By Neil King
We talk to Majed A Jakka, one of five Emiratis bringing European design to the Gulf
Business can often take you in unsuspected directions.
All the more so when you have an entrepreneurial bent, with an eye on different opportunities and possibilities.
And so it was for a group of five young Emirati businessmen with aspirations to open a chain of coffee shops across the UAE. Little did they realise when they set out on their F&B journey that they would end up in the world of cutting-edge European design, but that’s exactly where they are now as they officially launch their new concept in Abu Dhabi’s renowned arts campus, twofour54.
“It’s been an interesting journey,” says Majed A Jakka, one of the five partners, and at 22 years old the youngest of the quintet.
“We’re a group of five entrepreneur nationals. We’ve been friends for quite a while and had the idea of opening a coffee shop in the UAE. We wanted it to be a new concept - a local concept. Something new for the Emirati market, with international influence by local at its heart. Our idea was to make it a chain - that was our goal.”
But goals can quickly change when new horizons come into view.
Having put together their business plan and started assembling the various parts of their coffee shop idea, their direction drastically changed.
Jakka says: “We’d looked into so much of our concept. The type of coffee we wanted to use, the clients we would be targeting, the different locations in Abu Dhabi and Dubai - lots of different aspects.
“One of the things were were most certain about is that we wanted the coffee shop to have a good brand ID. A brand that would make it stand out because the competitions is so big. It had to be eye-catching and something people would really relate to.
“We scouted a few companies around the world. We wanted to look at companies abroad because they would bring something new to the market here. Through this research we came to a Finnish company called Bond, which came to be our first choice.
“It’s a reatively small company, so we thought they would take care of us, and they’ve not done projects in the region before so it was an interesting prospect for them.”
A series of workshops ensued, with designers from Finland flying to the UAE, taking the partners through potential designs, and understanding their requirements, until one evening things started to change.
“We formed a close relationship with them, and took them out for dinner one day. We were talking about the design business in the UAE and they mentioned it would be nice for them to expand into the region.
“It got us thinking. They have about four or five years behind them in Europe, with a very good client base and some awards to their name. We thought they had a lot to bring to this region as far as design goes, and if we did it the right way, we could change the concept of design and how it is perceived here.
“So we started discussions to bring Bond to the UAE.”
The phrase ‘opportunity knocks’ is rarely used in as accurate a way as it could be for Jakka and his partners.
Bond have worked with companies such as Nokia and Finnish supermarket chain Kesko, as well as other brands well known in northern Europe. Add to that a raft of awards, including Gold at the Best of the Year Competition for advertising and design, and you have a good understanding of its quality.
It’s that quality that Jakka and his partners wanted to bring to the region, a part of the world they believe does not make the most of the potential of good designers.
“We want to change the concept of design in the UAE,” he says. “At the moment people see it as somewhat important, but people are more concerned with how much it will cost. They need to look at the design itself, the effect it can have, the impact. There are some big examples in the region of how design can benefit you – Coca Cola is one. They have great branding in this region and it works for them.
“We would like to encourage people to take a look at the design appeal and understand its effects and benefits.”
Given the momentum already behind Bond, Jakka was aware of the importance of keeping the brand as pure as possible, while introducing a few regional twists.
“We wanted to keep it as it is. It already has a good background and history, and we wanted to hold onto that.
“We would like to have something related to the region as part of the business as well, so we’ll hire designers from the region to work with designers from Finland and hopefully create something special..
While the draw of bringing a European design brand to the UAE may seem obvious, however, there are two sides to every coin.
“We had to convince them the UAE is a good market to come to,” says Jakka. “And on top of that we had to show them why they should partner with us rather than try to do it by themselves. We had to explain what we could bring to the table, what Bond could bring to the region, and what the region could do for Bond.
“Obviously one of the main things we could bring was contacts, and as a team we bring a lot to the table.”
As well as Jakka, the partners include Abdulla M Alqadi, Ahmad A Alghafri, Yahya S Alzaabi, and Aamer A Alshehhi.
“I’m in the marketing department of ADNOC [Abu Dhabi National Oil Company], which has seventeen companies under it. One of our partners is in the Ministry of Labour, another in the police department, and so on. There’s a good chemistry between the five of us, and we each bring different skills which we can bring to Bond as well as the contacts and local knowledge.
“The people from Bond are designers and they liked the idea of this partnership, with the design aspect taken care by them, and the management aspect taken care by us. It has the makings of a great relationship and a great company.”
