An entrepreneur story (from Dubai to Provence)

I’ve been sharing my entrepreneur story a lot recently so I decided I had to publish it here!

Once upon a time I lived the corporate dream. It was fabulous, I was part of THE most exciting thing to ever hit the Middle East (huh, yeah, the brainwashing at Fitness First was good!)

I worked every minute of the day and night and rarely took a weekend. I was loyal, dedicated and proud … The truth was that I was being exploited and underpaid but yet to realise it.

The Business Honeymoon

I was torn between the idea of climbing the corporate ladder or breaking away and doing my own thing. A gentle nudge and a few months later I was lining up clients and handed in my resignation.

I set up my own business called “untitled” – I had a group of other freelancers to complete my team; marketing, PR, design and production. It was great.

In the first month I worked less hours and made more money than I did when I was in my corporate bubble! I worked with small businesses and multinationals – no project was too small. My proudest moment was landing a few events for Deloitte! It was fun but lonely.

My life had taken a massive turn.

I was on my own.

If I didn’t work I didn’t get paid. I had to spend a LOT of my time getting clients and pitching to time wasters day and night. I was always ON.

When I was a Marketing Manager for Fitness First my phone would never stop ringing, friends and acquaintances would call for a cut of my freebies, tickets, spa vouchers, free meals etc … amazing how many of those “friends” wanted to hang out when my freebies disappeared.

I think I had a lot of beginners luck – some months I couldn’t get one tiny design job – nothing. Around the same time John and I were working together at the weekends training Dubai’s corporate elite in the mountains and during the week we were setting up yet another business – it was an addiction.

Tough times

Things take time, and money.

Again, one scary month after another leads to the downright petrifying. One day I was asked to be in a TV commercial – I laughed and said why not?

It could be fun and the money was good. It was a one off. So I thought. I got more calls from the casting agency – I started doing some lifestyle modelling and they paid well, it was hilarious to see my picture on a billboard and all over the city – it was anything but glamourous – some days I’d want to scream at the stylist who’d make nasty comments and tell her that I have two degrees and launching my 2nd business at 27 but there was no point – I took the job because I needed the money.

Our business was still in it’s infancy – the credit cards were maxed out, bank accounts empty and we would dig between the cushions on the sofa looking for change to get some lunch – it was nail biting time … but we were never too proud to do what was necessary at the time.

The constant hustle paid off

Constantly hustling and never being too proud soon paid off. Within 6 months we’d landed prestigious contracts with government agencies, multinationals and won the agent of the year award. We travelled a lot, afternoons were spent at the beach just because we could.

But we wanted more.

With money no longer an issue, we started to dig deeper into what we wanted out of life. We’d become “successful” really fast yet we were still dissatisfied.

The future

We’re now in the South of France. I’ve been doing a range of different things. After refurbishing a 200 year old farm house I ran furnished apartments in Provence whilst I got my marketing consultancy reactivated online. I became a mother to the gorgeous BiP in 2010 – you can read about our adventures here.


Lessons and starting a business

This is what I discovered along the way.

  • Plan your moves wisely and focus on the goal
  • Don’t be afraid (or too proud) to do a job that is outside of your field if you need to
  • Most sofas only hold enough money for a burger
  • Be aware that time takes on a whole new meaning when you are on your own
  • Get used to hearing the word NO and not take it to heart
  • Be prepared for your relationships, personal and professional to change dramatically

Your turn

Have you made the big move to becoming a business owner? How was it?


20 Responses to An entrepreneur story (from Dubai to Provence)

  1. Thanks for this Ameena!
    Nice to hear what you and John have been through to get to where you are…
    You already know my story, and I AGREE with EVERY POINT you made in the Lessons learned.
    As for the answer to “how was it?” HOW IS IT ?? 😀
    Scary. Challenging. Daring. Growing. Ugly. and Beautiful. All at the same time. Starting your own business is the BIGGEST reality check EVER. I’m glad I’m on this journey… because I know that if you want to get somewhere you’ve never been, you have to do some things you’ve never done.

    So… here we go!

  2. Wow, thanks for sharing, so often we think we’re all alone in our struggles and yet so many people are probably travelling a similar path.

    I got retrenched from a senior design management position on a construction mega-project in Abu Dhabi which forced my hand at going it on my own as a professional architectural photographer. From a hugely lucrative position to digging down the back of the couch looking for bread and milk money,and cash to pay the school fees, it’s been a long tough road financially and emotionally.

    I’ve achieved some wonderful successes but the challenge is never ending trying to survive through the recession. Would I do it any other way? Never! The voyage is as exhilarating as it is challenging – recessions can be good like that sometimes forcing us to try things me might never of had the courage to pursue otherwise.

  3. Hey Ameena,

    I recently discovered you. Yes, I have taken the plunge recently. I am now a full-time copywriting. It’s exciting and scary at the same time. It’s really great to hear of your success.

    But I don’t agree with all of the points you mentioned about business, especially the one about throwing away your calender? Maybe you meant something else by that…

    Thanks for adding to my brains,
    Nadia Chaudhry

  4. Hi Ameena,

    wow, what an inspiring story and congratulations to your successes.

    Love the sofa analogy. Sitting on the sofa in despair won’t help us grow our business and make money, will it?

    My experience in business is: Change things, even businesses, as long as they work. In many cases, I waited too long because I was successful. All of a sudden, it stopped working and I wasn’t prepared. So I worked harder instead of releasing the business and starting something new. Intelligent quitting is critical!

    Thanks for sharing your insights.



  5. Hi Ameena,

    Very interesting read. Yes I did make the foray into being a business owner but it was convenient rather than vocational as I was between countries and jobs.

    The point I could most relate to in your article though was how lonely it was. I really thought I was the independent type up till that point – what a load of rubbish that was. I would go out for a coffee, not because I didn’t have coffee in but because I was desperate to be with people. Any conversation, even with someone quite boring or negative was better than no conversation, I realised.

    I was selling diamonds on the internet by the way.

    P.S. Thanks for the tip on sofas!

  6. I love reading stories like this, where people just like me stuck it out, dog paddling until it all came together as they knew it would. It’s always inspirational and is what keeps me plugging away at it.

  7. I absolutely loved reading about your story Ameena. I especially love it because we often don’t get a chance to hear about the hard times and the struggle that people endure. We just see the finished product and think “wow how lucky are they”.

    Congrats on your success.

  8. I dropped out of college in October 2011 to pursue my dreams of…doing something online for money. I remember being too broke to buy toilet paper so my best friend bought me a pack (3 ply!). Now I have my own apartment, a coffee maker, and a puppy. I think the #1 key to success is appreciate the struggle that “overnight” success requires.

    Now I just need to kick this addiction to delivery foods.

  9. Hi Ameena

    I was also living and working in Dubai as Marketing Manager and now with 2 children in Europe and thinking for my next career moves, I would like to work on my own. I have experienced most of the things you write about, also opened my company in Dubai…

    will be happy to be in touch with you



  10. Bonjour a tous,

    I like the Honeymoon Business part because we entrepreneur, we forgot the most important thing: To be ON the business and not IN the business.

    As we are all seeking for freedom, it is sometimes better to delegate the work to another person, to enjoy life on our side.



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