Lily Kandalaft had a fulfilling and successful career at one of the largest food companies in the world. After she had her first baby, she realized a large gap in postnatal care in the region and decided to take on the massive responsibility and challenge of building a business that countless families have grown to rely on over the past 5 years.
Lily Kandalaft is the founder of Malaak Mama & Baby Care, the UAE’s first maternity focused childcare agency providing prenatal classes, maternity nurses, babysitters, sleep trainers, breastfeeding support as well as other pre- and postnatal services to support families in the UAE. A passionate supporter of working moms, Lily tries to be for others what she needed herself.
In our conversation Lily shared valuable lessons she learned in the corporate world that have served her well in entrepreneurship. We also talked about the challenges on her journey as an entrepreneur: the burden of constant decision-making, how she’s had to give up on the myth of perfection to be kinder to herself and how she’s learned to say no. Lily has found that managing people and various stakeholder interests becomes both more difficult and important as a small business owner.
For people who see a gap in the market and want to start their own business, Lily’s advice is “just do it.” She also talks about the value of starting out as a side hustle before committing fully to your passion enterprise. She also reveals how she’s managed to And she credits maintaining her sanity through this journey to the support of mentors, role models and sympathetic friends.
Read the Transcript
[00:00] Ladies and gents, my guest on today’s show is a corporate executive-turned-entrepreneur. Lily Kandalaft is the founder of Malaak Mama & Baby Care, the UAE’s first maternity focused childcare agency providing maternity nurses, sleep trainers, breastfeeding support, and more. A compassionate supporter of working moms, Lily is for others which she needed herself. Prior to launching Malaak, Lily had a happy career at Mars, the global chocolate giant. So why leave? During our chat, she explained how her perspective changed upon becoming a parent and why she decided to take on the mammoth responsibility of building a business that hundreds of families have grown to rely on over the past 5 years. We discussed the lessons Lily learned in the corporate world that have served her well in entrepreneurship, such as Mars’s Four Guiding Principles. We also talked about her journey as an entrepreneur, the burden of constant decision-making, how she’s had to give up on the myth of perfection, how she balances competing interests, and how she’s learned to say no. All this with the help of mentors, role models, and sympathetic friends. So let’s get into it.
[01:16] Lily, thank you so much for coming on When Women Win. I’m so happy to have you here.
[01:21] Great. So let’s start at the beginning. You were born in Jordan, raised in the UAE. You went to Canada and got a degree in economics from McGill and then got a masters in finance from the London School of Economics. Why economics and finance?
[01:35] It was kind of, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do once I graduated high school and economics seemed like the perfect option. I was good at it in school. Everyone in my family is in the banking field and I wanted to kind of keep my options open. I wanted to actually go into law. So the idea was to do four years of economics, kind of get my management background and then go into law afterwards.
[01:55] Okay. But you didn’t
[01:55] That changed along the way.
[01:58] Yeah, let’s go there. So then you started to work for corporations
[02:03] And you started to the Bank of Montreal and then moved to Mars. So did you find that your studies prepared you adequately for the corporate world?
[02:12] That’s a good question. So I think it prepared me from kind of basic courses in accounting and finance and the basics in terms of communication, but I think really it was a lot of on-the-job learning. So my experience at Bank of Montreal interacting with different people, interacting in different languages, you know, meeting different people from different cultures and learning how to manage myself. I think it was a lot of on-the-job learning, especially at Mars. I think Mars, you meet a lot of different people and different backgrounds so you get a lot of access to different mentors, both female and male, working in teams. So I think it was a lot of on-the-job learning and I think education is nice because it’s, you know, but I think a lot of the things that I learned were through my experience.
[02:53] Yeah. Well let’s talk about Mars. It was your first job here in the UAE and how was it different working at Mars in the UAE versus the Bank of Montreal back in Canada?
[03:03] So I think what’s lovely about Mars is everything being based on principles. So I think bank of Montreal was great because it’s quite dynamic, it’s quite fast paced and I think what’s nice about Mars, it was very family oriented as a business and they worked very much based on principles.
[03:18] What does that mean, sorry?
[03:19] So they had four principles that they based all their decisions on. So every time you had any business problem that you faced, they went and took you back to the principles and when I first joined that was like, you know, kind of what is this concept? And you don’t really believe in it until you go through these challenges in the business and then you refer back to the principles and it’s really like you’re a Bible of, of kind of approaching things. And that’s what’s really nice and that’s what I took out from working at Mars and applied it to my own business afterwards. And for me, the principles that I have at Malaak are literally every time I have any challenges that we face, I ask my team to revert back to the principles and that’s how we base our decisions. So it’s very helpful.
