Samar Habayeb, CEO of Silsal Design House, on the importance of women supporting women

The Dubai-based entrepreneur is on a mission to bring mentorship into the mainstream
Samar Habayeb, CEO of Silsal Design House, on the importance of women supporting women

Entrepreneur Samar Habayeb is the CEO and Creative Director of Silsal Design House, a homeware and porcelain tableware brand based in Dubai.

Starting out in business she struggled to find a mentor who she could turn to for impartial advice and guidance, so Samar is now committed to mentoring aspiring female entrepreneurs in the region though her work with INJAZ UAE, a non-profit business education organization. 

Here the Jordan-native she speaks to Grazia about launching her company in Dubai, feeling the fear and doing it anyway, and why women need to support women in all facets of business.

Can you tell me a little but about your mentorship programme with INJAZ UAE? How did you get involved?

I’ve always been passionate about empowering the next generation of female leaders and take any opportunity I can get to mentor young women. Ultimately, my goal is to provide them with the knowledge, confidence and tools they need for their future endeavours. As part of that, I work closely with the non-profit organization, INJAZ UAE, which is part of the Junior Achievement Worldwide (JAW), to inspire and ignite the next generation of design and retail business visionaries. As a business leader, I encountered so many situations where being a woman came to my disadvantage, so with INJAZ I decided I wanted to mentor women specifically. 

Recently, I’ve been working with a group of young women, who launched EduShop, a quality-controlled online market place for the exchange of educational products at affordable prices. After a year of mentoring, they went on to compete at the 10th National Company Program Competition and won Company of the Year – which was so amazing. They’ll be heading to Oman in November to compete in the next round, so watch this space!

Do you think lack of mentorship and support is preventing more young women from starting their own businesses?

Absolutely. From my own experience, finding mentors who understand that I’m trying to build a global brand has been an incredibly challenging process. I was once told by my “mentor” from a global entrepreneurial network, that “if I planned to have more kids, they should probably wait and evaluate my business at a later stage”. There is definitely space for a more inclusive and forward-thinking mind-set when it comes to mentorship, and fostering a supportive eco-system will only allow more female entrepreneurs to flourish. I’m certain that having a mentor would have been invaluable, and because I felt there was a real lack of mentors here in the region, I decided to become a one myself.

How difficult was it for you to start your own business?

Not only did I decide to launch Silsal, but I decided to launch Silsal in Dubai – which for me, was in a brand new country, with new laws and regulations. It took a long time to understand how the system worked, but I must say that the best thing about the UAE is that from the top down, the government actively works to make things as easy as possible for entrepreneurs. They view their commitment to improving the ecosystem for the private sector as a win-win, which is exactly what it should be; they do that really well. Of course, there were difficulties, and there always will be, but I really believed in what I was doing, and that kept me going. It also helped that I had an amazing support network, and I’m eternally grateful to my husband and family, who have proved an endless source of encouragement and inspiration. Finally, our customers have been a valuable tool, both through their encouraging words and support, and definitely through their feedback, which very often has pushed us to the next level.

What mistakes did you make that you can now advise young women in business against making?

There are so many, but they’re not something I ruminate over. Behind every success are two or three mistakes. I think one of the most important things is to stop looking at mistakes as failures, and start looking at them as learning opportunities. The other important thing to learn is to minimise the time between the mistake and the problem-solving. Often, emotions take up too much space between encountering a challenge and moving to solve the problem, so reducing that emotional stage, time-wise, is something I have, and continue, to work on.

Do you think social media has made it easier for young women starting out in business?

Social media is a double-edged sword, but when used correctly it can create an amazing community of people who want to support you and your business. I urge everyone to use it as a platform to talk to directly their customers – to listen to what they like and what they don’t, and to act on all feedback, whether it’s good or bad. I use social media to interact with our customers constantly and it has proven priceless over the years, so I don’t think I will ever stop doing that.

What are you top five tips for someone starting out in business?

• Never be afraid to take a (calculated) risk and always trust your instincts.
• Make sure you love, and believe in, what you do, because when the going gets tough, it’s going to be the only thing that keeps you going.
• Learn to adjust and adapt. No entrepreneurial journey goes exactly as planned, so you need to stay nimble and flexible – just be willing to bend.
• Always stay connected to your customers. 
• Be kinder to yourself and others. Celebrate every achievement, no matter how big or small, because you are your best, and most important, cheerleader. And finally, ladies, learn to shout about your successes because, as women, we don’t do it enough.

Photos: Instagram