There aren’t many people under 30 years old who have done what Paul Kenny has done.
The 29-year-old founder and CEO of daily deals voucher site cobone.com has overseen one of the region’s e-commerce success stories, selling more than 2.1m vouchers to more than 1.5m members, saving them almost AED507m since launching in 2010.
Double digit growth of more than 50 percent in 2013 has put the company into profitability, and its status as the leading business of its type has allowed it to branch out into travel, with Kenny launching Triperna late last year.
His meteoric rise sets him out as a leading light in entrepreneurial circles, and his ambition to do even more in the region makes his future career one well worth watching.
Like so many entrepreneurs before him, Kenny was born into a business family – Kenny’s Bookshop and Gallery, based in Galway, Ireland – something he credits with giving him sound business foundations, but something he was eager to move out of from an early age.
“Everybody would know us back there,” he says. “It was never a bad thing - I learnt a lot from my aunts and uncles, and so on. Everything from lifting boxes to selling books. We were the second bookshop in the world to go online, too, which was very cool.
“But I started to not want to be known for being in the family business. I wanted to be known as Paul Kenny by myself, not my family.”
Studying a masters in e-commerce, he visited Dubai in December 2004 and January 2005 on a family holiday which would change the course of his life.
He explains: “I loved the place. There was hardly anything here, but I really loved it. I started to see if you could buy books online here. Back in the UK there were about ten or fifteen companies you could go to for that, but there was nothing in Dubai. So I looked for other online shops, but there was nothing there. It was very interesting.
“I went back to finish my masters, and decided to apply for jobs in Dubai. I got a phone call from Jumeirah to start with them as an intern, so I dropped out of my masters, left everything I knew back home, and came out here to Dubai.
“I was being paid about AED3,500 per month - half what I would be getting in the family business. But I didn’t arrive for the money. I was doing offline marketing and I learnt loads there. It was great.”
Starting with Jumeirah in 2007 Kenny left eighteen months later after being refused a pay rise, moving to a publishing company where he admits he was “struggling with having a boss”.
He explains: “I wanted to do more than I was allowed, so I resigned after six months and started as a consultant with Emirates Group. That was a really cool experience - it was a great brand to work for. But soon the same pains as before kicked in. It was nothing wrong with the company, it was all down to me. I didn’t find it easy to have a boss. So I resigned again.”
By his own admission, his prospects didn’t look good: “I was a college drop-out who moved to Dubai at 22 years old, and by 25 I’d already had three jobs that didn’t work out.”
But with the working day ending at 3pm, he had been afforded plenty of time to work on his own projects, resulting in him uncovering an aptitude for online marketing and sales, and leading him to meet with investors over a new project.
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