[04:00] Okay. So, okay, that sounds like a big lesson you learned from the corporate world that you took into your entrepreneurial journey. We will definitely come to Malaak very soon, but first, what are these four guiding principles at Mars?
[04:12] So it was a lot about kind of quality. So making sure that the products, everything that you provide for our consumers was based on quality. There was responsibility, so responsibility in terms of making the right decisions and caring for your consumers. So always having the consumers at heart. It’s a lot about mutuality, so anytime you get into any partnership or any agreement, it’s about looking at the other side and making sure it’s a win-win situation. And the last one is passion and that for me means a lot. So it’s about having passion in everything that you do. Between the four of them as a family and as a family business, it really helps guide you in terms of your decision. So those were the four principles of Mars.
[04:49] Mars is an incredible company. I mean it’s amazing.
[04:50] Privately owned. Family owned, exactly
[04:50] Massive FMCG globally.
[04:57] And you had lots of different roles there. Can you tell us what you did?
[04:59] Yeah, so I was basically based first in finance, which was my background, so finance and economics and that’s what I started off with. I started off in the factory, so I worked night shifts, day shifts, working on the line in the factory for galaxy. And then a little bit down the line I thought, you know, I started getting very interested in the marketing aspect. I’m a very creative person by nature. So I started taking on a few projects and then, you know, my manager came to me, he said, look, why don’t you move to marketing, you know, I think you could really add a lot of value there. So as soon as I moved there, actually I found kind of my calling because that’s really where I felt I had a lot of value.
[05:34] That’s the incredible thing about working for a corporation.
[05:36] They have all these departments
[05:39] The access, exactly, to doing so many different things. And I think that for me is where it prepares you, if you do want to go into entrepreneurship, it’s that exposure to different people, you know, kind of different roles that then expand your mindset and then you kind of see a business from, from, from the full perspective.
[05:56] So let’s about how the corporate world prepared you for your entrepreneurial journey. I mean you, you spent six, seven years there between the Bank of Montreal and Mars and what did you learn? What skills did you develop that you have found very useful in building your own business?
[06:11] So I think working at Mars, you work with a lot of people, so it’s about dealing with different personalities, managing conflicts, being honest and approaching things head on. So for me that was something that I learned a lot. So a lot of communication skills in terms of, because things will go wrong and it’s about how you manage them, how you confront and having an honest conversation and trying to find the solution that works for everyone. I think in terms of building your confidence from a communication’s perspective, being able to present your ideas and if you have an idea, especially when I was in marketing, to kind of influencing skills or convincing your managers or your team, you know, why your idea makes sense and bringing it to life and I think it’s that process that you learn as you go up the corporate ladder that’s really valuable. And for me it was a lot about, I think what Mars was, was amazing at is how they treated their employees. They really value their employees. When they say it’s a family business, they treat it like a family business. It’s not just saying it’s a family business, you really are treated as a family member. Your opinions are extremely valued. Women are extremely valued and it’s lovely to see how they push you to kind of, you know, bring out your inner passion and your inner creativity and, and that’s what I really respect them and I think the whole family mindset is what I’m trying to do, being an entrepreneur afterwards.
[07:37] Wow. Sounds like an amazing place to work.
[07:41] It is. A lot of other companies, honestly, will establish them because they put a lot of support, like I said especially for women, you know when you go on maternity leave and afterwards just in terms of support things like options of working from home, or when your child is sick, they were very understanding and very supportive. And at the time the president was female and I think that added a lot for us.
[08:02] We got to get her on When Women Win.
[08:02] Yeah, you have to get onboard, definitely.
[08:07] Yeah, for sure, she can tell the other corporates how to do it right.
[08:08] How to do it right. Exactly.
[08:10] So it sounds amazing, but I’m sure there were some challenges in the corporate world that every woman, not just woman, everybody faces, man or a woman. Can you talk a little bit about those?
[08:21] Yeah. So I think, I mean what’s nice about the corporate world is that stability, is the fact that you get to work with teams, you get to experience different aspects of the business and there still is less of a risk. You know, when you would do take projects on board, it’s kind of a shared responsibility amongst you and the team. Where it becomes challenging is when there is that bureaucracy, where, you know, you do have that passion for something and you want to bring it to life and then there are kind of steps you need to take, toll gates, you know, it limits you a little bit in terms of, you know, kind of you want to just go for it. And I think that’s probably where, from a corporate perspective versus entrepreneurial, you’re a bit limited in that perspective and that there’s a lot of people you have to bring on board with you before you make those decisions. And sometimes you might be blocked for reasons that you probably feel frustrated about.
