8 Fierce Egyptian Mom Entrepreneurs Share Their Crazy Secrets for Finding Balance
Ahead of the Mompreneurs Conference this weekend Saturday 22nd of October, we speak to its leading panelists on their struggles, superpowers, and the mischievous tactics that led them to the helm of it all.
Although perceived as the threshold to a downhill 18-year-long stage of decay and self-neglect, motherhood is proven to be a source of inspiration, a catalyst of personal change, and - according to science - a trigger of productivity hikes. A recent paper published by America's Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis states that women with children in their late 20s and early 30s outperform their childless counterparts on every level. The research’s results are mind-boggling; while the first years of motherhood result in a 15 to 17 percent drop in productivity, women tend to make up for the dip in the years after with one tool they learn to develop all too well: multi-tasking.
In Egypt, the dip seems to be even less dramatic; the founders of some of Egypt’s most buzzing empires gave birth to their firstborn children just as they lay down their companies’ foundations – Injaz founder Dina Mofty and our own Amy Mowafi. The entrepreneurs will both be speaking at the Mompreneurs Conference kicking off on October 22nd, the biggest mom-focused entrepreneurship event of the season. As hundreds of businesswomen gear up for an eye-opening kickoff next weekend, we get insight from the seven panelists on the struggles, the tears, the superpowers, and the hidden tactics that led them to the top of their game.
Yasmine Yeya, Fashion Designer
An AUC business graduate with a marketing job in Dubai, Yeya found an outlet for her passion for fashion design when her own creation made waves at her sister’s wedding. “When a producer from MBC's Mission: Fashion show commented on the dress I had made for myself, she invited me to join the casting for the show,” she recalls. It was 2007 and her knack for design was beginning to shape up a booming business and an iconic brand. A whole season, a second place award, and an internship with Elie Saab later, Maison Yeya saw the light.
Determined, opinionated, and pragmatic, she is the first lady of wedding gowns – yet she never wore a wedding dress and tossed aside the entire idea of a wedding ceremony for herself. Yeya admits that balancing motherhood - of twins, no less - and a skyrocketing sartorial brand with regional reach is nothing short of hardship. “In this industry, being a mother is difficult; I have had some times when I wanted to just collapse. Between my twins’ school meetings and then starting up my company – with really trying to give both my all – it tired me out sometimes,” she confesses.
“But it’s all been worth it. Sometimes moms say they can’t wait to get a break from their kids, but when I did that for a work trip, I missed them; I missed my two beautiful, loud, hyper, messy twins," she says. "It’s difficult balancing both and making it work, but I want to be a good role model for my children and push them to work as hard as I have to become something great; everyone has it in them.”
Dina Mofty, Founder of Injaz Egypt
How do you set up a network to manage 500,000 students, a team of 150, countless corporate sponsors, more than 1,000 volunteers across 20 governorates, all while raising three children? For Dina Mofty, the process seems almost natural. “I was 24, I was just out of college, and it felt like giving birth to twins; the year my baby Talia was born was the same year my baby Injaz saw daylight,” she recalls.
The beginning was nothing short of challenging for the then 24-year-old entrepreneur, who was a fresh graduate attempting to make a difference. “Going out in the field, getting permits and approvals, convincing companies to sponsor and send volunteers, all while I was getting a bigger belly – it was a logistical nightmare!” she says, adding that nine months into her incursion, just when her belly was about to explode in the ninth month, she met her business partner Dalia Helaly.
“To me, ‘mom’ is short for Master Of Multitasking; I think that’s the core trait of most successful working moms,” says the businesswoman, named one of Arabian Business' 100 under 40 this year. “When you have more on your plate, it pushes you more, and you have to have more of a drive," she says. "It pushes you to be more organised and efficient, and manage your time to the second. We all get dragged into different meetings, so being a mom pushes you to prioritise.”
However, Mofty admits that her real superpower is her support system. “I’m very fortunate to have a very supportive family – my husband who is an amazing dad, a family who always comes to the rescue when needed, our help at home, a fantastic business partner with whom I share the workload.” Thinking back on her biggest struggles, she concludes that it is her entrepreneurial, non-indulgent, fighting spirit that shaped her journey. “As an entrepreneur, you take on these challenges no matter how hard they are and it’s the attitude and mindset that makes a difference. Some people feel sorry for themselves, while others look at it with a positive attitude and will get very far. We all have different loads, but it all boils down to the mindset,” she says.
