The founder of e-commerce site for mums recalls how the business bug caught her at a young age
“A true entrepreneur is a doer, not a dreamer”. Sprii chief Sarah Jones is living proof of this. Bitten by the entrepreneurial bug at just 14, Jones set up an eBay business importing items from across the globe and selling them in the UK, igniting a love for e-commerce.
Four years later, an economics degree at Edinburgh University heightened Jones’s financial acumen and competitive nature. A placement at Deloitte London followed, which led to a secondment in the Middle East a few years later. Spotting a gap in the e-commerce market on arrival, she quickly secured funding to make her idea a reality and Sprii was born.
How did the idea for Sprii come about?
If you end up being an entrepreneur, you were probably born with it in your DNA. For me, it wasn’t about making money, it was about “doing business” and from a very young age I loved the thrill of buying and selling and eBay gave me the platform to start. This excitement has carried through to today. Prior to Sprii, I was working in mergers and acquisitions – I was always working for other people, advising inspiring entrepreneurs on how to grow and sell their companies, but when they left I always had a sense of envy. I wanted to be on the other side of the table.
At Deloitte I came across a number of businesses in the e-commerce space and found that in the “mums” vertical there were limited options and a lack of availability of international products in the Middle East market. At Sprii we’ve launched the widest offering in this vertical at competitive prices and an incredible customer service team who go above and beyond.
Is this market still largely untapped?
There was, and still is, a real need in this region, definitely. The product mix that mums are searching for on a daily basis is almost unlimited. It’s a huge market and one that is shifting online. However, businesses need to understand this market in-depth to be able to cater to it. Focusing on customer experience through the use of technology has been key in scaling as quickly as we have done.
We have a lot of very exciting developments that are going to be launched in the next six months”
How challenging is it to raise funds in the region?
We’ve been incredibly fortunate to raise substantial sums from both here and Europe. To date we have still not taken any institutional money. For us, raising from strategic investors has been critical as it has opened doors for us and given us an incredibly supportive and connected investor base.
What are the biggest challenges you face?
Scaling incredibly quickly always creates challenges as one needs to maintain the same customer experience whether you have 10 orders a day or 10,000. Making sure you’re planning your hiring and technology automation well in advance is crucial.
What more needs to be done in the UAE start-up space to support SMEs?
When Sprii launched a few years ago, the landscape for SMEs was very different to what it is today. Company set-up was harder and more costly, there were less service providers whether that be legal, payment gateways or logistics. However, over the last two to three years a lot has changed, and it’s become an incredibly supportive and collaborative country to scale a business. I think that the proposed changes to visa rules, and potentially to company formation costs, will continue to help.
Have you found it to be more difficult being a female entrepreneur?
Definitely not. If you are passionate and are prepared to work incredibly hard, then that earns the respect of everyone you interact with; be it a potential business investor or your colleagues and peers.
Be focused. Be tenacious. Be passionate. Don’t settle for anything less than what you want”
What are your future plans?
We’re scaling quickly across all GCC markets, localising our product and tailoring our user experience to the local customer rather than expecting one product to resonate with all nationalities. We have also more than quadrupled our technology team in the last three months, so we have a lot of very exciting developments that are going to be launched in the next six months, such as same-day delivery. It’s an exciting time.
Are you a believer that malls will eventually be extinct?
Consumers will always enjoy going to the physical shops to see and feel the products and enjoy the experience, too. However, the main question is where the consumer wants to transact. More and more consumers are going online to compare prices as well as having the convenience of items being delivered. It’s also a challenge for the malls to maintain the prices that the online world can deliver with their heavy rents and, in a vertical like ours where mums are stretched for time, online is going to be a game-changer as it’s never a fun experience dragging kids around the malls to scour out daily essentials.
Any plans to ever open physical stores?
It’s not on the cards right now, but never say never.
What does it take to be a female boss?
Be focused. Be tenacious. Be passionate. Don’t settle for less than what you want.