[09:11] So just general bureaucracy toll gates
[09:16] General bureaucracy I would say process basically, you know. And sometimes that limits creativity. I mean Mars was great sometimes at it, but I do feel sometimes it does limit your growth potential, and for me that was the hunger I had, is I wanted to do much more and that’s where I kind of switched to kind of entrepreneurship.
[09:33] And was there any other push that led you to leave the corporate world and go into setting up your own business?
[09:38] Yeah. So I think it was more on the personal kind of side of things. So having my child, it really made me look at work a little bit differently in the sense of I really wanted my time away from him to really make a big difference and that pushed me to start thinking about what do I want and what value do I want to kind of
[09:56] Make a difference as in have social impact
[09:58] Having social impact.
[09:58] If you were spending time away from your child, it had to mean something
[10:01] Exactly. It really had to make a difference. And I loved my job at the time, but then I found kind of an opportunity and at the same time I felt like I want to add a lot more value and I felt this was an opportunity for me to do so.
[10:11] So you found a market gap?
[10:13] Yes. So at the time I was, you know, giving birth to my son, realizing that there is a, there wasn’t that much support for, for mothers in terms of kind of postnatal support and although my mom was around and that was very helpful, I found that I had a lot of questions all the time and as amazing as Google is, you kind of want someone to talk to and just to know that you’re doing it, you’re doing the right thing, especially as a first time mom. And I found that there is that gap in the region in comparison to, to, you know, abroad. And that’s where the opportunity came up and saying, look, I’d love to give support for other moms like me were going through the exact same thing and want to go back to work and want to contribute, but feel like they need to have the right support and that peace of mind for their children.
[10:59] Well, maybe I mean just for the benefit of those listeners who don’t know Malaak, tell us a bit about Malaak. Now you left and you set up your own business, postnatal support for mothers
[11:08] And maybe tell us a bit more about Malaak.
[11:12] Sure. So Malaak is basically, you know, the idea’s it’s that kind of a one stop shop for moms for everything taking you through your parenting journey. From when you get pregnant, we provide prenatal classes, we provide then, as soon as you have given birth, we provide all the support afterwards from, you know, kind of you want maternity nurses, childcare options, you know, just sleep support, breastfeeding support and then afterwards, you know, baby classes, baby stimulation, baby massage, so everything. And we’re also trying to provide kind of a hub for moms to hang out in. So every Thursday we do like a free mom support group and then we basically bring speakers from all walks of life.
[11:47] Sorry every single Thursday?
[11:47] Every single Thursday morning
[11:47] For free?
[11:52] For free. It’s a free coffee morning for moms. What we found is that moms, as soon as they’ve given birth, it’s very lonely.
[11:57] Yes. I felt that.
[12:00] And unless you’ve been to a prenatal class, met some other moms, you kind of feel on your own. Breastfeeding is challenging sometimes. And you would get lack of sleep, you have a lot of questions and for us it’s, you know, it’s about providing that safe space for moms. They can come, they can breastfeed, they can bring their babies and it’s just listening to speakers talk about different things that might help you and they might refer you to someone if you’re facing a particular challenge. And the idea really is just somewhere safe to hang out, have a coffee, we have snacks, we have also our staff available so that you do get that a little bit of time off, and a bit of a break if you need it.
[12:37] Wow. Lovely. Okay back to Malaak.
[12:42] So Malaak is really about support for moms, so it’s everything we’re trying to be that hub for moms in terms of pre and postnatal support.
[12:49] Okay and how, so you established it in 2013, right?
[12:54] And can you give us a sense of how it’s grown over the past five years?
[13:00] Originally we started off as 6 employees and now we are around 95.
[13:03] So in the past five years it’s grown quite tremendously, still with a plan to grow further. Over time, we’ve, we’ve expanded from different things, adding on different surfaces. So that was one aspect. And then the other aspect was of course growing the team in itself. And obviously now moving geographically across the region.
[13:22] Yeah and I think is your biggest service the maternity nurses?
[13:26] Yeah. That’s got to be your most popular one.
[13:28] That is quite popular. So I mean it’s, you know, we’ve got, you know, different needs in the market. Some people need the support kind of full time, so we provide services from either, you know, anything from 6 hours all the way up to 24 hours. And some moms need that support, whether they’re going back to work, whether they need that peace of mind with, the first time moms need that support. Second time moms that want to focus on the older child, have specific family circumstances we provide support for that family, but as well you can opt for, if you’re facing just breastfeeding challenges, we can send someone to kind of support you through that. If you’re baby isn’t sleeping through the night, and we’ve seen that grow tremendously, it’s just someone coming in help you provide just in terms of information, the right habits, so the right healthy habits for your family and the right routine, so it’s not a military sleep training but it’s just encouraging health habits for your family, so that your baby does end up sleeping through the night.
