We caught up with the Murdoch University Dubai students behind abaayah.com, their experience bringing it to life, and what it was like being grand final winners in the 2019 Think Big competition for entrepreneurial students.
Tell us a bit about yourself
My name is Abubakr Sajith, and I'm a Finance and Business Information System student at the Murdoch Dubai campus. I have always shown a keen interest in extracurricular activities that enable me to develop skills beyond what is part of the curriculum. One of my favorite activities is taking part in entrepreneurship competitions, which led me to be a part of a few start-up companies. My interest in launching my own business developed as a direct result. Since then, I was very keen to make it to the esteemed Forbes 30 Under 30 list, and I wanted the same for my closest friends.
What is Abayaah and what was your motivation behind creating it?
My four friends and I founded abayaah.com, an online service that allows women to purchase modest bespoke garments with the utmost ease. The idea was initially only focused on abayaah, which is Arabic clothing that my mother and the women in my team deeply dote. The problem with purchasing an abayaah is that the most convenient way to buy them did not offer bespoke solutions. In contrast, those who provided bespoke solutions did not provide the most convenient methods to purchase them. My team and I had one objective: disrupt this industry, and provide the maximum satisfaction to our potential customers.
How did you hear about Think Big?
We got to know about Murdoch University’s Think Big competition through the suffocating number of posters on our campus. An entrepreneurship competition was a golden opportunity to get the required advice to move one step closer to achieving our dreams. The Think Big program gave us exposure to various agile methods to structure our thoughts while also giving us an insight into the financial structuring of the company.
My team and I put in a lot of effort to ensure we won the competition at the Dubai campus. It not only meant two funded trips to Australia, but it also assured us we weren’t too crazy to believe in our idea. Winning the Dubai final not only got us one step closer to our aspirations but also helped us discover an overwhelming amount of support from the students, staff, and faculty within the Murdoch Dubai campus.
What support did you receive during Think Big?
We got our first draft of the pitch analysed by Joseph Nalloor (the School of Media Program Coordinator) and Andy Pacino, who gave great responses. We got tremendous support from Leanne Savicki and Jil Salhani from student services for helping us conduct our research and assisting us with our travel. Divya Wadhwa, Suzan Siam, and Sheeza Zahid (students of Murdoch University Dubai) volunteered to help us get content on our social media handles. The constant support and mentorship from Keary Shandler (Undergraduate Business Program Coordinator) requires more than mere words to express.
Keary was one of the judges deciding the winner of the Dubai campus final. She raised questions with our business model that we hadn’t expected or anticipated, and it made sense to consult with her before our pitch in Perth. Since then, Keary has been one of the strongest supporters of our ambitions, and nothing brings us greater joy than getting the seal of approval from Keary.
The Think Big final took us to Perth, where we successfully won the competition and received a nice cheque for AUD$1000. The big replica of the cheque hangs in our campus with great pride (yes, we carried a massive plastic cheque from Perth to Dubai!). The competition also took us to Sydney, where we worked more with the Commonwealth Bank of Australia to develop our ideas further and document concrete steps.
What have you accomplished since Think Big?
It has been two months since our trip to Sydney, and we are currently part of StartAD, an Abu Dhabi-based global accelerator. Our association with StartAD comes with a lot of commitment, which would be impossible to cope with if it wasn’t for the support from Murdoch University Dubai and Keary.
On a final note, I would like to thank my team for being excellent partners while committing to keep up with my irrational and completely absurd ideas: Fatima Shaikh for her strong leadership and the efforts in developing early prototypes; Eiman Ansari for having the courage to talk to strangers to learn about their shopping experiences. We presented the results from interviews with about 90 people, but as of writing this, Eiman has completed analysing over 180 potential customers of the business; Gazala Parkar for her wit and charisma while presenting and the enormous amount of effort she has put into the development of our business model; lastly, Emmanuel Almeida, for his efforts in going out and communicating with potential suppliers, seeking permission to conduct more research and his strong passion for our business.
I look forward to seeing abayaah.com grow into a household brand for modest fashion and make great strides in disrupting the fashion industry all over the world.