got from the infrastructure was phenomenal. And it’s improved over the years, partly because people want to solve issues and make life easier for entrepreneurs.

“The landscape is really evolving, which is so encouraging. We’re seeing more and more female entrepreneurs, which I feel is very important. Whether you’re a man or a woman, being an entrepreneur is your nature, but it’s important to have the right exposure to it and the right support.”

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