[14:20] Yeah well, I asked one of these professionals about my baby who’s now over a year. He’s a year and four months, and he’s still waking up at 5:00 AM, 5:00 AM everyday everyday everyday.
[14:30] We need to get you in touch
[14:33] Well I think the advice I got was just, let him cry and that’s okay.
[14:36] That’s okay yeah.
[14:36] I’m totally fine with it, if I don’t have an older child. You know, I have two so I can’t just leave him to cry.
[14:42] Definitely. And it’s not. And I think that’s the misconception people have that sleep training is all about letting your baby cry it out and it’s not the case. It’s, you know, it’s working families and a lot of the feedback that we’ve gotten, it’s a lot about training the parents versus training the baby. It’s a lot about your approach, you know, during the day, how well is he eating, how long is he sleeping during the day, what are the different dynamics surrounding your family circumstances, and then working through those to make sure that you’re getting the best out of it, in terms of the right routine for your family. So it’s not, you know, maybe 5:00 AM wake up is good for you.
[15:17] Maybe that works for your family
[15:17] Maybe it’s a sign I need to do yoga.
[15:22] So it’s just about adapting. So it’s really personalized and that’s why we say, there’s no one solution for it all. It’s about coming and understanding your family dynamics and then customizing the solution that suits you.
[15:34] Okay. What else has Malaak taught you about, for example, parenting?
[15:37] So I mean, what’s nice about, you know, kind of the entrepreneurial journey that I went through is you learn a lot about yourself, the relationships with people around you, and for me it taught me a lot about my parenting style. So I read, you know, you’re exposed to different types of families, different circumstances, and for me what’s nice is it’s important not to compare. And I think that’s really important as a new mom and seeing so many different families with so many different experiences, different children, different lifestyles, comparing yourself to other families won’t help, and comparing your parenting style won’t help.
[16:10] Comparing your children
[16:14] Comparing your children won’t help. So if you’re focused a lot on, you know, my baby’s not walking at this age or my baby’s eating early or my baby’s eating late or he’s, it’s, it’s, it’s a lot of stress on families and you see, you’ll always end up the same, you know, your child will be fine in the end. It’s important to be aware. But I think what’s lovely about it is seeing that every family is extremely unique.
[16:36] And looking at, for me it was a lot about, you know, as a first time mom, you know, is my, is my child eating enough, is my child sleeping enough, you know, and reading a lot and a lot of these parenting kind of self-help-books, they stress you out a little bit because then you expect it to, you know, your baby should be doing this at this age and your baby should be doing that, it’s very stressful in families. So once you realize that every family is quite unique, you get a bit of, you know, confidence and a bit more relaxed about things. And you start to enjoy the parenting journey a bit more.
[17:07] So I think that’s been very helpful for me.
[17:09] Well that’s a relief for me because I had a mini breakdown when I was, when I had my first kid at the six week mark. So I was trying to Gina Ford him. Right? And then I was online and all the information I was getting, the advice, was all conflicting.
[17:25] And that’s what upset me and I really, at the six week mark, I just broke down. I was like, I can’t do this. I’m the worst mom in the world. I don’t even know what’s right or wrong. And that’s what was upsetting me. I didn’t even know which way to go.
[17:37] And there is no right or wrong. And I think that’s what’s, you know, understanding that because we see a lot of families that go through a lot of postnatal depression, and a lot of it is linked to you’re feeling that guilt or feeling stressed out that you’re doing a good enough job and you’re, and you’re doing an amazing job. And it’s just about that confidence, about that reaffirmation that you are doing an incredible job just keeping your child healthy and happy. And that’s all it takes. If your child’s on a routine or not on a routine, it’s what works for your family and don’t stress about it. You know, seek the help, get advice. It’s amazing, but take it with a pinch of salt as well because it might not work for your family. And it’s about reading the signs. You will know your child the best.
[18:14] Yeah, and I mean the stats for postnatal depression are pretty high. I think, do you know?
[18:19] I don’t know actually to be honest, but we see it, we see a lot of it, you know, we see a lot of cases and we obviously refer them to the right people. But for us it’s about noticing the signs and giving moms that support. So you know, a lot of it is not just childcare but a lot of it is about mama care as well right. So taking care of the moms and it’s a lot about kind of taking time out for yourself, you know, remembering who you are before you became a mom as well and taking care of yourself and your needs.
[18:46] Sorry to ask this again because I think it’s important for listeners, but what are the signs of postnatal depression?