The team in Finland is headed by Bond’s managing director Arttu Salovaara, who Jakka says has worked closely with the partners in bringing the company to the UAE. Also involved in the logistics of the move were designers Aleksi Hautamaki, Marko Salonen and Jesper Bange, with legal assistance coming from Emirati lawyer Maha Alshehhi.
Ensuring there was a solid team every step of the way was very important to the project, says Jakka, who also wanted to take progress one step at a time.
“We didn’t want to do it too quickly. We wanted to make sure we did everything right. The business plan, the financials, the cash-flow, investment amounts, and so on.
“We wanted to keep the quality of Bond Finland, so some of the designers from there came to work with us here. This was important because we had to match the Finnish quality, if not do it better. That is our goal.”
Bond ME will be the latest addition to Abu Dhabi’s twofour54 campus, a hub for design, arts and media companies, and a supportive community for creative professionals which is part of the Media Zone Authority-Abu Dhabi.
“The support we’ve had from them has been huge,” says Jakka. “They’ve helped with so many things, including legal counsel, finding clients, and thing like that.
“We’re now just waiting for the full go ahead from the media zone, and once we’ve got that we’re ready to go. We’ve already started meeting with potential clients in order to make them aware we’re coming onto the market and raise our profile, so we’re in a good position.
“September is a good time to start. Everybody is back from their holidays and there’s a good lead time before the start of the new year, which is when most companies will plan for the year ahead.”
Bond ME will target a variety of clients, primarily corporate companies as well as start-ups - an important nod to their own coffee shop aspirations.
“We’ve got quality, but we also want to be affordable, so businesses that are just starting up don’t feel like they can’t come to us,” says Jakka. “We know what it’s like to be in that position.
“Many design companies that are already here are corporations with a lot of employees and big clients. We want to be a small design agency, with about 20 employees ideally. If we were really big then the design gets lost, the relationship with the client gets lost.
“It’s part of our business plan that it’s the designers who meet the clients, not an account manager who then passes the information to somebody else, who passes it to somebody else.”
Entrepreneurialism in the UAE is currently going through a renaissance, with the government encouraging young people to start their own businesses, and organisations such as the Khalifa Fund helping provide funding, contacts, and mentoring.
Jakka believes there has been a notable and encouraging change in the landscape, saying: “In just a couple of years more and more nationals have started businesses. The difficulty is that people working in companies like me are paid very well and happy with what they are doing, so it’s hard for them to take the risk and leave their jobs and their salary.
“The great thing for nationals in this region is that we have great support from the leadership in terms of jobs, lifestyle, pay, and so on, so people are really happy with what they have.
“But for those who do take the risk, they find that the leadership is also doing a lot to help entrepreneurs, with advice, guidance, funding, and things like this. They are always willing to help you out with advice, counsel or support.”
With so much aid for Emirati entrepreneurs, Jakka believes the time is right for a start-up boom in the UAE, saying it’s a “big push for nationals to do something in business - to start something new.”
He adds that the Abu Dhabi’s status as an emerging society means there are still plenty of opportunities for people who are willing to take the leap.
“Things are developing quickly, but there are still gaps to fill,” he says. “There will be a major increase in Abu Dhabi soon, so it’s an exciting place to be. Look at Dubai and how quickly that took off.
“Abu Dhabi will really develop by 2030. It sounds like a long time, but it’s really not, especially when you’re building up an entire city.
“It gives people the opportunity to be part of that growth - to start something themselves which will contribute and be part of an exciting expansion. The support is there, so why not go for it?
“I would like to let people know that if they have an idea, then take the risk. Do it. There are opportunities to do something here and change the business world in the region, as well as set a good example for other people.
“There are a lot of talented people in the UAE, and a lot of different approaches to business among the young people here, so I think it’s an exciting time for the UAE. I think young people here have the ability to change things in a positive way.”
As side note, Jakka confirms that the quintet’s plans for a coffee shop chain are very much alive, but definitely taking a back seat while Bond ME is setting up.
He says: “It’s not every day you get an opportunity like Bond, so we want to make sure we get that right. The coffee shop would need a lot of dedication, finding the best coffee, the best people to make it, roast it and so on.
“We’d like to roast the coffee ourselves - that’s one of the most important parts of the concept for us. But we’re working 100 percent on the creative agency right now, and we’re really excited about it.”
Very nice article, It's good to see some UAE nationals with an entrepreneurial mindset.
Something to be proud off. Congratulations Majed