Deeba Hasan sits down with Donna Benton, owner of the Entertainer books and app, who shares her success story and thoughts on being a woman in the Middle East
Donna Benton, the founder and CEO of the Entertainer guide and discount books, looks like the epitome of the perfect businesswoman. She’s tall, glossy and perfectly groomed. She is also, it turns out, a fast talker, humble and very down-to-earth.
In Dubai back in 2001, the Entertainer had only one employee, but 14 years on, the company employs more than 150 people and operates in 15 countries across the Middle East, Asia, Africa and Europe, with buy one get one free offers from 10,000 merchant partners in the dining, leisure, beauty, health and hotel industries.
Donna moved from her native Australia when she was 26 to take up a marketing and events position in Dubai. Although her family has no entrepreneurial background, she always dreamt of going it alone and when her new job didn’t work out, the Entertainer was born out of this passion.
“I always wanted my own company,” she says. “I’m an organiser and I have always had those dreams and ambitions, as well as a strong work ethic. I believe that if you put your mind to something, you can do it and I think that is what I did with the Entertainer.
“The idea came when I was driving along the Sheikh Zayed Road one day and noticed that there were a lot of restaurants and attractions, but no incentive for people to stop anywhere.”
With the seed of an idea, Donna investigated further. Feasibility studies were conducted in internet cafés because she couldn’t afford a computer at the time. “If there was a bigger incentive, I thought people would probably drive [to the restaurants and attractions] and that’s when I thought of the two-for-one concept.
Despite lacking in experience, Donna was no pushover when it came to the initial negotiations. “It had to be buy one get one free, it had to be valid seven days a week excluding public holidays and it had to be valid for lunch and dinner. I was very strict on the terms and conditions,” she tells me.
As with any start-up, it was a challenge to begin with, but Donna was resolute. “After the first year I had very little to show anyone. There were some outlets that wanted to see how it went before they committed to signing up.”
After a shaky start, the concept took off and has since experienced vast success and exponential growth, with the global mobile app launched in 2013. Has this changed Donna? “I think I am the same person I was when I arrived in Dubai. I am quite a humble person with my feet on the ground and so I never forget where I started. I think you grow as a person rather than change.”
Despite her busy schedule, Donna still manages to devote time to being a mother to her two young children, aged one and four. “I met my husband nine years ago and he also works in the business. We try and balance things so that we’re not travelling at the same time.”
Balance is something Donna stresses as important in all elements of life and she believes the Middle East has got the right idea. “This is a great region to be a female in. There are opportunities for entrepreneurial women and you get the chance to have a family and work at the same time. There are not a lot of countries where you can do that.”
Overseeing her business as it grew from scratch into the success it is today, Donna rightfully feels a sense of pride. “There is no greater pleasure than when I am out at a restaurant and I see somebody in the queue using one of our offers. It makes me feel proud because I know I am creating extra revenue for the merchants and also saving the consumer money at the same time.”
As to what the future holds, Donna plans to expand further in the continents they already operate in. “We keep evolving the best that we can. For example, in Asia, we are in Singapore, Malaysia and Hong Kong, but next we will potentially look at the Philippines or Thailand.”
If you want to purchase the entertainer app or the book, you can find the best prices online at theentertainerme.com
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