[18:52] So, I mean we’ve, we see different, different kind of signs, but we see a lot of moms that, you know, are irritable. So there’s obviously the baby blues, that’s quite natural
[18:58] That you cry over not sleeping.
[19:05] You’re not sleeping. You’re tired. You know, and, and, and you know, I’m not an expert in this, but we have seen several cases of moms not wanting to be around their children and this is when they’re breastfeeding, they’re tired, they’re kind of unable to be around their children and being upset when they’re around their children, kind of either being extra irritable, really upset with people around them, being angry, you know, lashing out, either physically or emotionally. And I think it’s about noticing those signs just to give them awareness that maybe we can provide support to seek help and we work with a lot of other companies that are experts in this field so it’s just about noticing the signs, speaking to another family member.
[19:27] Or their partner.
[19:47] Their partner just to say, look, have you thought about this? And there’s, you know, there’s no taboo around it anymore. I think what’s nice, people are talking about it a lot more. And if you are proactive about it and, you know, manage it early on, then you’re going to enjoy the whole journey much more.
[20:02] Okay. Well, let’s talk a little bit about the challenges you faced on your journey as a professional. So what’s Malaak taught you professionally about running a business. I mean you left the corporate world, you started this, this company five years ago and it’s grown like crazy in terms of services and employees. So what have you learned professionally?
[20:23] For me, just because of the nature of the business, I think, you know, the fact that we have such a big responsibility and I learned a lot about kind of, you know, looking at the bigger picture, focusing a lot. I used to be quite quite a perfectionist and it was a bit easier to do when you’re in the corporate world because you kind of have a specific project and you try to manage all aspects of that project before you present it or before you share it. In entrepreneurship, it’s very difficult to manage everything. It’s very difficult to anticipate exactly to be perfect, anticipate any type of consequence. You do your best, especially given the nature of our business, we have a big responsibility because we’re caring for children, so we do our best to make sure that processes are 100 percent, so that quality aspect is, is there, but you will face challenges throughout and there will be times where you would look back and say, well, I need to fix this in the process or this might not work properly. We tried it, it didn’t work, let’s learn from it and kind of move on. So this idea of you can’t be perfect all the time was quite a big learning for me. I think another thing was just how many decisions you have to make consistently
[20:58] Like everyday.
[20:25] Everyday and you know, a lot of them are big decisions and in the corporate world you’re kind of sharing that with the team and you have people to talk to. And a lot of the times it’s, as an entrepreneur, it’s very difficult to talk to everyone about the big decision you have to make. And that’s quite challenging. But it builds your confidence because as you make those decisions, there will be times you make amazing decisions. There’ll be times you make mistakes. And of that learning process is not being hard on yourself, so I think that’s a huge learning for me before it was if I did something and it didn’t work, I’d be really hard on myself afterwards and I think it’s important for entrepreneurs to be encouraged and pushed to make those mistakes. With us, because of the nature of our business obviously the mistakes are, you know, you need to be quite vigilant about your processes
[22:21] Yeah, where you allow the mistakes.
[22:25] Where you allow the mistakes to happen. And for us, it’s, you know, we take risks with new ideas and creativity and if it works, great, if it doesn’t, that’s fine, but we don’t take, we’re, we’re quite strict, from a policy perspective in terms of quality controls. So that’s something that we won’t budge on and I won’t kind of compromise.
[22:41] Okay. And so these learnings are. Yeah, pretty different to the corporate. But what challenges have you faced in building Malaak? Because it can’t all have been rosy.
[22:51] No, it’s, I mean, in every business it’s quite challenging and, and Malaak went through, for me personally, we deal with a lot of people. So it’s balancing. I think that’s the biggest challenge is you’re dealing with taking care of children at the same time you’re taking care of the parents and you’re taking care of your team or taking care of the families and it’s very much a people business, so it’s kind of balancing the needs of the families, the children and your team that I find, that I think we went through a kind of different phases of how do we balance it all and we still go through it. I think we’ve kind of learned a little bit more the formula on how, what works best, and it’s about taking care of everyone at the same time and there will be time you need to compromise, but it’s about that communication. It’s about being quite honest from the beginning and setting out expectations from the beginning for everyone so that everyone’s on the same page.
[23:50] Okay. So that’s how you solved the balancing the people equation
[23:54] Because that’s, I mean that’s the nature of our business really. That’s the challenge everyday. It’s people, it’s making sure your team is happy, it’s making sure that your clients are happy. It’s making sure the baby’s healthy and happy and it’s that balance that is quite challenging.
[24:07] Sorry. Why is that difficult? What are the competing, where, where are the tensions?
