Interview: Sugar Moo founders

The online dessert bakery creates hybrid desserts, such as a cookie made into a cup that can be filled up with treats

Businessmen Raki Phillips and  Jawad Yehia left their jobs to start their own dessert bakery
Businessmen Raki Phillips and Jawad Yehia left their jobs to start their own dessert bakery

Former hotelier Raki Phillips and developer Jawad Yehia are the founders of online dessert bakery SugarMoo.

Having been friends since university, Phillips and Yehia kept in touch throughout their careers in the corporate world, before coming together to establish their own business.

How and why did you decide to start SugarMoo?
Raki: We had a list of franchises in mind, so we started contacting them one after the other. And for some reason, we got interested in desserts. But the moment they heard Dubai and the Middle East, they said great, we want a million dollars and ten stores. So it was just concept after concept with the same scenario. And to be honest, out of frustration, we came up with our own concept.

Why online?
Raki: The delivery business in Dubai is a $700 million business, of which desserts are almost non-existent. When we looked at the market, we saw that a lot of our so-called competitors had zero presence online. And we saw this niche which we thought was a great way for us to be able to go in.

Jawad: There were online dessert bakeries, but the ones we saw basically had the customer place a 48 hour notice in advance when they order and the minimum was like AED 500. So we said, there has to be a way that we can make it easier.
Raki: And then the other reason is that real estate in Dubai is so expensive. Financially, it wouldn’t make sense to just open a store and depend on the traffic.

Does this mean you’re going to continue working solely online or will you set up shop in the future?
Raki: We’re going to open our first pop-up kiosk in TECOM soon. That’s the kind of model we’re going for. It’s low cost but high volume and very effective. In the future, if it’s the right opportunity and it’s the right market, financially it would make sense to open a shop.

What are some of the challenges you’ve faced as an online dessert bakery?
Raki: I don’t think we’ve had many challenges from a consumer point of view, because we’re very visible in the market. We’re at a lot of events, whether it’s Ripe Market, Red Fest, Jazz Fest, Taste of Dubai etc. And we’re in 21 restaurants right now where people can try our desserts and we provide dessert solutions for a lot of restaurants.

What are your future plans for SugarMoo?
Raki: We want to take the brand and grow it into the region and internationally. It’s funny because shortly after we launched, we got an offer to take SugarMoo to Tokyo. And of course this is where I jumped up and down because 1. I’ve never been to Japan and I’ve always wanted to. I said Jawad let’s book our tickets, we’re flying to Japan. But obviously we’ve seen a lot of businesses, even with a substantial amount of funding, fail because they ran before they could crawl. And we want to grow this business in a fast but solid way.

Jawad: We want to perfect the model so well, so if we were to replicate it in any country, it will work. Because there are so many concepts that grew so fast, they crashed. So we’re doing it step by step, very professional, and steady, steady growth.

Why Dubai and the UAE?
Raki: In the region, Dubai is the greatest place to start a business and be an entrepreneur. I mean nothing is easy. Starting a business is not easy. But Dubai gives you that opportunity. Being expats that actually own a business, you don’t have that opportunity in a lot of other places, especially in the GCC.

Jawad: We also believe that if it works in Dubai, because it’s such a competitive market, it can work anywhere. That’s also why we started here, because we want to target other GCC countries – and hopefully take it internationally.

What’s the toughest part of running an F&B outlet?
Raki: I think you have to be very patient with things that you have no control over and that will drive you crazy. Like we have no control over suppliers. Us being a small business, every single customer counts, every single call we get counts. The problem is a lot of suppliers have grown so big that they’ll promise you something and deliver something completely different and it’ll be late and faulty and with no customer service around to fix it for you. So that’s been the toughest part, dealing with suppliers, especially in the F&B business, where it’s very competitive and every penny counts.

What’s the best part about having your own business?
Raki: You sleep in whenever you want, you take time off – I’m just kidding. The biggest upside of it is seeing your vision turn into a reality.

What advice do you have for young, up and coming entrepreneurs?
Jawad: Do it at a younger age – and push yourself to the limit.

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