Curiously, it all started thanks to a shared passion for Monster Munch crisps. When colleagues Bubs Kapoor and Elaine Stannard were both pregnant and suffering food cravings, they would meet up for some covert pickled onion-flavoured crisp-eating and discuss the difficulties of being a new mother in a country far from home and family. Just over a year later, Mumcierge was born.
www.mumcierge.ae was launched at the end of last month and membership is already surpassing Stannard and Kapoor's expectations. Billed as an online concierge club for busy parents, it aims to offer a one-stop shop for Dubai's yummy mummies and daddies to organise activities for their children, attend coffee mornings and seek advice from other parents and specialists.
A former sports lawyer, Kapoor, who is originally from the UK, has lived in Dubai for four years in total, along with her husband and 14-month-old son. She is expecting her second child in July this year. Stannard came to the UAE from the UK to work as a jockey and ended up in business development. She has two boys aged four and one. Both women have experienced first-hand the challenges of being a working mum and a stay-at-home mum.
Expats in Dubai, especially new mothers, have a huge thirst for information, Kapoor says. "When we were on maternity leave, we went to a couple of coffee mornings and found there was a theme at all [of them]: women are just there to find out information and impart knowledge. Trying to find out where to go for this, or where is the best place to go for that. We said to each other, there is something missing here in Dubai, let's join up the dots for mums."
Visit the website and you will see a calendar for the month indicating all the activities available to Mumcierge members, from activity classes for the children to coffee mornings and fitness sessions for mums. There is a recipe exchange, a classifieds section, a chat forum, and an "ask the specialist" page where questions can be submitted to a developmental psychologist, a midwife, a dentist, a chiropractor and a stem cell expert.
The sheer breadth offered may seem ambitious for a start-up, especially given the competition from other Dubai-focused parenting websites. But for busy mothers the "one-stop shop" approach allowing them to book activities, chat to other mums in the forum and fire a question to a child psychologist all from one online spot could be exactly what they want.
Mumcierge offers three levels of membership: "paying-as-you-go" for coffee mornings and activities; a monthly membership that includes the coffee mornings, a weekly children's activity and members' website access; and the annual, or "Gold" membership.
"The benefit of paying for an annual membership is that you will get that full concierge service, including booking your family holiday and a UAE/GCC break a year, and helping you with restaurant bookings," Stannard says.
Stannard has lived in Dubai since 1994 and worked as a personal assistant for many years. She will be drawing on the skills she learnt in business to run the concierge service and believes now is exactly the right time to be offering these services to harried executives and their families. "When I first came out here, the PA did everything right down to sending out laundry. Now, since the credit crunch, they really are just concentrating on corporate business. A lot of that other stuff, even restaurant bookings, has fallen by the wayside because you have one PA to two or three executives. This is kind of an outsourcing for that."
All members can try out the innovative "taster sessions" for children's activities. These sessions are designed to appeal to parents who want to avoid making expensive mistakes signing their children up for activities they don't like.
Last week, the interactive music class for babies and toddlers, Boogie Babies, offered a class exclusive to Mumcierge members at Blossom Nursery in Jumeirah. "A friend of mine recommended it," says Jodie Robertson, who was there with her two-year-old daughter, Ellie. The taster session idea appeals to Robertson, an Australian who has lived in Dubai for three years. "Otherwise," she says, "you've got to sign up for a term to get a trial of it and I'm not going to pay for a term when I'm not sure - especially when they cost a bit."
Deb Meade has her hands full looking after her three-year-old son, Liam, and her daughter, Ella, aged 10 months. She joined Mumcierge for the month as it offered her a range of activities to choose from. "My son is on a two-and-a-half-week school holiday, so I was looking for things for him to do in April. We went on the stables trip because he loves horses, then we did the cookery class, and we are booked in for the swimming too."
Being able to access information and book activities at any hour and quickly over the internet makes online parenting sites ideal for busy mothers. Whether they are logging on at night once the children are in bed, or during their lunch hour at work, more and more mothers are relying on the internet to help them.
Last year, Microsoft Advertising conducted a survey of 800 UK mothers and pregnant women with internet access to see how they were using it. The results, published in Marketing Week magazine, showed that 61 per cent bought their groceries and an astonishing 82 per cent bought their clothes online. It also revealed that mothers are using the internet to find the best deals and save money: 48 per cent use price-comparison websites and 41 per cent read expert reviews.
Stannard and Kapoor aren't planning on offering Monster Munch at their coffee mornings, though they both speak about their crisp-eating days with great affection. "After all, they're baked, not fried, and they're made of corn," says Kapoor justifying her previous habit. "And there are only five hands in each pack." "Yes," agrees Stannard, smiling, "five hands with five fingers." Every busy mother could benefit from an extra pair of hands and this is what Mumcierge is aiming to give them.