Doing Business in the Middle East:
Zaytouneh – cooking up a successful business
As a celebration of the annual ‘Entrepreneurship week’, we at Middle East Business celebrate it by uncovering its best locally based entrepreneurs.
Jordanian Fida Taher, CEO and Founder of Zaytouneh, a website specialises in online cooking recipe videos, is an exemplary model of this celebration of entrepreneurial spirit, by overcoming the fear of quitting a stable job to jumping into a risky business.
She can be considered as role model for young entrepreneurs, both male and female, as she took a simple idea she believed in, and confidently took her brilliant idea to the next level. She made it a winner.
Middle East Business had the privilege of asking Fida some questions about how she started this business. We thank her for opening her heart to us and telling us a little about the journey she took to create such a successful business
How and when were you inspired to start your business?
I am a foodie. I love food. I appreciate good food, and I know a lot about food. However, and although my mother is a chef, the truth is, before Zaytouneh, I barely knew how to cook!
I have always felt that cook books are too intimidating and static, and cooking shows on TV just too long!
I grew up around food because of my mother’s work (and also an entrepreneur – she founded her catering company in 2000) and I come from a video production background, so I decided to do a little experiment, which was to film a short video recipe, and try it on myself. And guess what? It worked… so I thought, if this could solve my problem, then it might do the same thing for others too.
So I studied the market for a few months, and launched Zaytouneh at the end of 2011.
After having your idea in mind, what were the five most important steps from choosing the name until you had your first client’s pay check?
Market research. Created a prototype. Found myself good mentors. Secured seed investment. Created a good team.
How do you think that your business can help women? Or men?
Since most people lead busy lives today, Zaytouneh’s videos are short (between 1 to 3 minutes long) with easy and clear steps to follow. With a variety to satisfy all tastes…
How did you distinguish your business from other similar businesses?
At Zaytouneh, we focused on having quality content. Our videos are filmed in HD (High Definition), and to add variety we have more than 20 chefs behind those videos, to ensure we include different cuisines and cooking styles.
And today, we have managed to build a library of 1000 video recipes, growing at 80 videos per month.
What is your key factor to success?
A positive attitude.
If you compare the results of your business today, with what you had planned for when you started, is it as you anticipated or better… and why?
It is not about better or worse, it is different. I think planning is a good exercise, but in reality, things almost never go according to plan!
What I did not know is how much I did not know when I started. It is a great learning experience, and I can easily say that what I have learned during those past two years is more than what I have learned during the past 10 years.
How did you expand from Jordan to the Middle East? In which other countries are you popular?
Zaytouneh was never built to serve one country only. Our videos were produced to serve the whole region, and hopefully in the future we can dub the videos into more languages, and enter more markets.
So far, most of our traffic comes from Saudi Arabia, and then Jordan.
Is all of your audience female?
More than 80% of our users are women. According to research we conducted a year ago, most Arab women aged 25-42 cook at least 4 times/ week.
And cooking is considered one of the most popular hobbies among women.
As an entrepreneur and businesswoman, what were the biggest difficulties you faced at the start of your business, and then as the business grew?
Taking the decision to quit a good job, and take a risk to start an online business, when statistics are clear that 90% of businesses will shut down in a year, is terrifying!
Starting a business is much more difficult than I thought it would be and running it on a daily basis is no easy job.
On top of that, I have a daughter, so basically I have two full-time jobs!
Having work/home balance is not easy, but it is not impossible. Time management is the key.
Being a woman makes it more challenging, but also it gives me, and many others I believe, a better reason, and a stronger will to work harder in order to make it happen.
Your personal background is as a media producer – did this help you in your business?
Definitely since video is at the core of Zaytouneh.
What you would say if one of your clients told you that she followed each step, but the recipe didn’t work?
I would try the recipe myself one more time.
And then I would talk to her and try to understand why it did not work. But keep in mind, that even the best cooks out there have difficulties and failures in the kitchen sometimes.
What are your plans for expansion in 2014?
So much! We are going to keep on producing 80-100 new videos every month. We are adding more information, articles, and tips on our website.
We are tweaking our mobile applications… We have a special service launched with Orange in Jordan and STC in Saudi Arabia, and plan to launch with six new mobile operators in the region within a few months.
And last but not least, we will be dubbing some of our videos into languages other than Arabic.
What your main source of income as your business is mainly online?
Advertising and content licensing.
How do you deal with stressful situations, as your business grew rapidly within just two years?
I am still trying to figure that out!
I believe I have a good tolerance for stress, and can work under pressure; however, the most important thing is to try to keep a positive attitude as much as possible.
Do you think that co-branding pushes start ups forward?
I believe in experimenting to help me decide what works and what does not work. So maybe… maybe not.
What has been the one most difficult moment you’ve had in your business life so far?
Every day comes with new difficulties and new challenges. When you are in the middle of a difficult situation, it might feel like it is the biggest problem ever, but then it passes and a new challenge appears.
What about your family and children? How do you balance your personal and business life – as women have usually more household responsibilities?
I have a 6 year old daughter, Tina. I believe that working and being productive sets a good example to her.
I also believe that mothers who work actually end up spending more quality time with their children, because they start using the time they have with them wisely.
I honestly do not believe that women should have more household responsibilities than men if they both work. Men should support their spouses, sisters, mothers, and female friends, and encourage them to focus on their careers.
My parents and my two sisters and brother help me a lot with Tina, and I am lucky to have their support and love.