Amy Mowafi, Co-founder and CEO of MO4 Network
“I left my 10 year job as the Managing Editor of eniGma magazine, joined my brothers at MO4, and got pregnant all at the same time. Those first months we a mix of terror, tears, and tantrums!” says the tireless, unpredictable co-founder of CairoScene’s mother company, MO4 Network.
Growing a company characterised by a relentless thirst to push the Egyptian media landscape to the top of the game, the entrepreneur, best-selling author, and mother of two pushed the limits of creativity when it came to juggling her multiple identities. “It got easier with the second baby, as the business was much more developed and we had a much bigger team. But very early on, one month after my oldest was born, I made my husband wait in the car while I attended a two-hour-long meeting, and twice I pretended I needed to go to the bathroom and ran down to the car park to breast feed!” she says.
Now running a media giant that has grown into a corporation of 150+ employees, Mowafi chronicles her hilarious, strident, and often desperate attempts to do it all in her column #YaMama – an honest account of the tribulations of being an Egyptian media icon while aspiring to be a supermom. But she admits that, behind the successes, the hype, the laughter, and the screaming, here is an ongoing struggle: the sense of guilt and constant questioning if you are doing the right thing for the children. “The nature of my company and my position means that even though I could theoretically be as flexible as I want with my working hours and no one can tell me otherwise, the responsibility I have is too great for that luxury. So I don't see the kids most weeknights as they are asleep by the time I get back. And, in the morning, it's a mad rush to get packed off to school while my phone starts buzzing from 7 AM. So the only quality time is weekends,” she says.
“A few weeks ago I at Ras Sudr with my kids, and I started to make up a story for them, something I used to love to do before I had this crazy business to look after. Before I knew it, a whole host of kids had gathered around us; it was the happiest I have felt in ages. And I told my husband afterwards: ‘you know, if I had the time I reckon I could be a really good mom’. He is trained well so he immediately answered that I am a good mom. But the fact that the statement came to me so easily got me thinking: what defines a good mom? And who said I'm not a good mom? Why am I convinced of that? A father in the same position would never ask the same questions! My kids are surrounded by so much love – I might not be with them all the time, but my parents always are, and their father is super hands-on, and they have way too many uncles and a brilliant aunt who dotes on them. So I guess the hardest struggle is the internal one,” she concludes.
Rasha Abou El Soud, Founder of Maktaby
Abou El Soud was a 26-year-old real estate employee when she had her first child, but it was only 11 years later that she created her first startup. “That year, in 2012, the bohemian risk-taker part in me came out, and I created The Workshops. The kids were older, but I had developed in a way that I was able to take the risk and create something on my own,” she says.
A published writer, a serial entrepreneur, and one of Egypt's female entreprenerus breaking the mould, Abou El Soud had a breakthrough after travelling solo in 2014. Upon returning, she sold the company to develop her second startup, Maktaby. “Back then I had two companies, so I sold the one that took most of the time and kept Maktaby,” says 42-year-old entrepreneur. “To be happy, kids must come first. They are the anchor.”
How did she manage to do it all – writing a book, caretaking, and stretching the boundaries of the female startup work with her Women Entrepreneurs of Egypt network? “Well, I remember one day where I was handling a really important event. It was a startup hub and community centre, and I felt a sting in my heart – I felt I missed my kids. I hadn’t seen them in two days. So I went home, picked up the kids, and brought them to the company with me. They ended up falling asleep there, which made me feel even more guilty, but the feeling was really overwhelming. It took me time to find balance,” she recalls.
“I think my superpower is having the stamina to fight really hard, because we already go through so much hardship in the process of having children - especially if we don’t have another source of income – that, if you slack off, there is no bread for your kids. So being an entrepreneur is not an adventure for fun, it’s not a title – it’s a survival tactic driven by a lot of passion,” she says.
Zeinab Mostafa, Founder of Devour
She started by baking at home after quitting her five-year corporate career and ended up leading a chain of cupcake stores with branches in Mohandiseen, Korba, and Galleria 40. “I opened the store in 2012, just nine months after I had my first child,” says the 35-year-old entrepreneur, an AUC journalism graduate with a journalism and marketing career who found an unexpected passion.