[24:12] So I think it’s about, you know, sometimes family circumstances would require extra support or extra, you know, something simple like time off, right? So they’re facing a specific situation where they need our nurses to work extra hours and it’s a, it’s a situation. So it’s sometimes it’s an emergency situation and then that’s an easy decision to make. You speak to your team and ask for those extra hours, but at the same time when it’s, it’s happening quite often or if it’s a situation where isn’t necessarily an emergency situation, it’s about balancing and speak to the clients about, you know, our policies and kind of going back to the maximum we do is x number of hours. We can’t do anything more than that. And it’s about balancing the needs to make sure that your staff is healthy, happy, sleeping the required amount of hours they need to function, but at the same time keeping your clients happy and making sure that they get the right support because they have their work, they have their career ambitions, they have their family commitments. So you want to also kind of balanced that as well.
[25:12] Yup. Okay. Yeah. Learning to say no
[25:14] Learning to say no when needed and sometimes you need to make tough decisions and it’s just about how you manage it because that’s where I say the communication part and I think that’s where we missed kind of in university and you deal with, you learn a lot kind of being hands on in the entrepreneurial world is just communicating. Sometimes it’s really the way you say it as opposed to what you’re saying.
[25:37] I find that a lot. I find that in life, I find that in everywhere. It’s not just an entrepreneurial journey. It’s often not what you say, it’s how you say it.
[25:45] How you say it and it’s really about that and it’s about making people feel special and, but then bringing them, making them aware of the full picture
[25:54] Yeah. People are special too.
[25:57] Exactly. Just just to kind of make that whole list because sometimes you’re, especially as a, as a new mom, you’re stressed you’re, you’re quite tired, you’re already going through that anxious kind of journey of just making sure that your child is healthy. So just sharing the big picture is, is important and you need to be quite sensitive on how you say it.
[26:15] Yeah. And so are most of your clients first time moms.
[26:21] No we have quite a big mix. So we have a mix of first time mom, second time and third and forth. And it’s, it’s quite a nice mix. You would know the difference. So once you talk to the moms the first time before they register for any of the services, you can tell whether it’s a first time mom or a second or a third time mom and it’s all different. But then you know who the right person is to match for their families and you kind of get a feel for their style as well. Because I mean, you know, it’s all about chemistry. It’s about finding the right fit for the family.
[26:51] Oh. So you look at your nurses and you say, well, I know her personality would go well with that client.
[26:55] Yes, yes.
[26:55] Oh, really. Okay.
[26:58] It’s, you know, it’s a lot about understanding your team as well. So we spend a lot of time with our team to understand their strengths and weaknesses, development areas, and a lot about their personality because a lot of them are bubbly, some of them a bit more kind of calm. And what we’ve realized with families is sometimes you don’t really know what you want. You want someone to do the best and care for your child in the best possible way. And that’s what we promised our clients. And in terms of finding the right fit, it’s a lot about chemistry and we don’t always get it right, but you know, we’ve gotten better at understanding the clients. We would go through a lot of questions, we try to meet them, we try to understand their needs and their requirements so that then we find the right match
[27:37] And if you don’t, they can always say, look, this is not working out
[27:41] Exactly. And that’s kind of the benefit versus kind of agencies abroad because it’s, it’s immediate. If you have that connection. Great. That continues. If you don’t, there are alternatives available.
[27:50] Yeah. So we talked about the challenges that you faced, basically balancing the needs of different people communicating and all of this, learning to say no. What helped you through that, apart from experience? I mean, did you have any mentors or role models?
[28:06] So I’m lucky to have amazing mentors in my family, from my husband who is an entrepreneur, my father and my uncle and kind of my cousins as well. All of them are male. I don’t have any female mentors. I’d love to have at some point. It’s just because then there’s another whole aspect of having your family as well and the juggling that I’d love to get advice on, but I’m lucky to have amazing mentors in my family that are there as kind of sounding boards through the challenges that I face and the business. So they’ve been extremely helpful throughout the journey. I try to read as much as I can, but really it’s a lot about, for me, it’s conversations, with other people that have opened up businesses or you know, someone, mainly it’s for me my husband and my dad that are always my sounding board for big decisions.
[28:56] So your husband, you said is an entrepreneur. Your dad as well?
[28:58] Yes. So my dad, I had 35 experience in a, you know kind of, the corporate world, went up the corporate ladder and it was, a lot of the push came from him to become an entrepreneur as well. He was very much for, you know, he became an entrepreneur after 35 experience
[29:15] Sorry he was 35 years in the corporate world.
[29:15] 35 years in the corporate world. And then he became an entrepreneur right after that and then he, you know, kind of a lot of him, a lot of his experience was start early, you know, get your experience in the corporate world. But if you do want to become an entrepreneur, start early.
