Is there a secret to success?

This is a question that many budding entrepreneurs often ask of those who have achieved great success in different industries. The answer to this frequently asked question depends on who is being asked. For Donna Benton, the dynamic and hugely successful Founder and Chairman of the Entertainer, the answer is that there is no secret formula to success.

Born in Melbourne, Donna had several part time jobs during her teenage years. She credits those experiences as the stimulus that made her keen to join the workforce instead of attending university. At the age of 26, she moved to Dubai for a job that turned out to be the wrong fit for her. It was then that her entrepreneurial spirit kicked in.

She observed that there were numerous restaurants and attractions, but no incentives to attract customers. This led her to develop a proposition to attract customers to these businesses by offering incentives that would be mutually beneficial to both merchants and customers. She decided to start the Entertainer and worked tirelessly and diligently to grow it organically.

Today, the Entertainer is the most popular voucher App for securing two-for-one deals in over 19 destinations and fifteen countries worldwide. With over 10,000 merchants and more than 15 million redemptions per year, the Entertainer is without doubt a very successful business that continues to grow in value and volume each year.

The success of the Entertainer is driven by a business-savvy, yet firmly grounded Chairman, Donna, and a staff that believes wholeheartedly in the ethos of the company.

In this special interview, Donna provides valuable insight into how it all got started and dishes out a few tips that could help you decode your own formula to success.

Who was your favourite teacher? Why?

Throughout my school years, my favourite teachers were always in the PE department. I was pretty sporty and loved PE, but I think it’s because they always seemed to be active and fun rather than boring. I’m a great believer in the importance of sports in the school curriculum – keeping our kids fit and active should always be a priority. It’s one of the reasons I’ve become a partner in Dawson Sports, the UAE’s only supplier of sports and preschool equipment in the region.

How did you come up with the idea for starting the Entertainer?

I saw the huge number of restaurants and attractions launching every month in Dubai, and of course, the ones that didn’t make a success of it. I realised that if I could make the incentive work for both the merchants and the customers, then it’s a win/win for everyone.  I kept it simple on purpose – the offers always needed to be ‘Buy One Get One Free’ and they needed to be valid 7 days a week with as few restrictions as possible. I wanted people who bought the Entertainer to know what to expect and that they were getting quality offers and substantial savings.

Share two major challenges that you faced when you started. How did you overcome them?

One of the biggest challenges was to convince people that it wasn’t too good to be true. It’s always tough to sell a concept rather than a tried and tested product. So getting the right merchants on board in the first year was so important. Can you believe my first ever meeting was at the Marriott? Most other people would have started with a local café, but what can I say, I have high expectations. The manager there signed up 5 of their outlets to the first book there and then. That gave me a huge confidence boost and made me convinced that I could get the best merchants on board.

In those first years, I managed all aspects of the business from legalities, government formalities, printing, distribution, and of course, selling the books. It was challenging, but I’m a big believer in being very hands on in all aspects of your business. By doing it yourself, you learn everything you need to know. It might take longer, but it’s the only way to get a business off the ground. I kept managing a lot of the areas until I absolutely needed to bring someone else in to manage it for me.

What are three key things that every entrepreneur should consider before going into business?

  1. You’re going to have to be brave! If you have a good idea for a business, but you’re always putting off taking that leap into the unknown, don’t be afraid to take some risks and put your fears to one side.
  2. Starting your own business definitely isn’t easy. Don’t underestimate the work ethic and belief in the product that you need.
  3. Remember, you can love what you do, but if the figures don’t add up, it starts to become more of a hobby rather than a business.

Share an important life lesson that you have learnt and how it has impacted your life.

You learn the most when you make mistakes, and I’ve made my fair share of those throughout the years. But I’m fine with that, they’re part of the journey. The important thing is that you learn from them and you move on. There have been plenty of good times and less good times, but all I know is that nothing should keep you awake at night. Get some sleep and deal with it in the morning ☺.

What is one of your proudest achievements to date?

My children Chloe (6) and Jack (3) are, without doubt, my proudest achievements. Professionally, I have a few – holding the first book when it came off the printing press in 2001, when the Abraaj Group acquired 50% of the company in 2012, and the next year when we launched our global App which now covers 15 countries worldwide.

What are three fun activities that you do to relax and take your mind off business?

I run most mornings on Kite Beach – not only do I get my all-important exercise fix in, but it also clears my head and gets me set up for the day. I’m my most relaxed when I spend time with my children and friends – and a healthy work/life balance is key. I also try and get away from it all every once in a while with a good holiday. Never underestimate the restorative power of some relaxation, I come home full of ideas.

So, are you still keen on finding a secret formula to success? We hope that you were able to find a few useful hints in this interview with Donna Benton that will help you on your journey. Remember her top tips to consider before starting a business. The next step is up to you!

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