Rania and Zaina Kanaan spent a number of years studying abroad and working in various industries, before finding their calling in the dynamic world of entrepreneurship in their native Middle East. After co-founding an e-marketplace called Ananasa.com that helps thousands of artists from the MENA region sell their handmade crafts around the world, the sisters went on to start Chari Cycles, a social business that not only sells bicycles, but also funds them for children in refugee camps. In this exclusive interview with Tharawat, Zaina and Rania share what it’s like to be a social business with a vision for positive change.
You are both co-founders of Chari Cycles. How did you decide to start the enterprise?
Rania: Chari Cycles is still a baby, not yet a year old. We both love to commute by bicycle and last summer, I decided to go nuts and buy an expensive bicycle in Dubai. Zaina decided that she also wanted a bike, but one that wasn’t so expensive and in the exact color she liked. So that Eid break while our parents were away, we bought a cheap bicycle, stripped the paint off on our parent’s balcony and repainted it the color Zaina wanted. From then on, whenever she rode it, everybody started asking us where we got this sexy beast from, and we quickly realized there was a market opportunity.
Explain to our readers how Chari Cycles works.
Chari Cycles is basically a brand that sells up-cycled Japanese bicycle frames. We replace all the parts related to safety such as tires, tubes, and brakes with new parts. Customers can then customize the frame in any color one can imagine and they can choose the color of the saddle and grips. For roughly every 5 bicycles sold, we help fund a bicycle for a child in a refugee camp.
What is up-cycling, and how does Chari Cycles promote sustainability and clean environment?
Up-cycling is the act of taking something that is battered and unhappy and uplifting it so that it can be used again with the same or different purpose. Knowing that people generate as much waste per day as the weight of approximately 500,000 African elephants makes us uneasy. We feel it is important to reduce that waste.
We like to think of our bicycles as the cleanest tool used to commute globally. Not only are we promoting cycling instead of driving, we are reducing waste at the same time. Plus, we believe that every business needs to be sustainable within its community and giving back should be a pillar of every business module.
What were the challenges you faced in getting Chari Cycles to where it is today?
Finding reliable partners and logistics. Dubai is an expensive city to run a startup in. But what’s life without a bunch of hurdles? It would be quite boring.
Tell us what it is like being an entrepreneur in a volatile region such as the Middle East.
Well, we don’t really see Dubai as volatile; rather, it can be considered an emerging market when it comes to startups. The foundation and framework of the market is not yet established for startups, and starting and running a business here is expensive.
On the other hand, our first startup Ananasa.com is a regional business, through which we dealt with a lot of artisans in Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan, and other countries in the Middle East. In these volatile markets, it is always difficult securing deadlines and deliveries. At the end of the day it is hard to manage so many sellers in regions where a lot of things are out of their control.
The company is relatively young. What are some of the things you have learned so far?
Payment terms and accounting are so important, particularly in retail. You have to account for everything and you have to manage your cash flow; a dry bank account means a dead company no matter how beautiful your ideas are.
What is your vision for your company and product, and what do you hope to achieve through it?
Our vision is always to have a positive impact in anything we do. Our ultimate vision is to always love what we do and build a community of people that love what we are doing as much as we do – people that believe in reducing waste and believe in being good to nature and each other.
We have a lot of plans for our product, and we definitely want to make sure we export an Arabic product to the world rather than always importing products from abroad. In the back of our minds, we are always mindful of presenting Arabs and Arabic products in the best way possible.
What advice do you have for other business leaders looking to grow and succeed, particularly in emerging, potentially volatile regions?
Be stubborn, stand your ground, but at the same time learn to adapt and be malleable. More importantly, learn to embrace failure. You need to lose to win.
Check out Rania and Zaina and other dynamic entrepreneurs speaking at our exclusive “A Conversation on Entrepreneurship” event.
Featured Picture Courtesy of ChariCylces