Dubai entrepreneur builds start-up empire - but craves football

Serial entrepreneur Taimoor Khan has a string of ventures under his belt but all he really wants to do is to work in football.
Taimoor Khan in the Save and Smile Hypermarket in Deira that he owns and operates. Antonie Robertson / The National
Taimoor Khan in the Save and Smile Hypermarket in Deira that he owns and operates. Antonie Robertson / The National

At just 29 and with a string of start-ups behind him, you might assume Taimoor Khan is satisfied with his career.

But he says he just wants a job.

Mr Khan was born in Pakistan and moved to Dubai when he was six months old. He has lived there ever since except for a five-year period when he studied in Montreal, starting his first business when he was 24.

“When I moved back I worked in contracting for a year,” he says. “I got passed around a bit just so I could learn the ropes in the different departments. We had a maintenance division within that company and I noticed a really cool trend going on – what used to be called maintenance was now being called facilities management. The scope of the activities that companies like that did was being broadened.”

So after spotting the opportunity, he started up Sensaire Facilities Management. A few months later he had another entrepreneurial idea while walking through Dubai International Financial Centre with a friend.

At the time, DIFC had only two eateries, Zuma and Caramel.

“We thought this is a bit too snooty for our liking, so why don’t we do something fun and relaxed. And The Gramercy was born,” says Mr Khan, who is no longer involved in the facilities company, but remains a co-owner of The Gramercy, a sports bar.

Since opening the bar in 2010, he has also set up two manufacturing factories in Qatar and Saudi Arabia on behalf of a firm, started up a catering company with a business partner, opened a supermarket on his own, set up a restaurant with friends, and helped his sister open a beauty salon.

The supermarket, Save & Smile Hypermarket in Deira, is his proudest achievement to date.

“I saw this supermarket for sale and I just took a walk down and talked to the people and I was like, I know what’s wrong with this business and I can fix it, so I studied the supermarket business for a week, went to all types of places, pretended to be all types of people, talked to them and asked them questions,” says Mr Khan.

The branch has now been open for a year and is so successful he has plans for two more in Dubai.

The restaurant, S’wich, a venture with friends, is a modern take on the shawarma, which opened this month in Dubai Marina.

Next, he has his sights on launching up a venture capital firm to help other entrepreneurs.

“If you have come to this country from elsewhere it means you are hungry for professional success and for personal success,” he says.

“There are a lot of people hungry for success in that way but they just need a little boost up, a little bit of help. Not always with money and not always with advice, sometimes they are brilliant with x, y and z but clueless with a, b, c,” he says.

Mr Khan plans to offer companies funding, but also help budding entrepreneurs to plug gaps in their knowledge or abilities. He says it will also be unlike most other venture capital companies.

“Most of the ones I see say ‘hey come pitch your idea… sell us on it and we will fund you and you do the rest’. I’m not such a fan of that. Maybe it’s also because I have to adapt my situation because I haven’t got that much money to give,” he adds, laughing.

Juggling all the initiatives he is involved in requires team-building, structures and organisation of policies and procedures says Mr Khan. You also have to be a bit crazy to take it all on, he adds.

But the serial entrepreneur is not satisfied with just building his business empire.

“This is all leading up to my future career,” he says. “I don’t care about timings and I don’t care about money. I just want a job.”

But he does not want any job. He wants to work in football.

“That’s my ultimate ambition. I am just making my way there. Some of the businesses require my daily input, some don’t, so I might sell some. I might make different management arrangements with some,” says Mr Khan.

“I would need to go through a reeducation process because I would love to study sports science then hopefully find a junior trainee job. Probably at the ripe old age of 40. I would be so happy to do that I would do it for free.”

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Published: May 20, 2014 04:00 AM


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