Yalla – Knowing it all for families in Abu Dhabi
Back in 2012 I was a newbie mum in Abu Dhabi. There were activities on for kids and families, but trying to locate this information was a challenge. The web did not seem to be nearly as widely used as it was back in the UK. I had to find out a lot by word of mouth from other mums or delving around Facebook trying to find group discussions.
I was so grateful to receive my first version of “Yalla” earlier this year – absolutely packed full of information on clubs, nurseries, schools and activities for kids of all ages in Abu Dhabi.
It gave me great pleasure to recently catch up with Jane Barraclough and Tamsin Anderson, the founders and driving force behind Yalla Family Directory, a print publication and soon-to-be online directory for families in the UAE Capital. We talked about their inspiration for starting the directory, the challenges of balancing a business and parenting and their ambitions for the Yalla business and UAE parenting community going forward.
Introducing Jane & Tamsin
Jane came to the UAE from the UK via Bahrain in 2014 with her 3 children. She previously ran a successful jewellery business whilst living in Bahrain, and prior to her expat and family life, she worked in advertising in the UK.
Tamsin, also from the UK, arrived in Abu Dhabi last December. With a marketing background and three school-aged kids, she was determined not to be the bored housewife. Back in the UK she had been successfully running an online magazine and on moving to Abu Dubai, it was a chance introduction between mutual friends that paired Tamsin & Jane together.
Now working in partnership, they each have their strengths that they bring to the Yalla business with complimentary skill sets across advertising, marketing, writing and social media.
Despite the relatively short time they have both lived in Abu Dhabi, they have a great understanding of the local market, understanding the ins and outs of family friendly activities and what appeals. Their plans are bold and ambitious – to become the go-to resource for family information in the UAE.
Here’s more of their story;
Jane: There are a load of wonderful activities and family events around the UAE, but it’s all quite fragmented, so I really saw that there was a gap in the market for a “one stop shop” publication here in Abu Dhabi. A similar product existed in Bahrain and I thought it would work well here, so I spent my first year here establishing the product, getting advertisers on board and the first edition was launched in Spring 2015.
Although the launch went well, I knew that it could be turned into so much more, a really quality product. Tamsin came on board at this point as Editor-in-Chief and helped in taking Yalla in a new direction.
Tamsin: Now we are looking at not just the early years and those with young children, but focusing on families with teenagers as well. An important part of our journey was branding ourselves as “Yalla”, which literally means in Arabic “Lets Go”; it’s an expression which is understood by Emirati’s and expats alike.
BG: So how does the Yalla business actually work?
Jane: Our aim is to get the print brochure into the hands of every family in Abu Dhabi, so getting distribution to school students was a crucial step. In the early days, I met with the Head Master of pretty much every International School in Abu Dhabi to get their permission to distribute internally. They all agreed it would be a useful resource for families and we had their backing and support. It’s also an effective form of advertising for the schools too so there is mutual benefit.
Our aim is to be community focused and adding value for parents. We not only promote the larger international schools but also smaller community groups and businesses, there needs to be a balance.
BG: What legal steps did you need to follow for establishing a publishing business in the UAE?
Jane: Our business is set up with Twofour54 (a Media and Entertainment Free-zone in the UAE). As such, we do not require Emirati ownership of our business, we are our own bosses. Twofour54 helped us through obtaining the necessary licences that we need, for example, as well as a business licence we needed a dissemination licence from the Abu Dhabi Media Zone Authority – for this we needed to demonstrate that we had the appropriate skills. We have also had trademark applications to deal with.
BG: And where do you actually work?
Tamsin: Although our office at twofour54 is tiny, it’s a great creative space. We are around great people in a great location, it’s hard to find a better example of the entrepreneurial spirit. We can also be very flexible in where we work; meetings are frequently held with clients in their offices or in coffee shops. It’s also great for us to be out and about in Abu Dhabi and see what’s going on, exploring new places that are opening and finding new opportunities. It’s hard not to like your job when it involves meeting and being inspired by such positive people.
BG: Being self-employed sounds fabulous, but how do you find this works in reality?
Jane: Finding that perfect work-life balance is of course extremely challenging, and I recognise that I perhaps don’t have the balance just right yet. A lot of work went in over the summer for our Autumn edition, we had a small team including technical and creative assistants working over three countries and three different time zones, it was challenging! To be honest it has meant we haven’t had a day off yet, but the tools are in place to make it happen.
Tamsin: We are incredibly lucky to get family time still, but if you end up working full-time you lose some of that freedom that comes with being your own boss!
BG: Where to next for Yalla?
Jane: Our fall publication had a distribution of about 15,000 copies; our next Winter issue we are aiming for 20,000. Going forward, however, our focus will also be on digital, our new website should be ready to launch very soon. We will continue to keep the product free and combine both the print and online versions. We are also in the process of widening print distribution channels to include clubs, embassies, clinics and hospitals, even approaching on-boarding companies.
We want to be sure we are not just providing a listing but a recommendation, shortlisting the very best for families. We also want to be the go-to resource for all of the UAE, but for now our focus is on getting the Abu Dhabi product right, providing a quality product.
Tamsin: We will continually listen to the market and keep our eyes opening to what is happening. We listen in to conversation threads in social media, for example, to understand what people want, what are parents recommending. We really want to keep it community focused.
An important area we want to focus on is not just the early years where there is quite an abundance now of activities, but what to do with teens so they are not simply spending all their time inside hanging out at the mall.
BG: What advice could you give to aspiring entrepreneurs?
Tamsin: Have a vision on what you want to achieve, and be realistic and open minded as to what you can do. You want to find something that adds value but don’t be afraid if it doesn’t work. Even if you spend a year working on something and decide an idea isn’t going to work, none of that time is wasted, just give it a go. Most importantly only do it if you enjoy it.
Jane: Be creative and flexible. Getting part-time roles here in the UAE can be hard to find, so you really need to weigh up ‘do I want to work part-time or do I want to do something for myself?’ I’ll admit at the moment the work/life balance is a bit broken. At the start, you do need to put everything into it, but the amount of effort you put in directly correlates to the amount of success you will have. Just remember you need to be able to do a bit of everything when work for yourself, and importantly you need motivation and drive.
Thank you so much to Jane & Tamsin for taking time in their busy schedules to talk to Our Globetrotters. We here at Globetrotters HQ are certainly looking forward to seeing the January edition, and we love keeping up with all the latest news and events around Abu Dhabi via the YALLA FACEBOOK page.
Do you know any other inspiring women in your expat community? We’d love to talk to them as part of our Expat Entrepreneurs series. Don’t forget to check out our previous interviews with entertainment business proprietor Lisa Irwin, and retail chain CEO Jenny Haddad
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