Becoming a parent inspired Rana El Sakhawy, 33, to launch MonkiBox, a subscription-based early learning start-up offering toys and activities tailored to child development research.
Initially a toy curatorial service, the company began to design and create its own game-based products to become the first direct-to-consumer toy company in the Middle East.
Egyptian Ms. El Sakhawy previously worked with Uber in Kuwait and Dubai and left to launch MonkiBox in 2018.
She lives with her husband, an investment banker in Al Sufouh, Dubai. They have a 5 year old daughter and a 2 year old boy.
Where was the money in your childhood?
Back then, people moved to CCG for more money and a better quality of life. In Egypt, my father spent a lot of time at work. He was an auditor at KPMG and couldn’t enjoy the time with us. We moved to Qatar, where he was in the finance department of a shipping company.
We had young parents. I felt like they had grown in their careers with us as they became more financially comfortable. My mother went from a teacher to a school principal. It’s something I really admire about them, they’ve come up through the ranks.
Did you have your own cash?
I had pocket money, but always wanted more. Every time I asked my dad he would say, “OK, how are you going to get more? He instilled the feeling of doing something to make money – that’s where my entrepreneurial gene practically exploded.
I was obsessed with Claire’s accessory shops when I was 12 years old. There were huge balances, so I took all my pocket money and spent it there. The next day, I went to Egypt where there was no Claire and I sold everything. I earned maybe 10 times my pocket money and called my business Girl Power.
Every summer throughout my school years I had some sort of business and a nice amount of money at the end of it. It wasn’t that I necessarily wanted to buy something specific, it was more just to have money to spend when I wanted to.
I hate being dependent on something or someone and hated asking for pocket money so independence was key. I would save a lot and buy more inventory to sell next year.
Do you remember your first salary?
My father wanted to give us the means to enter the labor market early. The company where he worked had a travel agency. I did my first internship during my last year of high school, I spent two months there and I was paid around 1050 Dh. Dad comes from a very entrepreneurial family and always pushed us to do our own thing.
Why did you swap wage security for self-employment?
Uber stopped being a start-up and I realized that I thrive in the hustle and bustle of trying to make things work. I had my first child and I was passionate about child development to give my daughter the best start in life.
It was something I struggled with, not only because I was a working parent, but also because there were a lot of unknowns. The more I talked to other parents, the more I realized this was a common difficulty; this is where the idea for MonkiBox originated. I was looking for ideas, different opportunities.
I had my daughter in 2016 and left Uber in 2018. I knew I wasn’t going to have a paycheck, so I wanted to make sure I got out of my job with as much money saved as possible.
Was it a financial step?
One of the main things has been to take that step, to go from employee status to security. Another important step was the decision to manufacture our own products. This requires minimum order quantities, which requires huge upfront payments. The company at the time had no cash flow to support this, so I sold half of my Uber shares. It was the right decision because it puts our business on the right track.
We spent a year operating on a slightly different business model and value proposition, then began to design and manufacture products not available in the market to support child development and learning through targeted games. We have partnered with one of the world’s largest manufacturers of sustainable toys.
Does it save parents money?
Our boxes are 350 Dh, delivered every two months. Most parents spend a lot more than that on things unrelated to development. There is a lot of waste, so it is also a question of reducing the clutter.
Because our toys are designed with expert help, you see how kids engage with them compared to other toys. We also provide parents with information and content and how to spend time with your child interacting with the toy.
How to make your fortune grow?
My savings plan is basically my business. Literally whatever I get I put back into this business. This business is my savings and I take the bare minimum wage. I have three employees. I try to keep it as light as possible.
I’m not an active investor but, because I was one of the first to join Uber, I was able to get stock options… my other savings sort of. I’m waiting for Uber’s performance to hit the number I want so I can go out and invest that money in something more diverse, whether it’s investing in real estate or whatever.
What do you think of the money?
It’s peace of mind, more about comfort and empowerment. Having money gives you the means to do what you want, but I wouldn’t say that money is happiness.
It’s motivation, but my ultimate motivation is to grow this business and be able to leave it. I don’t mean “retire” because I never see myself retiring, but rather being able to have the flexibility, take the money, and do something that would pay off in some way. ‘another one. I have different crazy ideas, community ideas, that I would love to do, but it takes time and money.
Have your consumption habits changed?
Before the children, I made a lot of money. I had saved some money but it was not my top priority and I wish I had saved sooner. In fact, I saved a lot of time during my last year of employment.
I was living my life. I spent a lot on travel, something I will never regret and would buy a lot of things, not necessarily expensive, but they would add up to a lot.
Now my attitude is that I spend a lot less and really think about the things I spend on. I’d rather buy one good quality thing than 10 cheaper things.
I am less concerned with material objects and become more aware of my imprint in this world. I am not a spontaneous spender. I do my research, especially if it is an expensive item.
Which luxury is important to you?
I was a bit stingy when it came to exercise. It just seemed super expensive. I’m barely making any money at the moment and I try to be careful with what I spend.
But recently I got involved in Pilates reformer classes. It’s expensive, but I think splurging when it comes to taking care of yourself is investing in your well-being and your future.
Updated: January 7, 2022 5:00 a.m.