Painting For Profit

Aarti Nagraj catches up with the Kana’an sisters, who describe the tough but fulfilling life of being an entrepreneur in Dubai.

The Kana’an sisters don’t get to sleep a lot these days. Zania admits that since she launched the e-commerce site Ananasa.com, she is lucky if she gets to sleep by 3.30 am.

“It’s all part of being a start-up,” she says.

But far from looking exhausted at our evening meeting, she is full of energy and exudes enthusiasm. For her, Ananasa, the company she started with her sister just five months ago in Dubai, is everything.

“Ananasa is basically an online platform for artists, craftsmen and designers in the Middle East to commercialise their handmade items. They do that by opening their own online store, uploading their items and becoming their own entrepreneurs in a way,” she says.

“So it’s like owning your own boutique – but in a virtual store – so there’s no start-up cost,” she adds.

The inspiration for Ananasa came when Zania, an artist, tried to start selling her paintings in Dubai.

“I found it very difficult to enter galleries as an emerging artist – you need to be an international name, you need to have start-up capital, there were a lot of logistical barriers I was facing,” she explains.

So Zaina and her sister Raina, both aiming to become entrepreneurs, started an online store to sell her art.

But once they began speaking to other artisans in the region, they realised that they had an opportunity to build something much bigger.

So the two set about building a multi-store e-commerce platform to enable other regional artists to set up their own stores and sell their products online.

“It was a lot of work,” she says. “We researched for two years before we took Ananasa live.

“The main challenge we faced was getting a payment gateway. When we started, only Emirates NBD offered the facility. But the bank would ask start-ups to provide Dhs100,000 in an account to freeze. And as a start-up, you can’t put in that much money. So the biggest challenge was getting that done,” says Zaina.

The aspiring entrepreneurs also struggled to get the right shipping rates.

“If you have an item that’s selling for $20, and your shipping cost to the US is $40, you are not really encouraging your buyer. Until now, it’s a constant back and forth with us with our shipping carrier to get the rates down,” she says.

Despite the issues, the sisters have ploughed ahead, and are now starting to see positive results, including interest from investors.

“We are not taking on investors right now. We are completely organic – it’s all our seed capital. And the reason is that we want to build a brand.

“An e-commerce site can be a cash cow, but we want to build a community and to do that, you need a vision and should be able to embody the vision,” she says.

“If we do want to get investors in, we want them to add a skill set – not just financial aid. So if they can add mentorship and help us take it to the next level – that’s good.”

So far the site, which takes a 30 per cent commission of every sale, has seen growth of 30 per cent month on month. It hosts over 230 artisans and more than 1,300 items.

Zaina says they are really pleased with the progress. “I want to wake up loving my day before it starts and Ananasa gives me that.”