My UAE: No half measures with entrepreneur Alia Khalifa Al Nabooda

Last year, the 32-year-old and mother-of-four co-founded VoucherSkout, a 50 per cent discount app for services across the UAE.

Alia Khalifa Al Nabooda, entrepreneur, mother of four and advocate of female empowerment. Antonie Robertson / The National
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Alia Khalifa Al Nabooda strikes a real balance – she’s an entrepreneur and mother-of-four, who puts in the time to be successful at both. Last year, the 32-year-old co-founded VoucherSkout, a 50 per cent discount app for services across the UAE.

“We’ve had our struggles, like any start-up business. Things haven’t gone exactly to plan, but now that we’ve launched, we can see the fruits of our work and we know that we’re heading in the right direction,” she says.

Al Nabooda was exposed to business at an early age. Even as a 10-year-old, she used to sit in on many of her father’s meetings.

“My father is Khalifa Juma Al Nabooda – he has a good portfolio of different companies. I realised in university that the kids who came from business families seemed to pick up business much easier.”

Despite being pregnant during her studies, Al Nabooda graduated from Zayed University in 2005 and completed her master’s degree from the University of Wollongong the next year – then fell pregnant with her second child.

After graduating, she stayed at home as a full-time mother for three years.

“Then, in 2009 I thought ‘No, I can’t just stay at home and do nothing. I either have to go back and study something, or I have to work’.

“I’m not saying that being a mum is not a full-time job to start with,” she adds. “It just wasn’t for me.”

The young entrepreneur launched her first start-up – a small enterprise she eventually closed. “I didn’t see it as a failure. I made a lot of mistakes and I learned from them.

“My dad was initially hesitant, because he was worried I wouldn’t be able to balance between my kids and work.” However, her father has remained one of her biggest supporters, offering valuable wisdom and advice.

Although Al Nabooda retained a desire to work in business, she felt that she did not have the time to dedicate to starting a new venture alone.

She also became more involved in the family business, where she now sits on the board of directors. It was in this capacity that she met VoucherSkout co-founder David Tobias, who started Acumen Advertising.

“We had called David in for another project and when he heard what the project was, he said ‘Well you know what, I have something – do you mind if I present it to you?’ So, we said yes.”

The idea grew into Voucher-Skout, an alternative voucher app that offers users 50 per cent discounts, rather than two-for-one offers. The app is free to download and customers are only charged for the vouchers they use.

Aside from her father, Al Nabooda says her entire family, and husband, have helped create a strong support network – to help her succeed in all areas of her life.

To this day, she still lives next door to her parents. “I think in the UAE, in general, we’re a collective society. We still live beside our parents’ houses, and we still have that support.

“If I’m going to go out for the evening, I’ll call my mum and say ‘keep an eye on the kids and make sure that they’re in bed’. I think that support network is one of our advantages.”

Meanwhile, she describes her husband as a “wonderful pillar of support”, and a “big advocate of female empowerment”.

“Just because you have kids, or because you’re married, or you’re a woman, it doesn’t mean that you can’t accomplish everything.

“I think if I can inspire or encourage even one lady to pursue her dream, despite the odds, I will be happy.”

What are your favourite books?

The Power Of Your Subconscious Mind and The Law Of Attraction.

What is your daily routine?

I try to prioritise, so I go to work in the morning, but when the kids come back from school, I’m here.

Do you cook?

I’m an occasional cook, but we have cooks in the house, so we’re lucky that way. I’m neighbours with my dad, and his staff are also my staff.

What food do you like to eat?

As a family, we like making fajitas and tacos. Otherwise, I enjoy traditional Emirati food, or maybe a bit of Italian sometimes.

Do you travel often?

My mother is British, so we have property in London and that’s where we go every summer. Sometimes we go to Europe from there.

How do you spend time in London?

My dad has some business there, so sometimes we have meetings. But, we go as a big group and we do the usual things: shopping, dinner, kids going to the park.

Do you have any hobbies or favourite sports?

I started horse riding when I was about nine and continued until I was about 16 or 17, and started doing jumping. My daughter recently got interested in horse riding, so we started that again a year ago.

How do you spend quality family time?

Friday is our family day, so some weekends we’ll visit their grandparents and cousins, or we’ll just stay at home, have dinner and watch a movie.

What is the key to maintaining work and parenthood?

I schedule everything a week in advance, and I schedule “on this day I’m doing this with the kids”, so if somebody wants a meeting I tell them “no, I have a meeting with my kids”.

What is the best business advice you ever received?

There are no dumb questions – just ask.

What advice would you give an aspiring female entrepreneur?

Work hard for what you want and don’t give up. Your idea or your business might evolve or change, but just go for it and believe in yourself.