[29:29] Okay. Let me ask you something about that. Okay. Because there’s a lot of women in the corporate world who are looking to start their own thing, but thinking of it as a side hustle. Okay. What are your views on that?
[29:47] So I mean for me, I started Malaak while working at Mars so I wasn’t ready yet to take the risk from, from a financial perspective and, you know, I just had my first baby, I had an amazing job, so it was not an easy decision to make. My decision in the beginning was let me do it on the side and see how it goes. And then, you know, nine months later it became very challenging to do both because you had, you’re adapting to becoming a new mom, you have your regular job and then you have your side job. And I think if you really want to give it your all, it can’t be a side thing, it can probably start as a side thing and I encourage that because then you, you’re kind of testing it out a little bit, you know, and if you’re able to juggle and say probably share that with your family so you get the right support and give it your all in the beginning. Even if you’re doing two things at the same time, test it out, see how you feel. And if you feel like, look this can go places, this is my passion and I’m much happier doing this, then it’s probably the right time to take a risk. And if you’re not feeling, feeling your job, I mean I just feel like it’s a shame to continue in something that isn’t driving you every day.
[30:50] So you would encourage or you advise them to start as a side hustle just to test the concept.
[30:55] Yeah. So for me, I wasn’t sure that I wanted to be my job. So that’s where it made sense for me to do it on the side and you know, and not take the full risk. If you’re unhappy with your job and you’re not feeling it everyday and it’s not, you know, it’s not stimulating you, then probably it’s not the right place for you and will probably be, well give it your all and go for it, you know, take that risk, jump on it, give it your all and then there really is that potential to make it, make it successful because you do have to give it your all
[31:25] Yeah, for sure. But I mean, it’s interesting. You loved your job at Mars and yet you left
[31:29] Yes and that’s why it was a challenge. Yes, yes. I loved my job because I had an amazing team. Like I said, they treated you like family, really. And so it was tough for me to leave. Where I felt it was missing for me was that passion. You know, I, I got the opportunity to share my creativity and, and, but I felt that, you know, I was a bit limited and I wanted to do so much more.
[31:54] And also you talked earlier about social impact, which is
[31:56] It’s not quite as much. Yeah.
[31:59] Yeah. And for me, leaving my son, it was a big deal for me. I honestly, the minute I gave birth to him it was, you know, if I’m going to be away from my son, it really needs to be quite something to take my time, because you also go through that, you know, once you’ve given birth do I stay at home? Do I take care of them, you know, give them my all? Or do I go back to the corporate world? And you know, for me it was, I wanted to work, I wanted to give back and I wanted that stimulation for myself and it’s very personal, but I felt it was the right decision for me and that, you know, it pushed me to kind of make that decision and go back.
[32:34] Yeah. No, I mean it is very personal. You know, everybody’s different. And what works for you actually today might not work for even you in a few years time.
[32:42] Exactly, in a few years. And it’s about being agile honestly. And it’s about listening to yourself, looking at your circumstances. And for me, I sat with my family and I said, look, I really want to try this out, you know, can I get the support? And my dad was on top of saying 100 percent, go for it. I’m here for you, to kind of, my dad’s in the medical field. So it was very helpful to have them on my side, kind of pushing through with me. And then in the moments where you’re like, am I making the right decision? It’s nice to have someone behind you saying, of course you are like, look at the amazing things that you’re doing. Look at what you can change, you know, look at the gap, look at, you know, kind of the difference that you’re making. It’s, it’s amazing to have that.
[33:18] Yeah. Well that sounds really powerful to have, as your dad, a mentor and role model.
[33:23] That’s fantastic. If you were to start all over again, what would you do differently? Would you do it all again?
[33:30] I would do it all again.
[33:30] Would you leave Mars again?
[33:32] I would leave Mars again. Yeah. I Love Mars and I will always love the people that I met there. They’re, you know, people that I met, they will always be friends for life and the lessons I learned, you know, kind of amazing and built, you know, prepared me for Malaak to be honest. But I think I wouldn’t change anything to be honest.
[33:47] Even in Malaak?
[33:49] Even in Malaak, I wouldn’t, I mean there’s obviously lessons you learn that you’d probably make, I would make different decisions. I think the journey that we went through has gotten Malaak to where it is now. Really, the experiences, the people I hired, the people that work, the people that didn’t work, they all taught really powerful lessons along the way. The team I have now, absolutely incredible. And I think it might’ve been different had I not gone through those mistakes and those challenges, I might have chosen different people or, we wouldn’t be where we are today, I think, have we gone a different route.
[34:20] So the mistakes are not regrets.