“It’s was difficult doing both things, but I was so passionate about the idea of baking. I used to spend 14 hours in the kitchen daily, so that was my drive,” Mostafa says. “I remember the worst moment: I had just given birth to my son, I was opening my second store in Korba, and, in the process, my truck got stolen; so I was handling police stations, my two babies, and the opening of the store, all at the same time,” she says.
Now, as the manages three stores and shares her parenting tasks with her parents, Mostafa takes the chance to set herself as a role model. “I usually do all the work in the morning when they are at school, so that in the afternoon it's just emails. But sometimes I take them to work with me; I also want them to see my work, to see me doing something with my hands so that they have something to look up to.”
Nadia Gamal El Din, Co-founder of Rahet Bally
“Having a baby was actually the trigger to start my business,” says Nadia Gamal El Din. The entrepreneur was pregnant and had just quit her corporate job when the idea dawned upon her. Alone, confused, and with nowhere to turn to for trusted answers on parenting and childbirth, she noticed there was a market gap. “So I created the Facebook group and began contacting experts to allow moms to ask questions and get trusted answers on the go,” she explains.
With a membership comprised of top-notch doctors who use hashtags for people to find quick, simple answers, the group grew to a 20,000 member platform and added revenue streams, such as discount card services for mother’s purchases. “I want to combat the negative perception of discount cards while encouraging people toward things or services they never thought they’d buy,” says the young entrepreneur, who partnered with Aya El Ghazzawy to put the platform together. Juggling her time as a nascent entrepreneur and the mother of a baby, she confesses the “getaways” she would take from work in the first years of being a businesswoman. “When I started, I was still breastfeeding so I had to go home every two hours; I used to take my baby with me everywhere because I don't like to have a nanny,” she explains.
Heba El Aaser, Founder of Packwell Packaging Products
An entrepreneur in the morning, a yoga and Pilates instructor at night, and a mommy full-time, Heba El Aaser, says her daily routine gets incredibly funny “all the time.” “I always say that I started being a workaholic when I quit my job,” she says. Now, as she juggles cooking, children, work, and the training classes she offers at her studio, she works around the clock.
Her company, Packwell Packaging Products, launched in 2014 to produce garbage bags made of virgin material, manufacturing abroad through the rental of production lines in China. “The startup keeps me really busy, so I try to engage the children so when we're at the supermarket, they can recognise when they see our Packwell product,” she comments with a smile. “I also often take my child on my lap in the middle of a meeting; because we are all moms, this doesn’t keep us from doing things.”
A certified Booty Bar and Pilates instructor, the 32-year-old entrepreneur claims her superpower comes from the passion for fitness that drives her. “That gives me the power and energy to stand up and say yes every day,” she beams. But her biggest struggle, she confesses, is feeling guilty. “My biggest struggle is being available for both. The startup is like my third child, so imaging you are trying to treat your children equally. With motherhood comes guilt, always thinking we are not doing enough, but by treating it as my third kid, the day gets really intense,” she says.
Shaimaa El Gammal, founder of Ana 7amel
“I wouldn’t have even thought of the startup if I wasn’t a mother. That’s when it all started; I was a new mom and I was inspired from my own personal experience. Working from home was the crux and backbone for my startup. If I were a full-time employee, most probably I wouldn't be able to start a project,” says Shaimaa El Gammal.
A mother of twins and the founder of parenting guide 'Ana 7amel' kicked off the project when going through her eighth month of pregnancy and started working only two weeks after giving birth to her twins. Three months later, her first client showed up. “I was doing all my tasks at home with the babies; my partner and I ran this project from home for five years with three kids,” she recalls.
Thinking of the superpower that kept her going come rain or shine, El Gammal doesn’t hesitate: her passion. “I absolutely love what I am doing and I’m very passionate about it. Also, I wouldn’t be able to run this business without the endless support and effort of my partner, Yasmine Shahine, Ana 7amel's Co-founder.
Find out how you can register and get your tickets for the biggest mom-focused entrepreneurship event of the season on Expand Business Developments' Facebook, or at the event page. Hurry, it's happening this weekend!
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