Hakim Boriawala has always aspired to compose music, but lacked the confidence and experience to take it up full time. Similarly, his wife Tasneem was a housewife with too little work experience preventing her from setting up her own business.
After realising they were not alone, the duo launched a freelancing website that allows individuals to pursue new professional opportunities full time or part time with minimum risk. Bawabba, which is Arabic for “portal” or “gate”, offers openings in the likes of baking, design and photography.
We explore the Boriawalas’ path to entrepreneurship and the opportunities surrounding the industry.
What is your business model?
Hakim: The portal is free for users as its purpose is to help freelancers and businesses become more visible – and for users to find a reliable and affordable service provider. For revenue, we have several options that we integrate depending on the traffic we achieve. However, we have designed the revenue models on the basis of being cost-effective. We don’t want our users to ever feel that Bawabba is expensive.
How is Bawabba different from other freelance portals in the market?
Tasneem: Firstly, our whole system is open. If anyone is looking for services, they can find a freelancer and contact them directly. Secondly, we are not restricted to tech-related jobs such as graphic design or photography. We have almost any service you can think of, from interior design to childcare and home and office moving. Our portal is also open to freelancers and businesses and is designed in a way that combines all data on a single page, including the service, portfolio and customer reviews. This makes it easier to use when comparing profiles and selecting the right provider for the job.
What are some issues in the freelancing industry that you intend to solve through the Bawabba platform?
Hakim: We want to encourage companies in the UAE to hire freelancers. Most of the SMEs we have spoken to in the UAE don’t know that it is possible to hire a freelancer, while others don’t even know what it means – no exaggeration. Moreover, they have no clue that hiring freelancers reduces the cost of employment including visa costs and renewals. Some experts even argue that having a freelancer work for you is more cost-effective than having a full-time employee. We also want to encourage part time work culture in the UAE for people who can make some extra money on the side. This way, both business owners and part-time workers can save and make money.
What was the toughest part of setting up Bawabba?
Tasneem: When we started out with this project, we had zero experience in the industry. We didn’t know which free zone to go to, what programming languages to use, how to market our product or how to start a business from scratch. It was very tough to start, and we’ve made a lot of mistakes that have cost us time and money, but we are learning as we go. Sometimes it’s frustrating and you don’t find the right answers, so you have to just keep trying new things and see what works for you.
What is the costliest part of operating Bawabba?
Hakim: Everything is expensive, from rents to salaries and marketing! We try to save as much as we can, especially as the cost of our business is going up every year due to our team and growing scope of work.
What are some of your biggest challenges now?
Tasneem: The biggest challenge for Bawabba is marketing. We know there is a gap in the market for our product, but sometimes even good products fail if not marketed correctly. The main issue with marketing is that the learning curve is very steep and very unpredictable. What may work for us today may not work for you tomorrow. It also takes time for any brand to build awareness.
Is Bawabba self-funded? If not, what are the funding routes you’ve been down and how have you managed to raise capital?
Hakim: We’re currently self-funded and will not be looking for investors until we build a reliable company that is attractive to them.
Were you ever afraid to set up Bawabba?
Tasneem: Yes, we were very sceptical about taking the leap from our comfort zones, as we both had a very comfortable upbringing. However, we were never as satisfied with our careers as we are working on Bawabba. We found our purpose with the company and love going to work every day. We would have never learned the things we did if we hadn’t ventured on our own. This makes Bawabba totally worth it. In a nutshell, it makes us feel alive.
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