Donna Benton: are you not entertained?
Donna Benton's business idea has revolutionised not just one industry, but several. She started her two-for-one deal business in Dubai but has since taken it global with offices in 15 countries around the world. Today, The Entertainer offers far more than just restaurant deals, but spans industries like hospitality, travel, retail and more.
How did the business get started?
I came to Dubai when I was 26, in the year 2000. I came out here for the same reasons most people do, to make some money, save it up and then move back home. I never planned to stay here longer than a few years. So the job I was out here for didn't work out, and I was just driving along Sheikh Zayed Road one day, and I saw that there were hundreds of restaurants and attractions, but no incentives to get people through the doors. I thought there was lots of scope for a concept that offered value to both people and participating businesses, and so The Entertainer was born from that.
Starting a company is fraught with danger. There's absolutely no guarantee that it will be successful. Were you ever fearful that the business wouldn't work out?
Starting a company is a big risk, but I'm quite a risk taker. I always wanted my own business, and I was so passionate about the idea, so convinced that it would work, that I just went out there and made it a success. I had only been in Dubai for three months, but I was out and about constantly; in taxis to pitch meetings, trying to talk my way around secretaries to get an audience with the right people, and stuff like that. I just kept going, kept trying and wouldn't take no for an answer. The thought of it falling through did cross my mind, but then I realized that worst case scenario; I could just get a job again. But if I hadn't tried in the first place, I never would know if the idea would have worked.
How have you managed the transition, of having to do everything yourself when the company began, to managing a global team of almost 300 people?
I always say that if anyone is starting a company that they should learn how to do everything themselves. I learnt so much along the way, simply because I have to. I knew the legalities of doing business here; I knew how to run a business, where the attractions are, I had to go to the publishers to manage the printing of our first products, and then load them all up in my car and deliver them to retailers. All of this made me a more competent business person, which meant when it did come to scaling up the business, I knew exactly what to do.
Was it hard to let go? To trust other people to take on roles that you previously took care of yourself?
Sometimes it is hard to let go. In fact, as you grow as a company one of the hardest things to let go of is the finances. But you know, I think that trust is a key part of growing a company. There comes the point when you can't be everywhere at once, and so have to depend on the team around you. That's when trust becomes necessary.
I think it would be fair to say that both you and The Entertainer are doing quite well. What does the concept of winning the right way mean to you?
When growing a business, it's all about doing it with integrity and honesty and putting those values at the very core of your company culture. It's about realizing that if a business does well, it's because of everyone – the entire team – not just a few individuals. To me, that's winning the right way.
Esquire talked to Donna Benton as part of The Good Bartenders. The Chivas-run initiative asks local entrepreneurs to become a bartender for one night and to talk about how they raised the bar for good business. For more information, please visit thegoodbartenders.com