[34:25] No, no. And that’s what’s amazing, is learning that because naturally coming from an environment where you’re in corporate world and you know, mistakes are, you can’t really make mistakes because there’s someone there to kind of tell you, why don’t you do this properly or whatever. In the entrepreneurial world, it’s, it’s quite amazing because every mistake has come with a huge learning curve and you grow so much faster. So if you don’t make those mistakes, you’re kind of, it’s much slower. So mistakes are actually quite an advantage.
[34:52] Okay. So let’s talk about you as a person and how you cope. Your coping mechanisms. So you built a business and you know, you’re married with two kids. What do you think is fundamental to you keeping it together every day?
[35:13] Well I have an amazing family to provide that support. I always have incredible girlfriends, incredible, that are there as you know, kind of sounding boards as well. And when you go through kind of the, the questions that you have everyday of, am I doing this right or the guilt, you know, making mistakes and then going through that journey because even when you do make mistakes, it’s tough going through that uncomfortable situation and I think I wouldn’t have my sanity if I didn’t have my friends and my family to kind of, I’m the type of person I like to talk through things. I like to talk through what I’m going through. I’m very open and then you know, kind of getting different views from different people and then choosing what works for me in the end, but I’m not the type that keeps it in. I like to talk
[35:48] Yeah. External processor.
[35:51] Yeah, exactly. I’m an external processor so I like to talk about it and that’s for me, my, getting my sanity. My kids sometimes, it’s funny, but you go through something really tough and then just my, like my eldest son Ryan who, who’s five, he’ll see it on me a little bit and then he’ll say something so amazing that you’re like, this is really what it’s all about. You know, it’s, it’s, you know, it’s about the learning, the experience and at the end of the day you’re doing it all for your family and it’s nice that through conversations with your family or through conversations with friends or your children that you’re brought back a little bit down to earth and you’re kind of looking at the bigger picture versus the details that you were kind of worked up about in that moment. So I think conversation, communication and, honestly I have an amazing team. So a lot of it is about, you know, being, trusting your team, talking to them about what you’re going through personally even. And then, you know, having the right insights and the right, you know, strong people around you that really support and push you through.
[36:52] Just two quick questions before we wrap up here. How do you switch off when you’re overwhelmed?
[36:59] I actually find that very challenging to be honest. I, I find it very difficult to switch off. So again, when I am going through challenges, I find that I need to pick up the phone, call my best friends, have that conversation, find some sort of a conclusion, and then make a decision about it. I don’t switch off to be honest. I find it very difficult. That’s definitely one of the challenges I have, definitely an area that I need to work on. When I do switch off, it’s really when, you know, things that I love. So I love dancing. So that for me is my escape. And it’s my kind of letting loose and at that point, I’m not thinking of anything other than dancing at that point and that’s probably the only way I switch off to be honest. But I try as much as possible that when I am spending time with family, with friends, that I am putting my phone asides, that I am trying to focus on enjoying the moments. And I think working on that more and more.
[37:55] Great. I think all of us need to work on switching off.
[37:57] Yeah, it’s tough to be honest.
[37:59] But necessary.
[38:02] Necessary. Extremely necessary. And when you do you come back way more productive and you add so much more value.
[38:07] Yeah, I agree. Okay and if you had a billboard, what message would you put on it?
[38:07] I always go by this, which is “just do it”. You know, I’ve been, you know, quite starting off quite cautious in, like I said, making mistakes and taking that risk and for me, the more challenges I face, every single time you go for it, the process might be challenging, you know, during, but then after, it’s just so much more amazing. So for me, that would be my kind of billboard sign. Just do it. If you feel it, just do it, you know, and then take it as it comes and if it goes well, amazing. If it doesn’t, learn from it and the next time, maybe do it a bit differently.
[38:54] Great. All right, well listen, thank you so much Lily. This has been such fun.
[38:57] Thank you.
[38:58] And how can listeners find you?
[39:01] So, I think the best thing would be to visit our website. So www.malaak.me, and you know, obviously through our facebook and instagram pages are probably great to kind of follow too, so you can see all the activities or the events that we do from moms and a lot of them are free events, a lot of support, kind of opportunities for moms around the UAE. So that would be the best.
[39:22] Yeah. Great. Well we’ll put all these handles and links in the show notes.
[39:28] So you can find them on facebook @malaakuae or on instagram @malaakbabycare.
[39:33] Thank you for having me.
[39:34] Pleasure. Thank you.
[39:35] I hope you enjoyed today’s episode. You can check out show notes and more episodes at rananawas.com/win or search: When Women Win on iTunes, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts. I’d also love to hear your feedback and ideas for who I should bring on the show. You can find me on instagram @RanaNawas. Thanks and have a great day!