Iman Ben Chaibah, founder of Sail Publishing, a digital publishing house for online magazines and ebooks, and editor in chief of the Emirati Sail Magazine, an online magazine about community and culture written in English by Emirati columnists. Iman is a multi award winner in digital publishing, entrepreneurship, and literature. Iman has also completed the Leadership Strategies in Magazine Media Course in Yale University. Besides her work in publishing, she also lectures in Canadian University in Dubai.
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Ahdaaf is the first indoor sporting facility in the UAE to offer its players top-grade astroturf fields. It was launched in January 2009 by its owners: Anas Bukhash, Fahad Kazim, Mustafa Al Hashemi, and Yousef Al Hashimi. For Sail Magazine’s December issue, we had the opportunity to interview Anas Bukhash to tell us more about Ahdaaf.
Interviewed by Iman Ben Chaibah (@ImanBenChaibah)
Ahdaaf is a sports club that provides people, of all ages, with a high-quality facility to play sports. We found that, in the UAE, if you want to play sports on a non-professional level, you will have limited choices; there are no services or facilities for playing sports in the private sector.
So there was a big gap in the market that we wanted to fill. Our branch in Al-Qouz was the first indoor Astroturf football field in the UAE. It gives the experience of playing outdoors, allowing you to wear your normal football shoes with the cleats in an indoors air-conditioned environment.
- What are the services provided by Ahdaaf?
Ahdaaf provides many services. One of our services is “Youth Coaching” for kids. It is one of our main goals to provide a more active lifestyle for kids. When we were kids, everyday after school we would finish our homework then play outside till sunset, after that we would go back home. This is no longer the case, the new generations are constantly losing that because means of entertainment are growing through video game consoles, TV shows, shopping malls, smart-phones, and so on.
We have as well the “One on one” personal football training service which is for any age.
Another service is the “Corporate team building”, in which a certain corporate would divide its staff into departmental teams to play a tournament against each other, in order to build team skills and take a break out of the office environment.
Ahdaaf also organizes a yearly Ramadan tournament, which is catered for those who want to play to compete. On top of that, we are going to launch the league very soon in January 2011, which will be longer than a tournament.
Aside of those services we have the general field booking for those who do not want to play to compete, instead they just want to play with their friends or colleagues for fun and pleasure.
- What are Ahdaaf’s main objectives?
On a business level we want to expand. We are currently expanding our Al-Qouz branch. A new branch is under construction in Al-Warqaa area, which should be ready by the end of the year.
We want to grow into the other emirates, then other countries. We are receiving franchise proposals, but we are taking our time. Hopefully, one day Ahdaaf will be a worldwide recognized franchised brand.
On a health level, we want to be able to contribute in reducing the high rates of obesity, diabetes, and cholesterol that are associated with the UAE’s nation. This requires a change in lifestyles into more active ones. The weather is the main challenge in our region, so it is our responsibility as a nation to provide facilities that people need with maximum convenience.
On another level we need to raise awareness. The more branches we have the more we can promote the healthy lifestyle. We also try on our social media pages to put a daily health or exercise fact to raise awareness about eating well and exercising and so on.
- How did the idea of Ahdaaf materialize between the partners?
All of us, the partners, had studied abroad between the United States and Canada. We studied entirely different majors, hence we are so different, and each one of us brings something different to the table, and we are all very passionate about sports. While we were abroad, we noticed that there are good sports facilities, and they are well spread. Many of those facilities are privately owned facilities; leading to a higher competition and better quality. All the facilities were air-conditioned and supplied with Astroturf, so we were getting the outdoors quality in an indoor environment, which would definitely work in this region with our hot weather. That was something we really wanted to achieve.
We approached Mohammed Bin Rashid Establishment for SME Development as soon as we came back to the UAE in year 2003. It took us four and a half years to establish Ahdaaf with all the different challenges we faced. However, the most challenging aspect was the location, because at the time we were working on the feasibility study and the business model, all the prices were booming and it was expensive everywhere. Thankfully, our perseverance helped us manage through those times.
- Had SME establishment declined fund Ahdaaf, what would you have done?
We already had backup plans. We sat down and discussed alternatives. We asked the partners who would be willing to take loans and funds, and we were all on board. We were really convinced with the idea, so there was no going back. It makes a huge difference when the people are really passionate about what they are doing.
- Ahdaaf has four managing partners. What is the role of each?
We focus on separate and common aspects. I look over the tournaments, coaching, and social media aspects. Mustafa and Yousef handle the daily operations, branch expansions and so on. Fahad manages the financing and accounting aspects. Together we work on business proposals, business expansions, and business development. Thanks to our blackberries, we manage many issues on the blackberry messenger (BBM) groups. We have a group with the full staff and one with the partners only. It is very difficult to sit down in one place with each of us managing their day jobs on the side. We do have our weekly meetings that are concrete, but then on a daily basis we really need to communicate about a lot of things that are happening and the BBM groups help.
- What are the last words you would like to pass on?
For anyone who wants to follow their dream of a business or whatever it may be, anything can be achieved with passion, a lot of hard work, good strategy, and good planning, because they all work hand in hand. Having just a passion without a plan will take you nowhere, and having a plan without passion will just take you so far. You should not give up. Even if you are rejected 10 times, if you just keep your faith and keep fighting for what you want, you will get it eventually. You may not get it immediately, but if you keep knocking the doors, someone will eventually open up. Ahdaaf, for example, got a lot of rejections in the process but after 4.5 years, on January 2009, Ahdaaf became a reality and was launched, and we have been operating for almost two years now.
To know more about Ahdaaf Sports Club you can view the links below:
– website www.ahdaaf.ae
– Twitter @ahdaaf
– Facebook Fan page “Ahdaaf”
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