Marcela Sancho is the co-founder of House Of Pops, a “disruptive dessert company” producing natural ingredient ice lollies and vegan ice creams inspired by fruity Mexican paletas.
Ms Sancho grew up and worked in Costa Rica before moving to the UAE in 2016. After briefly working in Dubai hotels, she launched House of Pops with her business partner in September 2018. Ms Sancho, 33, lives in Jumeirah Lakes Towers in Dubai.
Did your upbringing shape your attitude towards work and money?
My mum is from a poor background but became a dentist, while my father is an engineer with the central bank. I was born in San Jose, the capital of Costa Rica, and had an elder brother. We were a middle-class family, super comfortable.
We had a beach house two hours away and we were there every weekend. My mum would make sure her practice finished at 5pm so she would be with us after school. She was aware she could make more money if she stayed later or worked weekends, but we’d be in the car to go to the beach at 5pm every Friday.
This gave me a grasp of having a balance between earning and enjoyment; you should enjoy things, not only be money-driven. I live by this still. Obviously, as a start-up, you need to go through a process of working 14 hours a day to deliver, but this is a transitory phase … it’s not how I would expect to live my life. Life is there to enjoy.
Did you work as a teenager?
I was in high school, 16, and decided to work a Christmas job. I was hired by a jewellery shop and worked non-stop 14-hour shifts. Because you were a temporary worker, you had no day off from December 1 until Christmas. It was a great experience. I love sales and talking to people, so it came naturally – but I was exhausted.
I made $400 (Dh1,470) and spent most of it on taxis going to work because I was exhausted and couldn’t wake up earlier to get the bus. There was no point really, but I wanted my own money. I learned a lot; it was a rush, in sales, to be able to understand a customer. But money-wise … it was terrible.
I studied culinary arts, then hotel management and my first (adult) job was as a front desk clerk. I was 23. My salary was around $500, but less taxis … I learned my lesson.
What brought you to the UAE?
After doing corporate sales for a hotel in Costa Rica, I was a bit burned out. I was doing well but reached a limit. I was 28 and decided to have a sabbatical year in Thailand. Also, on my bucket list was an organic baking course in France. I was flying there but had a 24-hour layover and fell in love with Dubai. I ended up coming back in 2016 and started with Jumeirah’s front desk team.
How did House Of Pops come about?
We were not allowed to have “industrial” ice cream growing up. In Latin America, paletas was a natural treat mum would let you have.
I was happy there were a lot of healthy, natural products on the shelves here (in the UAE). People are health-conscious, but there was a clear gap.
I have a passion for food and was in between jobs. My co-founder has extensive experience in the ice cream business and we have this entrepreneurial mindset … with this mix of skills, we came up with House Of Pops.
How did you fund your venture?
All my savings went to the business. It took us six months to get it running. My business partner had a big (monetary) input. We were thinking big, the factory was certified for quality so we could develop ourselves. After one year, we broke even.
Are you saving again?
I’m not. I’m at the stage of investing as I see the potential. I am seeing how much I can develop the business. Perhaps in a couple of years, I’ll draw the line and start saving.
Are your pops a luxury?
It’s a lifestyle product. It’s not a luxury, rather it’s feel good. To come into this market where you have big competitors, you need to have a niche, something people find valuable in your product. We have an ice cream where you don’t have to compromise on taste, but have a nice, healthy treat instead. Health and wellness is the future of F&B.
What is your most cherished purchase?
It was a one-month vacation with my mum in Europe. We wanted to do a girls’ trip after she retired, we did it and it holds a special place for me.
What is your philosophy towards money?
I see it as a tool: to go on vacation, visit loved ones and treat yourself, but money is not my goal in life. It’s a nice thing to have. It can give you education, things to develop yourself. I don’t see it as an end, but a tool that gets you things you enjoy. I’m able to see my family more, take courses I’m interested in, learn another language.
Money enabled me to have a business; if I didn’t have it, I wouldn’t be able to open House Of Pops, which is a dream come true. Money doesn’t really make me happy, it’s what I do with it that counts.
What luxuries are important to you?
When I started the company, I realised time is the most valuable asset, so I try to optimise it whenever I can. For example, GreenParking is everywhere, it is expensive but is the closest to where you want to go. So, I just pay because you cannot get back time.
If I don’t have time, we order delivery because my health and lifestyle on a daily basis should be the best to bring the best out of me. These are smart things that make a difference in your daily routine, for me at least.
Also, I prefer to spend on experiences, not material goods. I wouldn’t go for a bag, I would invest in a nice trip, visit family as much as I can, spend on my personal trainer.
How has the pandemic impacted you?
We were well-established online and the business grew … very busy times. The consumer path changed. There was this message of “stay home, stay healthy” and that helped us.
Families were staying home and wanted to give kids something healthy, so sales increased a lot, although we struggled with raw materials coming to Dubai.
How are you planning for the future?
I'm getting married in July. It was supposed to happen last year but we had to postpone because of Covid-19.
House Of Pops is my pension, my retirement plan. We have geographic expansion plans. We’re going into franchise and I see myself in Dubai because this city has become our home. It enables you to explore your maximum potential. If you have the drive, you can become whatever you want.