It was a question from his 12-year-old son Umar Jazeer that inspired Jazeer Jamal to start a new business.
“Adults have LinkedIn to network, why do children not have a platform to interact and develop their businesses online?” the teenager asked his father.
This encouraged Mr Jamal to come up with Kidstarter, an online marketplace where children can run their own business with minimal adult support, which is set to go live at the end of this month.
The Indian serial entrepreneur wants children in the Middle East to have the same experience as their Western peers who are encouraged to sell lemonade or cookies from an early age to experience financial freedom. Kidstarter will encourage children in the UAE to test their entrepreneurial skills.
“In terms of products and services, children could sell bookmarks, kites, drawings, write-ups, or build a logo or website, do a voiceover, animation, etc. We are working on a playbook which will feature 50 creative ideas to launch a start-up,” explains Mr Jamal, 37.
Joining the team to run the venture is Mr Jamal's wife Aaisha Mathews, 36, and their son Umar, who will both serve as co-founders. “My parents are very particular about learning and practicing financial freedom. My contributions to the business idea are many but mainly to do with the concept of having a kids-only platform, problem research, user interface research and so on,” says Umar.
The platform aims to recruit 1,000 youngsters to sell their goods or services before the soft launch in the UAE at the end of this month.
Although there is no minimum age to enrol on the platform, children have to be able to read and have their parents’ support to join. Children can either be on-boarded on to the platform directly or through their parents. Parental support is needed for the identity creation process; every child will be registered officially and have a store name, but their identity will be kept private.
Chinese national Lewei Fu, who is also known as Mary and lives in Dubai, is among the many children interested in signing up on the platform. The 15-year-old enjoys art and wants to offer product drawing and design services on Kidstarter. “I am confident of managing the business and finances. I would love to be financially independent. I am not taught how to do business and manage finance in my school,” she says.
Children using the site have to pay a monthly subscription fee of between $10 (Dh36.7) to $15. That includes a mandatory introduction and quick modules that educate children on the terminology and basics of trading and functionalities on the platform. Kidstarter will offer services free of charge for three months to help users get familiar with the platform.
The marketplace has also tied up with an academy in the US called Kidpreneurs (www.kidpreneurs.org), that offers members access to 15 child-friendly animation videos, activities and workbooks for a one-time fee of $70. This will offer guidance on logistics, customer service, how to handle complaints, how to price a product right, and other entrepreneurship matters.
Kidstarter members can also register with the Accelerator Academy, which helps them grow their business for a $30 monthly subscription fee.
“These are optional but we recommend children to go through the Academy and Accelerator programmes so that they can do their business much better,” says Mr Jamal.
The entrepreneur says the design of the online store and mobile app will be child-friendly and gamified so that youngsters can easily interact on the platform with little reading involved. Separate child-friendly icons for buying, selling, returning or exchanging goods will be included. There will also be emojis and pre-text templates for consumers to communicate with the child entrepreneurs. If a child faces an obstacle anywhere on the platform, they can take a screenshot and send it to the buddy bot – an AI-powered chat bot that will support children through their entrepreneurial journey.
To facilitate payments, Kidstarter partnered with Stripe and UfunPay. It is also in talks with the courier UPS to provide cash-on-delivery services where the company collects cash payments on behalf of a child and deposits it into their account on a weekly basis.
“The children are entitled to all the proceeds from the sale of products and services on our marketplace. But if they use the online payment gateway, then we charge a percentage on the online transaction. There is no additional commission,” Mr Jamal adds.
A virtual bank account and wallet will be set up for children to store any revenue they make from selling products or services. If a young entrepreneur wants money for procurement, they can take it from their virtual account. Alternatively, the virtual account can be directly connected to a parent's bank account if the child is too young to manage finances.
Kidstarter is also working with an organisation to set up an exclusive debit card for children. This will be connected to the parents’ bank account, so they can oversee how the child is spending money.
Learning about money at such a young age is key, according to personal finance experts. Although UAE schools do not teach personal finance as a subject in their curriculum, other programmes, such as Kids Finance Initiative – which has seen an increase in enrolments since the onset of Covid-19 – are available for parents keen to instil financial literacy in their children.
“Financial literacy is the foundation of entrepreneurship. Being smart about money will put you in a better position, irrespective of what career you choose to follow," says Marilyn Pinto, founder of KFI. "Most kids in Dubai think money comes out of ATMs. They are oblivious about money and how they spend their allowances. I wanted to correct that attitude."
KFI's personal finance classes, which start again on July 19 with a special rate of Dh550 per child, caters to two age groups: those aged between nine and 11, and teenagers. The programme features a five-hour online session that runs twice a week for one hour a day.
Ms Pinto says the course is not just about allowances and money banks. Instead, it delves into the psychology of money and makes sure children develop a proper money mindset, something that has become even more important during the pandemic.
“Kids are able to relate to our programme more now because they have seen the economic mayhem unleashed by the pandemic," Ms Pinto adds. "Earlier, we would run programmes four times a year, but since April this year, we have already done four batches.”
For children more interested in the entrepreneurial mindset offered by Kidstarter, Mr Jamal says he aims to teach children life skills such as creativity, team work, public speaking, idea generation, opportunity analysis, market research and how to make the perfect pitch.
Mr Jamal is no stranger to entrepreneurship himself, having launched a number of start-ups over the past 15 years. His latest ventures include Eddie (www.geteddy.app), an AI-based educational guidance app launched in January, and Teech (www.teech.io), a peer-to-peer tutoring platform, rolled out in June.
While set-up costs for his latest venture, Kidstarter, have been self-funded so far by Mr Jamal, Google Start-ups supported Kidstarter with $20,000 for the hosting infrastructure and app development. Mr Jamal says he might tap public funding platforms in October when the company hopes to expand the marketplace to Saudi Arabia and the rest of the GCC.
“We want this to become a kick-starter platform for entrepreneurship. Eventually, we aspire children to have their own online stores and businesses. There will be a feature to export their products to an online store or bigger marketplaces like Amazon and Noon. In phase two, we will help children set up an independent online store,” adds Mr Jamal.